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Posted at 06:00 AM ET, 02/17/2012

‘American Idol’ 2012: Viva Las Vegas!


Randy Jackson, Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Ryan Seacrest at the judges desk during the Hollywood round. (Michael Becker - Fox)

Everybody on the bus, we’re going to Vegas, where “Idol” producers are shipping the remaining 70 contestants to dry out their sinuses after the devastating malady we now know as Seacrest Syndrome swept through their ranks in Hollywood/Pasadena. Wear your gold ribbons to support Seacrest Syndrome research – together we can beat this thing!

Las Vegas Week is just like Hollywood Week – wannabe Idolettes sing in groups, but are judged individually. Except this time the songs are all from the 50’s and 60’s. And they’ve brought in singing coach Peggi Blu, “The Queen of Mean” Seacrest calls her, in hopes of scaring some good reality TV out of the enervated contestants. We’ve heard that Simon Cowell hires Peggi for private sessions of verbal abuse, but we’re not going to spread that rumor.

First quartet includes Colton Dixon, a Producers’ Fave, who looks vaguely like Tom Cruise making his unhappy face. Also in the group: Reba McIntyre-kinda Skylar Laine, 17. They do “Dedicated to the One I Love” and it’s just okay. Still, the group goes through, minus one casualty.

A group of teenaged contestants, including Producers’ Fave David Leathers, Jr., who looks and sounds like one of those high-voiced teen sensations of that era. They’re doing “Rockin’ Robb.” But not before we see a rehearsal session with Gabi Carrubba whining that she feels she’s “pulling the weight of the group.” Yet, in performance, she’s the weakest. Even so, they all make it through to the next round.

“Great Balls of Fire” gets the “Grease” treatment, with stagey dancing. That’s always a risk in front of judge Randy Jackson, who, we learned during early audition rounds, is like the Grand Inquisitor for performers deemed “too Broadway.” Worse, Angie Zeiderman – the chick Randy he tried to get bounced in auditions, on suspicion that she was a secret Broadwayite, is in the group. But so is Erika van Pelt and Adam Brock, two strong singers, so maybe they have a chance. They all do! “The choreography was astounding,” says judge Steven Tyler, who compliments Angie, a skinny girl, on her ability to shake what few “tail feathers” she has. Ick.

“Why Do Fools Fall In Love” is performed by three chicks in military short-short uniforms -- a number we think we saw in “Springtime for Hitler.”

Two of the more interesting personalities of the competition so far are in the next number: Reed Grimm, who got hazed by the producers when he tried to sing without the house band in Wednesday night’s show, and Eben Franckewitz, the fresh-faced teener with the surprisingly big voice.

“I Only Have Eyes for You” is their number, though the performance is more Rat Pack Vegas than doo-wop. Eben tries to bust some Rat Pack dance moves – he’s adorably inept. Reed, meanwhile, does Mike Myers doing Rat Pack. Anyway, the judges give them a standing O.

Richie Law -- the tall, overbearing guy in the cowboy hat who appointed himself leader of the Hollywood Week group known as The Overbearing Tall Guy In the Cowboy Hat and the Three Other Guys Who Hate Him -- has been dumped by the three other guys. He now gets paired, by the producers, with the stolid Jermaine Jones, in the hopes perhaps of creating the magic of the Ruben Studdard/Clay Aiken match-up from the early days of “Idol.” Either that, or they’re hoping Jermaine will crush Richie. One or the other, for sure. In addition to lacking chemistry, they’re both baritones, so opportunities for harmonizing are limited.

“Socially and personality wise, we are two different people” but “we’re trying to find common ground,” says Jermaine, who turns out to be disappointingly forbearing. And Richie is right in character: “I didn’t come here to recycle music, I came to make it,” he says when things don’t go exactly his way.

Well, they take to the stage and it doesn’t really work as a duo. Jermaine has an almost operatic voice, and Richie is country, and they’re both in the lower, muddy register on “Make It Easy on Yourself.” But individually, they’re okay -- and they’re through. Richie tries giving a politician’s shoulder-hug twice to Jermaine after their performance; Jermaine looks at Richie murderously.

Jessica Sanchez is strong on “It Doesn’t Matter Anymore” -- not so her Milli Vanilli lookalike partner Deandre Brackensick, with his weak falsetto. Even so, that whole group goes through to the next round.

So, Day One is over. The survivors celebrate for the camera. “But today’s celebration is short lived,” Seacrest tells us. If there’s too much talent in tomorrow’s auditions, some of Day One survivors will be cut after all.

Day Two dawns with four guys in leather jackets doing a forgettable Elvis-lite on “Jailhouse Rock.” These guys couldn’t play a Vegas wedding chapel. And yet, the judges send through three of the four.

Guess it had to happen: Three chicks have come dressed in full Supremes get-up, to perform “You Keep Me Hanging On.” This gag drives home the obvious: we’re not hearing much in the way of modern re-interpretation of these tunes. Is this the doing of the Queen of Mean – and by the way, how come we’ve barely seen her?

Many questions to ponder during this forgettable performance, in which the three try way too hard to please. “Sometimes playing up to the stratosphere on a melody like this doesn’t play, “ says judge Jennifer Lopez. They cut Jessica Phillips from the three. “I’m an actual artist,” sniffs Jessica. “They’re not looking for real artists…I didn’t come here for a television deal I came here for a record deal.” And yet you dressed up like a Supreme, Jessica.

Ah -- a full segment with Mean Queen Peggi Blu, finally! She’s on a tear against Lauren Gray, torturing her with a fearsome pile-on of double negatives. “What you don’t do is listen! Do not not sing it!”

Lauren breaks down in tears, though whether it’s due to frustration or conjugation is hard to tell. “There’s no crying in music! Peggi shouts. “I’m trying to get myself together,” Lauren stammers.

“OK, are you on Ritalin?” Peggy demands.

“No, I am not on Ritalin.”

“OK, then wake UP!”

Lauren starts “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” pretty pitchy, but the camera cuts to JLo giving the arm shake that we now know means “Gooooooosies!” So we know already Lauren’s a slam dunk.

One of our faves of the season, droll Heejun Han literally starts backing away when Peggi comes toward him in the rehearsal hall.

“Are you scared?!” she barks.

“Yes, I’m literally scared,” he confesses.

She forces him into a hug. She’s a wily one, that Peggi!

As it turns out, Peggi loves Heejun and his group-mates as they perform “I Only Have Eyes for You.” And they are one of the best performances of this episode when they hit the stage. The whole group gets promoted.

Next a super-group of strong performers we’ve seen before, including jazzy Jen Hirsh, and another standout Creighton Fraker, doing “Sealed With a Kiss” in the best harmony of evening. Three of the four go through.

As promised ominously by Seacrest, the Day One winners are brought back on stage because, apparently, the judges over-indulged on Day Two. Is this fair to the Day One crowd? Is this right? No! Is this an opportunity for extended close-ups of attractive young women sobbing? Yes!

Surprise — Johnny Keyser, the rugged looking waiter from Florida who got a lot of loving screen time early on, and eye batting from JLo, gets cut. So does Britney Spears lookalike Britnee Kellogg, one of the surviving Supremes impersonators. “I worked my head off,” she weeps bitterly. “Every performance was perfect!”

“Forty-two contestants have made it – for now,” says Seacrest, who is such a downer in these episodes, always putting the worst interpretation on everything. And you think we’re going to want you around on New Years Eve, Seacrest?

Next week, according to the teaser: Steven Tyler moons the camera and jumps into a pool!

By  |  06:00 AM ET, 02/17/2012

Categories:  American Idol

 
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