It’s Group Night on “American Idol,” when the auditioners have to team up and learn a song and a dance routine all in one night. “This is the most intense, stressful, punishing night of their lives,” Voiceover Ryan Seacrest tells us urgently, as all kinds of medical emergencies flash by.
But we’ve got unfinished business from Wednesday night’s show. What happened to poor Symone Black, the 16-year-old singer who was struggling to respond to some lame question from judge Randy Jackson when she fainted, fell off the stage, and hit the ground hard? Counting all the teasers and promos we’ve seen in the past couple episodes, “Idol” producers have now thrown Symone off that stage about 83 times.
This, however, does not count as a cliffhanger, as “Idol” exec producer Nigel Lythgoe explained on Twitter Wednesday night, because “she didn’t hang. She fell.”
We see Symone lying on her back, but talking right away, so it looks like she’s going to be all right and just needs some calories. The initial shock over, someone on the “Idol” staff remembers to call for a Coke, the official sponsor and IV fluid of “Idol” Season 11. To applause, she’s up and off to the hospital for a checkup. “I just blacked out,” she says in a van to her stage dad.
The judges send her through to the next round in absentia. But not so two good Backstory People: Lauren, who works with disabled adults, and Ethan, who’s rocker-dad-in-rehab story won over judge Steven Tyler during auditions. We see Lauren heading out the hotel door to oblivion, documented by “Idol’s” award-winning Oblivion Documentation Unit film crew.
“A lucky 185 contestants have made the cut,” says Ryan, full of pity, while we see happy auditioners singing and dancing. “By the end of tomorrow night almost half of them will be gone.”
That well-fed Brit with a producer title who reads the rules to the competitors is Ken Warwick. Choose from a list of 20 songs, form up in to groups of 4 or 5, including a mix of members from the first and second days of auditions, he tells them. And, if you start to feel faint, call out loudly for a Coke.
“There’s a mad dash to find opposite day group members,” says Ryan, while people mill around like mating salmon.
We focus on Alisha Bernhardt, from the St. Louis auditions, a stocky police officer who looks like she wants to arrest the whole crowd for disorderly conduct. “Nobody likes cops -- nobody wants to be in my group,” she says glumly. Make that defiantly.
“My name is Alicia! I’m a cop and I need a group so get your (bleep) over here!” she shouts at the mob.
And Amy Brumfield, who lives in a tent in the woods (we visited her along with the Idol Planet outdoors documentary unit, remember?), has come down with the flu, from sleeping in a nice warm hotel room! Nobody wants her in their group because she’s contagious.
We hit the halfway mark of the show “as the pressure starts tearing everybody apart” Ryan notes. Hey -- a little song and dance, a little light entertainment, might help lift everybody’s spirits, including ours here at home. But no, this is Hollywood Week and there will be no entertainment for anybody!
Brielle von Hugel, who we are supposed to remember because she was in a group with “Idol” early fave Pia Toscano last year, is back this year, along with her battleship of a stage mother, who we think we would remember. “She bossy and she rules the roost,” says the mother as we see Brielle drilling the rest of her group, including one poor guy who the mother has marked for early termination.
Symone is back! Along with her overbearing stage dad. But good news -- the whack on the head has given Symone a whole new perspective on her dad and she eye rolls to the camera while he tries to intervene in everything. “Let me do this,” she insists. “I’m not a stage dad, I’m just a father who’s helping his daughter achieve her dream,” George Black says and looks like he believes it. After Symone talks her way into joining a group, he runs over and crushes them all – except his daughter -- in a group hug, while Symone rolls her eyes.
So Amy’s in a group but “it seems everyone Amy has come into contact with is dropping like flies,” narrates Ryan while we see a chick vomit into a plastic bag.
Heejun Han, the droll auditioner with the confidence problems and the surprisingly good voice from Wednesday night is all teamed up with three like-minded singers. But because of the new rules, they need to find a fourth and, in a moment of insanity, take on Richie Law, a tall, overbearing, cowboy-hatted kid who insists on turning the other guys into his backup group. He makes them all do two-step choreography; Heejun finds it terminally un-cool. “All my friends are going to watch this and laugh at me because of this cowboy,” Heejun steams.
And, as we hit the 45-minute mark on the show, still we haven’t seen any performances -- and we swear we are getting a tickle in our throat and pink spots on our face.
At least the cop has found a group but, bad luck, one member is stricken. “The more I puke the better I feel,” he says hopefully. Meanwhile, Tent Girl Amy has found new flu-resistance in faith: “I’m not letting the devil play with me like that,” she says, adding, “Guess who’s on my team? Yeah, Jesus.”
Back to Heejun and the Cowboy. “Democracy is beautiful but we don’t have a lot of time,” Cowboy says to his group, and then to the camera “We’re going to do this my way and that’s it.”
“I have a very bad perspective on cowboys,” says Heejun. “Even the Dallas Cowboys.”
They’re now in the wee hours of the morning and we are shown some folks calmly heading off to bed, having perfected their routines because they are talented, self-assured, shining representatives of all the best in American youth that “American Idol” seeks to discover year after year. But we aren’t going to see them perform.
We are going to see The Bettys -- a quartet of squabbling chicks. One of them is trying, and failing, to keep her group mates from going to bed. “We’re like 20 years old we stay up till 2 all the time! This is our dream!” she wails. Anyway, she persuades one girl to come back and rehearse.
The next morning, Steven Tyler arrives fresh as a man just out of rehab, saying, “I think a little sleep deprivation brings out the best in everybody”.
The Bettys are up first to perform and we see them take the stage and -- oh, look at that! The clock has run out.
“Who will triumph?” Voiceover Ryan says from the hygienic “American Idol” Voiceover Safe Room. “And(scene of someone rushing into a bathroom stall) who (sound of retching ) will choke?” Come back next week, he urges.
And bring a mop. And some Lysol.
Last night: Time for Hollywood
Last Thursday: Auditions wrap up in St. Louis
Last Wednesday: Auditions go to Portland