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Andrew is a staff writer at the “The Hudsucker”. He is a 30 year old lawyer living in Ottawa. Besides legal jargon, his brain capacity is taken up by reality show trivia, video game walk-throughs and room escape strategies. Andrew is also happily in a long-term, long-distance relationship. Follow him on Twitter as @sublymonal.

American Idol XV: Hollywood Week, Part 1

Over the 15 years Idol has graced our television sets, I’ve always wondered why the producers insist on keeping the group round as part of Hollywood Week. It’s painful to watch contestants stay up all night, struggle, and fight over choreography, only to tank (or succeed) the next day. However, I came to a few realizations this year while watching the process go down. The group round serves a couple purposes: It allows them to compare contestants side by side, some of whom may be similar in style. It also shows whether or not they have ideas of their own and if they’re able to execute those ideas and be an easy person to work with in the process.

Essentially, it’s a glimpse into whether they are worth working with during and after Idol. It’s hard to tell whether the impression we get about a contestant in Hollywood affects the voting process later down the road. For example, did Jessica Meuse’s refusal to sing a Beyoncé song back in Season 13 stop her from going any further than 4th? We may never know.

What we do know, however, is that there were some shining moments during this week’s “Lines of Ten” and “Group Rounds.” Below, I outline some the best moments, choosing to try and ignore some of the worst moments of petty drama among the contestants:

  • Hear La’Porsha Renae roar: It seems single mom La’Porsha doesn’t just have a big voice, but a big heart as well. After unexpectedly choosing and owning Katy Perry’s “Roar” for her Lines of Ten song, La’Porsha proceeds to undoubtedly win herself some new fans by joining a group desperate for a third member and facing disqualification. Her and the others then proceeded to deliver a throwback version of the Bee Gees “Stayin’ Alive” that Donna Summers herself would be proud of.
  • A very sick Trent Harmon serenades the judges [Credit: FOX Entertainment]

    Trent Harmon sounds better “in mono”: After being diagnosed with mono and looking worse for wear, Trent delivered not one, but two, stellar performances during Tuesday and Wednesday night’s shows that prove he’s got vocal chops and isn’t afraid to step out from behind his guitar. He even showed he can work the stage in his one-man wonder group after being told he was too contagious to be accompanied by others.
  • Manny Torres is the man: Sure, Manny found himself in the cross fires of the drama, but he also delivered two performances that were significant improvements, in my mind at least, over his “good but not great” audition that closed Season 15’s search. His take on the Weeknd’s “I Can’t Feel My Face” was cool and fresh and he stood out in his group where he dug his heels into Alex Clare’s “Too Close.”
  • Women and Children First We saw a lot of the younger contestants who auditioned get cut early, while a few others improved under the pressure including Jeneve Rose Mitchell (sans cello). But others have me worried. Tristan McIntosh, the girl with the mother in the army, has yet to blow me away and her voice, while uniquely low, hasn’t really found it’s niché yet. Brenda K Starr’s daughter, Gianna Isabella and that Harry declared could win after her audition, Sonika Vaid, both got caught up in the drama without delivering a follow-up performance in the group rounds that was good enough to excuse them.
  • One-Trick Ponies Be Gone! Three contestants took the judges advice to stand out during the group rounds to heart: in their group, Jenna Renea and Kory Wheeler both pulled all the stops while singing Bruno Mars’ “Treasure” while Jenn Blosil, or “the girl with the glazed eyes,” followed up a strong Lines of Ten performance by putting her unique voice to work in her group performance and adding a dash of personality to go with it. Maybe she knows more than we’ve given her credit for.
  • An Order of Orland, Hold the Borchetta I’m borderline disturbed by how bad the advice that returning mentor Scott Borchetta gave the contestants was. It seemed to me intended to stir up drama by telling them to stand out at all costs. In contrast, vocal coach Michael Orland heard the first drafts of each groups’ performances and gave them astute critiques about finding their harmonies and bringing some life into their performances. Can he take Borchetta’s place come the live shows?

There were a few other tidbits of drama, including Miranda “Poh” Scott, whose sister made the semi-finals last year, deciding to drop out and leave her group high and dry; as well as father and husband, Jordan Sasser advancing despite lackluster vocals—but I digress. I’m intrigued, as always, to see what next week’s solo rounds hold as they’ve given us some of the best performances of Hollywood Week in years past.

Georgia native Phillip Phillips is crowned the winner of Idol’s 11th Season [Credit: FOX Entertainment]

After all, it was where we saw Season 11 winner Phillip Phillips bloom into the funky yet current Indie rock star that he is today. Since claiming the title, Phil has released two albums: The World From the Side of the Moon and Behind the Light, both of which sold well after the success of Phillips’ winner’s single “Home” thanks to the 2012 Olympics. Despite the shows insistence to tout Phil as their last major success story, it’s unlikely we’ll see him on the Idol stage much this season given the fact that he’s suing 19 Recordings, his record label, for the oppressive Idol contract that the show’s winners are subject to. Other success stories from Season 11 include Runner-Up Jessica Sanchez who released her first album “Me, You and the Music” back in 2013 and released a follow up single “This Love” in November of 2014. Sanchez also frequently posts covers of current pop hits on her YouTube channel. Third placer Joshua Ledet also released a single entitled “Love Can Do” back in 2015 and is rumored to be working on his first album.

However, Season 12’s success extends beyond the Top 3 finishers. Using the miracle of crowdfunding, fifth place country contestant Skylar Laine released an EP entitled “Dirt Covered Lace,” sixth place contestant Elise Testone, who delivered an earth-shattering version of Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” during her time on the show, also released an EP entitled “In This Life.” As well, 10th place contestant Erika Van Pelt released an album full of catchy pop songs called “My Independence.” But perhaps the one who fared best of the group who didn’t make it it far enough is Christian rocker Colton Dixon, who has released several albums since his shock elimination at seventh place. His most recent efforts, his “Calm” and “Storm” EPs, feature remixes and different versions of songs from his first two albums “A Messenger” and “Anchor,” as well as a few new tracks. Based on the success of its cast and the quality of performances and personalities that season, I classify Season 11 as the last “great” Idol season. Hopefully Season 15 can live up to those expectations.

What were your thoughts on Wednesday’s “Lines of Ten” and Thursday’s Group Round? Do you agree with the judges’ decisions? And do you agree that Season 11 was the last “great” Idol season? Sound off in the comments and let me know. Idol returns next Wednesday and Thursday and, as always, I’ll be back with my recap on Friday morning.

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