Hollywood weak: 'American Idol' makes contestant cry with cruel joke

Lyndsey Parker

American Idol’s Hollywood Week always brings the drama, with its sleepless all-nighters, meddling momagers, and messed-up lyrics. Monday’s episode was no exception, much to beleaguered vocal coach Michael Orland’s chagrin. But the real drama came when one group was ordered to sacrifice one of its members for the greater good. That was definitely a Hollywood Week first.

Don’t Touch — Britney Holmes, Lee Vasi, Gabbii Jones, and the vastly less experienced Crystal Alicea — gave a terrific, girl-powered performance of Rixton’s “Me and My Broken Heart” during the group challenge, despite Crystal’s difficulties keeping up during rehearsal. But then judge Katy Perry coldly told Don’t Touch that, with only three open slots left in the forthcoming solo round, one member would have to voluntarily quit.

The girls were shocked. And silent. It was like their new name was Don’t Volunteer. But who could blame them? They’d worked hard, they’d delivered, and they all deserved to go through.

Then, a sobbing Crystal agreed to take the fall. She later explained, “I said that because these girls helped me through everything when I was struggling. … They were there for me, so I was willing to take that position.”

Psych! It turned out this was all some cruel TV stunt, and all four Don’t Touch members would be allowed to advance after all.

Damn. And here I was thinking this would be a kinder, gentler Idol. I was wrong. Even Simon Cowell wouldn’t have pulled such a nasty trick. Maybe the show’s producers hadn’t expected that Crystal would actually cry. Poor girl.

But in the end, this prank might have great repercussions for Crystal, as her sweet, selfless act could make her America’s new sweetheart. “Round of applause for her heart!” declared Katy. “Honey, I will never forget that.”

That being said, there were plenty of worthy contenders who did go home Monday — and not voluntarily. “We done picked too many good people,” Katy griped. Her fellow judge Luke Bryan added, “We are not liking our job right now.” With such a talent-packed season, some tough cuts were inevitable.

So, over the first hour of sudden-death solo performances and a second hour of group numbers, we said goodbye to many early standouts from the auditions, including semiparalyzed car crash survivor David Francisco, piano-playing Kurt Cobain look-alike Griffin Tucker, Korean country crooner Daniel Ethridge, young soul singer Johnny White, small-town guitar girl Rissa Watson, and flamboyant farm boy Samuel Swanson. Sadly, the last was suffering from two vocal cord cysts that had diminished his singing power by 50 percent.

Another painful cut on Monday’s episode was Julian Sposato, leaving his twin, Milo, to go it alone. Even judge Lionel Richie got a little choked up over that outcome. (Judging from Milo’s bad attitude and shady shenanigans during the subsequent group rehearsal, I think the show may have saved the wrong Sposato; I always thought Julian was the slightly stronger singer, anyway.)

And seeing two BFFs — Jan Bradyesque quirky girl Catie Turner and adorkable crooner Zach D’Onofrio — torn apart practically had me crying a river, just like the song that sent Zach packing. “I really wanted me and Zach to be in a group,” sighed Catie. “I had so many dreams, and just to have [Zach’s dream] crushed, some of my dream was crushed too.” (More amusing was Catie’s ordering Zach to keep in touch: “You better message me every day. I swear to God, if you pull that ghost thing, I’ll find you!”)

Thankfully, many of this season’s best contestants survived to sing another day. Among my Monday ones-to-watch were the exquisite Maddie Poppe, whose interpretation of Brandi Carlile’s “Dreams” was beyond dreamy; Jonny Brenns, who could be my new favorite just for coolly covering the 1975’s “Somebody Else”; Caleb Lee Hutchinson, whose cover of Keith Whitley’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes” transported me to the Grand Ole Opry circa 1988; drag queen Ada Vox, who showcased some impressive, Blake Lewis-like beatboxing skillz; Noah Davis, who charged through a wig-snatching rendition of Jessie J’s “Mamma Knows Best” with the power of a herd of rabid alpacas; and the note-perfect Alyssa Raghu, who dedicated “Wind Beneath My Wings” to her father.

Another one of my early favorites, Laine Hardy (the shy Louisiana swamp boy that Luke once understandably predicted could win this entire season), also made it through, but just barely. His group’s rehearsal made Crystal Alicea look like a consummate professional because he could not deal with some simple step-touch/pointy-pose choreo, a Justin Bieber cover, and three female Belieber groupmates. He was flubbing his words so badly, Michael Orland wanted to ship him back to the Big Easy, shouting “Give this guy a plane ticket!” (More like the Big Difficult, amirite?) Laine soldiered on, reluctantly, but he needs to be more adaptable — and way less pouty and grouchy — or he will falter. Come on, if he makes it to the live shows, what the heck will he do on Motown Night?

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Come back Sunday, when Laine, Crystal, and the other remaining contestants attempt to survive Hollywood Week’s final solo round. Parker out.

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