‘American Idol’: Hollywood Week Begins!

Becky Bain | February 10, 2010 6:45 am

Season 9 of American Idol finally began to take shape last night as the show kicked off Hollywood Week with the long-awaited debut of Ellen DeGeneres at the judge’s table. The show took the form of a sudden death round — contestants could sing one song a capella or with an instrument of their choice, and their performance would determine whether they would go home or stick around for more nerve-racking competition.

We were so crestfallen over the axing of certain promising contestants that we almost forgot to miss Paula Abdul. (Sorry, Paula! We’ll still follow you on Twitter.) Did your favorite contestants make it through? And how did Ellen do on her first day on the job? Find out below.

Whatever doubts you may have once had about the newbie judge without a legitimate music background were immediately settled. The super-sweet daytime talk show host ended up being a weird Paula/Simon hybrid — Ellen managed to dole out the entertaining criticisms while still nurturing the contestants with support.

Ellen’s zinger “I’m tired as it is and that almost put me out”, offered after one contestant’s spectacularly dull performance, was as mean-spirited as it got (at least, based on what we were shown). Instead, DeGeneres kept mainly to a middle road: she appeared kind without shying away from the truth about an audition — she brought the funny, which was a given.  “You scared me,” she told Ski Bo Ski (baby!), while he strolled back and forth onstage during his song. “You were stalking us. You were like a leopard behind a cage… sexy and scary, it’s a fine line.”  Our one critique of the new judge on the block was her fashion faux-pas of matching a denim jacket with denim jeans. Tsk, tsk, El. What would Posh say?

Enough about the superficial stuff. Let’s move onto the contestants, and see who’s one step closer to being our next American Idol. (Our guess: somebody with a kid.)


The girls: Katie Stevens, the 17-year old whose  her grandma has Alzheimer’s, sounded like she had a frog in her throat, but her confidence got her through. Janell Wheeler, who resembles Dianna Agron (the pregnant cheerleader) from Glee, turned Estelle’s “American Boy” into a folksy ballad. Haeley Vaughn, the “miracle baby,” continued to push her pop-country style, hitting a few wobbly notes but closing off Taylor Swift’s “Change” with a big power belt and a cute-as-hell giggle. “Rocker mom” Mary Powers predictably sang a Pink song, and nailed it. (If she really aspires to be Pink, though, she should try it upside down next time.) White-haired Lily Scott knocks an Ella Fitzgerald song out of the park while strumming her guitar and Kara calls her “refreshing.” Waitress Didi Benami pandered to the judges by singing “Terrified,” a Kara DioGuardi-penned song, but her rendition was so spot-on she hardly needed to have kissed up. Crystal Bowersox killed “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” and even drew in the crowd to sing back to her, inspiring Simon to call her “infectious” and “real.”

Janell Wheeler – “American Boy”

The guys: Andrew Garcia impressed us (and the judges) so much with his loose but soulful take on Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up,” we’ll forgive him for the horrid neck tat. Mike Lynche (aka “Big Mike”) might be missing the birth of his first child (seriously, man?), but at least for a good reason: wowing the judges with John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change.” Tim Urban from Dallas performed an occasionally shaky version of a David Cook song, but the judges didn’t seem to mind a few off notes. Casey James, wearing a shirt this time, sounded a lot more comfortable performing with a guitar strapped on, and could be the next Bucky Covington (only hotter).

Andrew Garcia – “Straight Up”


The girls: Bridge-jumping, “aero-plane” riding Vanessa Wolfe failed to impress with Blind Melon’s “No Rain”, and takes her exit with the saddest farewell speech in Idol history: “I blew it. I’m sorry, Mom. I took a risk and it didn’t pay off.” My God, somebody give this girl a hug!  And it’s also the end of the road for Megan Wright, Paige Dechausse, sisters Amanda and Bernadette, and ex-Barney cast member/current domintrix Erica Rhoades. To our surprise, a favorite from the previous audition rounds, Maddy Curtis, isn’t picked to continue, despite giving a powerful, incredibly controlled performance.

The guys: Ski Bo Ski, baby! The 22-year old (whose real name is Antonio!) sang “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” and although we actually enjoyed it, the judges didn’t. At least he leaves us with a smile and one more “Ski Bo Ski, baby!” before he exits pop culture for good. Beat-boxing Jay Stone says b-b-b-b-bye, pants-splitting Cornelius Edwards splits, cancer survivor (and Seth MacFarlane look-a-like) Justin Williams is ousted, and, sadly, and the big-hearted, broad-chested Italian-American Amadeo DiRocco is sent packing. Too bad, we would have enjoyed a little more Amadeo. Oh well… does the Jersey Shore cast need an RA?

Most Promising Girl of the Night: Lots of great female contestants to choose from tonight, but we’ll go with Janell Wheeler’s guitar-strummed rendition of “American Boy” because we want to download it right now.

Most Promising Guy of the Night: Andrew Garcia and his unique spin on “Straight Up”. If only Paula were still on the judge’s panel, says Kara, she “would be screaming and yelling and clapping and dancing.” And slurring and drooling and mumbling… aww, we do miss Paula’s bizarre and lovable antics. Good thing we’ll probably have her back on the airwaves with The X-Factor.

Judges’ Biggest Mistake: Sending off the truly talented teenager Maddy Curtis. And we totally would have given Amadeo DiRocco that second shot he begged for to prove his vocal chops.

Best Quote of the Night: Ellen’s first words to Simon this episode: “So this is it. I come on, you leave?” Ellen sounds so hurt, and Simon laughs in her face. Ah, we’re going to miss this guy, too.