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February 7, 2013

Highlights and lowlights as the Idol guys hit Hollywood

by Mark Franklin

American Idol went to Hollywood Wednesday night not only with new judges, but with a new format.

For the first time, the gals and guys weren’t competing together.

Matheus Fernandes awaits his turn to take the stage on American Idol. (FOX Photo)Early on, one male auditioner said he missed the ladies. Instantly, another chimed in with a much different opinion.

He didn’t miss the distractions or the drama.

Whoa, buddy, this is American Idol. This is American Idol in Hollywood.

And American Idol can’t be in Hollywood without a little drama.

That said, the show did a very nice job of featuring lots of singing and keeping the drama — by Idol standards — in perspective.

Here is my take on some of the highlights and lowlights.

Curtis Finch Jr. was a star in American Idol's first Hollywood episode.Star of the night: The most highly touted singer was Curtis Finch Jr., who drew rave reviews for his opening solo, then stole the show during a group performance with Charlie Askew and Nicholas Mathis. Curtis made it all the way to Vegas last year. His biggest mistake might have been performing in a Vegas group that also included Joshua Ledet. It’s a little tough to shine in that setting. But Curtis was shining bright on Wednesday.

Best group performance: Producers decided who would sing together during the group numbers. For some reason, they put rocker Gabe Brown with Nick Boddington, Mathenee Treco and Matheus Fernandes, who are not … rockers that is. But the group decided to sing “Somebody to Love” and absolutely everything clicked. And while we’re talking about singers who stood out Wednesday, add Mathenee to the list. He also made it to Vegas last year.

Biggest group train wreck: Well, this is easy. A group called B-Side took the stage and tried to sing “Payphone” and proved unworthy of the B side of anything. The group included Chris Waston, Mark LaDuke, Peter Garrett and Gurpreet Singh Sarin. They forgot lyrics, they sang off key, they failed to complement one another. And they all advanced. A couple minutes later, Ryan mentioned how the judges were setting the bar high in Season 12. Say what?

Karl Skinner was an unfortunate elimination Wednesday night on American Idol (FOX Photo)Sorry to see him go: I thought coffee-drinking, coke-swilling Karl Skinner was a hoot, and his version of “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” sounded good enough to me to survive the opening round. I could rattle off the names of at least a dozen contestants I’d rather have seen go home (including everyone on B Side).

How did they survive: OK, I know Johnny Keyser made it a long way last year. He was one of the guys considered for a wild card spot. But messing up the lyrics to a classic like “I’ll Be There” that badly, then saying he’d never head the song before, should have earned him a quick trip back to Florida. And I know Lazaro Arbos has a great back-story because of his struggles with stuttering. But he sang twice Wednesday and was way short of special both times.

Trevor Blakney (right) was part of an American Idol group dubbed Country Queen that didn't quite jell. (FOX Photo)Best drama: Well, someone had to fill the role. This year it was Country Queen, featuring two country singers — Lee Pritchard and Sgt. Trevor Blakney — two … well, shall we say … much more flamboyant contestants than Joel Wayman and Josh “Jada” Davilla. Trevor balked at the suggestion that the group perform “Moves Like Jagger,” then expressed frustration over the group’s focus on dance moves and “glamor” rather than vocals. They wound up singing “More Than Words,” a song suited just fine for country singers. But it was the country singers who headed home.

Those who overcame:   Idol ended three of its audition episodes with guys who were overcoming some sort of obstacle — Lazaro and his stuttering problem, Kayden Stephenson and his battle with cystic fibrosis and Matheus and his struggle to overcome being different (he stands 4-foot-9). Oh, and I suppose we can add Micah Johnson to this group. He’s the young man left with a speech impediment after a tonsillectomy went bad. Only Kayden failed to survive the group round after mangling the words to “For the Longest Time.”

So long to the hunks:  If Idol wanted to improve the chances of a female winning Season 12, the judges might have helped by ousting some potential heartthobs who might have had young girls voting into the wee hours of the morning. Among those cut in Wednesday’s episode was singing doctor Calvin Peters, hunky firefighter Dustin Watts and Griffin Peterson, who grabbed Nicki’s attention in the Chicago auditions.

Cortez Shaw shined in Hollywood on American Idol. (FOX Photo)David Leathers shined in Hollywood on American Idol.l. (FOX Photo)Hello again: But Idol also served up some suitable replacements, reintroducing us to a pair of singers who made it all the way to Vegas a year ago. Cortez Shaw flashed an impressive range both times we heard him sing Wednesday, though Nicki wasn’t exactly thrilled with his take on “I Will Always Love You.” We heard very little of David Leathers Jr., but the judges called him the rock-steady member of a group of youngsters called DKSK (it also inlcuded Kayden). Remember, young David’s nickname is Mr. Steal Your Girl.

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