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Posted at 12:05 AM ET, 02/11/2011

'American Idol' goes to Hollywood: We watch so you don't have to (video)

By Lisa de Moraes

"Idol" contestants perform during the show's annual Hollywood Week. (Fox) | PHOTOS

Countless dreams will be tested, epic journeys will be taken -- it's the start of our Hollywood Hell on "American Idol," show host Ryan Seacrest gloats Thursday.

With Simon Cowell, and Paula Abdul, and Kara DioGuardi, and Ellen DeGeneres all gone, it's left to "Idol's" only surviving judge, Randy Jackson, to deliver the "the talent is most definitely better than ever" gag that traditionally kicks off the Hollywood elimination rounds.

Double the contestants, double the drama, says Seabiscuit. Double the talent, he adds - not realizing Randy already covered that base.

Hollywood - there's no place like on Earth. And, nothing like Hollywood Week, Seabiscuit gushes. Which, BTW, is taking place at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

This reminds us of something one of the trade papers said years ago, when it moved its HQ out of Hollywood, about Hollywood being a state of mind, not a geographic location.

Finally, an actual fact: 327 people made it to Hollywood Week this season.

Randy and the two new judges, Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez, are going to separate the men from the boys and the women from the girls, JLo explains. We have no idea what that means, given that they've reduced the eligibility age to 15.

"These kids got to bring it hard or forget about it," Randy clarifies.

"I hope they did their homework," Tyler chimes in.

Homework?

The Idolettes will be hauled on to stage, 10 at a time, sing individually, get no feedback, and then the judges will tell each one of the 10 if they're in or they're out.

The very first to sing is Brett Loewenstern. The 16-year-old was bullied, starting in third grade. Why? No time to explain that again. He performs. Big hair. Good voice. He's in!

"I'd like to say to the people who tried to bully me ... I'm done feeling like a victim," he tells "Idol"-cam.

Instant healing! Next! Phew. Hope people watching at home aren't multi-tasking. Seabiscuit never looked more like the White Rabbit.

A young woman named Symphony also makes it through.

Buncha acceptable candidates, Rachel Zetita, Thia Megia, and Casey Abrams - bang, bang, bang - get through.

Here comes Victoria Huggins, 17, "the charismatic southern belle," says Seabiscuit. She gets to Hollywood, looks out her hotel window and says "Many people look at me like I'm looking at these mountains." Wow, are the mountains about to be sent packing, too?

Victoria's good enough during her audition - well, she's loud, anyway. But it's just a formality - she's out! Any questions? No -- not after we're told she came with 11 suitcases.

This episode is an odd combination: fast, and yet with no surprises.

"I feel more than just a 17-year-old. I feel special," Victoria tells "Idol"-cam. "North Carolina will be proud of me and I AM their American Idol," she says. We were not able to contact North Carolina for comment.

Seabiscuit signals that the next segment will be the Battle of the Back Stories: James Durbin, the guy with Tourette syndrome vs. Paris Tassin, the young mother whose daughter is hearing impaired. Both weep a bit as they re-tell their back stories. Oh, "Idol," you are so cruel. It's like gladiators thwapping each other with wet hankies. James performs "Oh, Darling." He really can sing, and we hope he doles out his Adam-like high-range notes judiciously, because two nights in a row - his San Francisco audition was shown to us on Wednesday - is enough for a while. Paris, she's just okay.

Just for giggles, they throw in Stormi Henley, Miss Teen USA - yeah, like she's going anywhere in this group.

Then Lauren Alaina, who's singing for her cousin who had cancer -- also okay. Empathy level not spiked high enough yet? How about adding Chris Medina, who's singing for his fiancée, who's a car crash victim and uses a wheelchair - let's be honest, he's a bit pitchy, but clearly a stand-up guy.

Spoiler alert: They're all sent through! "Awesome man," Medina says, weeping.

Oh, except Stormi, that is. Stormi's sent home.

"I don't think there was much hope," she says philosophically after getting the hook. "You had to have a spectacular voice, and I couldn't do anything to help that."

Oh, boy, we get a sinking feeling when "Idol" pitches the next batch as The Cavalcade of Nervous Nellies. Except that Jacee Badeaux, the chubby kid with the sweet voice, now looks as solid as a rock and he doesn't flub his tune. He's in, for sure.

Robbie Rosen is pretty pitchy. Hollie Cavanagh, who'd been a nervous wreck during her audition, is surprisingly poised, and good, and loud, and blonde. And while neither is too memorable, they're both in, seemingly just on the strength of overcoming nerves.

Accountant Steve Beghun has a nice pop voice but ... he's an accountant. He gets the hook and accepts the verdict philosophically.

A series of various weepy people flip by the camera, because "Idol" producers think we remember them well, but we only do kinda, so we don't really care they're out, and then feel heartless. That's show biz.

Moving on to Day 2 -- it's Couples Night on "American Idol."

Rob Bolin, we are reminded, is the guy who still has the thing for the girl - that's Chelsee Oaks -- who has moved on, but not out of his life. They're juxtaposed against the insanely happy, and less talented, couple, Nick Fink and Jacqueline Dunford.

Seabiscuit tells us they've all become friends -- or, anyway, the two women are being told to bunk together and the producers have arranged for Rob and Nick to share a room for bonding purposes. Rob and Chelsee get through on talent alone and surely not back story, and also surely not because JLo is on record predicting the couple will get back together during the season.

Nick and Jacqueline, on the other hand, have their relationship tested because she's better than he is and gets sent on in the competition, while Nick is told it's the end of the road for him.

Nick takes it badly; he won't let it go, pleading with the judges from the stage, then singing -- even worse -- from the aisles while Jacqueline walks on ahead, with a look that says she's seeing flash before her eyes what her whole life will be if she stays with this guy. But just when we'd written him off as a loser, Nick uncorks one of the best lines in "Idol" history, as Seabiscuit tries to do one of his trademark "What does it feeeeeel like?" post-audition interviews with the pair:

"What do you care? Are you hurt by this? You're just washed out emotionally cause you've been here 10 years," Nick blurts, which so exactly pegs Seabiscuit it's a freeze-in-your-tracks moment. Now, we're really sorry to see him go. Anyway, there's no "American Idol" Host Consolation Hug for this couple.

Scotty McCreery, he of the very deep, country voice, is obviously rattling JLo's chair. She loves him, she says -- but not in the old, ogling, Paula, blurt-it-out kinda way. JLo says it in an under-her-breath, I'm-a-celebrity-and-a-businesswoman way. We're still waiting for JLo to bust a few moves, expression-wise.

McCreery sings the same tune he sang during his audition. Simon Cowell would have savaged him and sent him packing for that. This new batch of judges is less demanding. So why don't all the Idolettes repeat the tunes that got them to Hollywood? Well, Jackie Wilson did just that; ditto Jerome Bell and they sail through. There's a lesson to be learned here, kiddies.

Tiffany Rios is back, the one who flashed her star-spangled bra at the judges as a finale during her audition. She's coming on arrogant, says something about being tired of having to watch others trying to do what she can do better -- like she's trying to invent a major back story on the spot. But the judges don't take her up on the gambit. Anyway, she's pumped and belts out her number with big-time conviction. She gets greenlit, which may be the night's only surprise.

Poor Travis Orlando, the formerly homeless 17-year-old from the Bronx, auditions with his wind sapped by nerves. It's hard to watch because he seems so nice, but he's not anywhere near good enough to cash in on sympathy points from the judges.

Then it's fast forward for bulletins about other survivors, including: car accident survivor Stefano Langone, the June Bug, Julie Zorrilla whose parents fled Colombia, our current fave Emily Ann Reed, and our former White House Intern, Molly DeWolf Swenson, who told us two weeks ago: "I'm in love with this president ... (but) not in a Monica Lewinsky-Bill Clinton kind of way!"

Recap: Hollywood auditions:

More on this story:

Photo gallery: 'American Idol,' Season 10

'American Idol' San Francisco auditions: We watch so you don't have to (video)

'American Idol': Season 10, episode 6 (Los Angeles auditions)

'American Idol': Season 10, episode 5 (Austin auditions)

'American Idol': Season 10, episode 4

'American Idol': Season 10, episode 3

'American Idol' 10th season premiere continues in New Orleans

By Lisa de Moraes  | February 11, 2011; 12:05 AM ET
Categories:  "American Idol"  
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Next: Grammy Awards ratings up slightlycompared to last year [Updated]

Comments

I don't get the first of Hollywood Week. They pack them up, fly them to LA, put them up in a hotel, have them sing a few notes and kick them out. Why not just do that at the airport before they board and save all that!?!?!?

Posted by: snowbucks | February 11, 2011 8:12 AM | Report abuse

This is the first idol I actually am able to sit down and watch it from beginning to end of evening show. I never could before so I am trying to figure out what is different and maybe its the judges. It could be that this group of judges are fast forwarding rather than prolonging the really bad singers and not making fun of them or tormenting certain people for laughs.

I think I really like the show now and the new judges.

Posted by: mac7 | February 11, 2011 8:53 AM | Report abuse

mac7, I agree with you. Plus, this is the first time in years I watched the auditions. Something about these three judges and the way the show has been tweaked - in a good way. I just hope this is a great AI season!

Posted by: MILWI | February 11, 2011 9:32 AM | Report abuse

I agree that not making fun of the losers is a big improvement this year. But is it the new judges, or is it that AI WAY overdid it last year when they made so much fun of the near-retarded kid, and they learned their lesson?

Posted by: Dan4 | February 11, 2011 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Wow, that show last night was SO dreary. LIke flogging several hundred corpses up and down those stage steps, poking them to sing, hauling them back down the steps, then frog-marching them outta there. I am also extremely tired of the back stories, Enough already!! I don't CARE, I just wanna hear them sing. And though I'm actually surprised that I like Steven Tyler so much, there's something intangilble about JLo that I can't stand. Not in an over the top annoying Kara kinda way... she just exudes a cold distant energy that doesn't fit. And moving Randy to the lead judge position is just sad to watch. Didn't think I would miss Simon so much, he really was the heart and soul of the show. It just feels rudderless somehow -- like the old Star Search.

I so hope Simon decides to bring Paula onto his X factor show. That would be so great!
I'm now thinking the perfect trio judge-ship would be Simon, Paula, and Steven.

Posted by: tmeintermedia | February 11, 2011 10:27 AM | Report abuse

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