Ah, "American Idol" group round. "The most grueling challenge of the 'Idol' journey," Ryan Seacrest reminded us on Thursday night, just before we saw the first group, a trio of returning contestants calling themselves "Three Mo' Days," step out onto stage.
What's grueling for the contestants can feel both grueling and entertaining for those of us at home. There's generally no shortage of drama during rehearsals. Someone always gets sick or selfishly refuses to rehearse or insists that he or she is the only one who can dance or sing harmony, sparking team discord, crossed arms, shouting, tearful soliloquies delivered directly to the camera.
And then there's the sad business of sending hopefuls home as the singers they've just collaborated with are welcomed into the next round. "You, you … not you." But so it ever is.
And so when the group performing as Three Mo' Days took the stage, despite Jennifer Lopez calling its harmony "super beautiful," only two of its members, David Oliver Willis and Sarina-Joi Crowe, went through. The third, Tony Foster Jr., was sent home.
"Can I ask why real quick?" Foster asked, earnestly seeking an explanation.
"We're looking for people who jump out at us … It's tough, baby. I'm sorry," Lopez said vaguely, but Harry Connick Jr. gave him concrete feedback.
"You spent 80% of the performance looking down at your feet," Connick said. "This is a performance. You have to perform it."
Keith Urban, who'd presumably been referring to Foster when he'd described one of the singers' performances as "flat as a tag," agreed. "Great voice, Tony," he added apologetically.
Foster vowed to work on it, and I wouldn't be surprised if we see him return to try again next year. Don't forget, it took last year's winner, Candice Glover, three times to get through to the live rounds.
Of course, some groups were luckier, seeing all their members waved through. Flannel-sportin' country dudes Casey Thrasher, Dexter Roberts and Ben Briley – "There's a huge shortage of plaid right now across the world," Connick quipped – who performed "I Want It That Way" as the Backstreet Cowboys, all advanced.
"Right on, guys. Very entertaining," Urban said. "I love seeing three Southern guys doing a song that has really nothing to do with what they do musically and making it work."
The Backstreet Cowboys weren't the only fortunate ones. In all, 77 contestants made it safely through to whatever challenge comes next – including Neco Starr, George Lovett, Paula Hunt, Adrina Brogden, MK Nobilette, Briana Oakley (whose mellifluous tone apparently gave Lopez goosies), Brandy Neely, Emily Piriz, Kenzie Hall, Spencer Lloyd, Megan Miller (despite the fact that she botched the lyrics), Caleb Johnson, C.J. Harris, Jena Asciutto and Munfarid Zaidi (hooray!) among others.
Headed home empty-handed, however, were Alyssa Siebken, Madisen Walker, Keith London (whose choice in singing "If I Were a Boy" during the previous round was apparently not as random as the judges seemed to think), Austin Precario, cheerleader Stephanie Petronelli and (at last!) sound healer Adam Roth, to name just a few.
Some took it better than others. Sixteen-year-old Stephanie Hanvey's mother took it especially vocally. "You're a superstar … one to watch out for," she hollered from the audience.
One singer, Tiquila Wilson, took herself out of the running: Her heart belonged to gospel music, she said. "This competition isn't for me."
The judges seemed to understand, but Connick was moved to stage a mock-departure from the judging panel.
"I just don't like the other judges," he said, by way of explanation, as he pretended to storm off.
Seacrest dragged him back to the table.
Too late? "My chair's already out. They've already relit everything," Connick joked.
"Randy's in there," Urban shot back.
Ah, the group rounds. Good times.
But with 77 singers heading into the next round, many more cuts are still to come.
Who were you sad to see sent home?