It's Hollywood Week on American Idol, and a few things are happening. First, the 181 finalists will be trimmed down to 12 guys and 12 girls. Second, new judge Ellen DeGeneres is finally making her debut.
In the Kodak Theater, the contestants cheer Ellen when she hits the stage to talk to them. She tells them that she knows what it's like to get on stage try to please an audience full of people.
Round 1, the contestants come out in groups of eight and sing individually, either a capella or with instruments. It's sudden death, so they're either in or out after a few bars.
Katie Stevens (with the grandma with Alzheimer's) sings "For Once in My Life," and Randy Jackson calls her a natural talent.
Antonio "Skiiboski" Wheeler sings, and walks, and Ellen says he was stalking around the stage like a leopard in a cage. "Don't scare your audience," she reminds him.
Katie (and some others) makes it, and Skiiboski (and some others) get cut. He wants more information, and Simon Cowell just tells him he's not a great singer.
Andrew Garcia takes a risk by singing a stripped-down, acoustic-guitar version of Paula Abdul's "Straight Up." It's a good move -- he's excellent. Kara DioGuardi says that was genius and that Paula would be screaming and clapping for him. She says he owned it. (Interestingly, I believe Andrew has a decent YouTube following, but it looks like he had to take down his own videos because his channel currently only has his Idol audition.)
Vanessa Wolfe (the small-town Tennessee girl who jumps off bridges for fun) took her first airplane ride to get to Hollywood Week. She calls it "a chance to make something of herself, a big nervous moment." She sings "No Rain" by Blind Melon, and it's kind of harsh. Ellen tells her she is hiding inside and needs to figure out who she is and let it out.
Andrew makes it, but Vanessa does not. This leads to a montage of tears.
Cornelius Edwards (the guy who split his pants doing the splits) gets cut. So does Maegan Wright (whose little brother cheered for her). As does Amedeo DiRocco, whose giant Italian family we met in the auditions.
Janell Wheeler plays guitar and does a stripped-down performance of Estelle's "American Girl." She's amazing and is through.
But just when you think that the stripped-down performances with instrument are all getting through to the next round, we get a montage of people performing with instruments and screwing up big-time.
Haeley Vaughn is 16 and so nervous, but she's hoping she can make it work with her big-voiced, pop-country approach. Randy says he liked her, but we don't hear how she did.
Mary Powers (the rocker-mom) sings Pink's "Sober," and Ellen says she was amazing.
They both make it to the next round.
For the last group of auditioners, Ellen tells one to step forward, then another one, then asks one to step back, then asks the guy to step to the left a little ... finally she tells them they are all through. Mean! But funny coming from her. Simon still calls her a sadist, though.
Day two, Simon tells them to not be nervous, not be boring and not to forget the words.
Jay Stone (the beatboxing buy) doesn't make the best impression this time. You can't even hear his voice, just the spitting.
Lilly Scott sings some Ella Fitzgerald and plays guitar, which works together better than you might think. She sounds great. Kara says everything about her is refreshing.
Clearly, Lilly and Jay are going to end up in different lines.
Michael Lynche tells the judges that he is the next American Idol because his wife is in labor with their first child right now and that if he doesn't bring home the title, he'll be in trouble. He sings "Waiting on the World to Change." Simon likes the song choice and arrangement. He makes it through.
Tim Urban got a second chance from Simon at his first audition, and he's hoping to prove he deserved it. He misses a couple of notes in a big way, but Kara says he had a shaky chorus but it was otherwise good.
Cancer survivor Justin Williams croons with the piano in an over-the-top way, and we didn't see much of it, but I don't know how good it was. Randy only calls it "interesting."
Tim makes it, but Justin does not.
Maddy Curtis (the 16-year-old girl with several siblings with Down Syndrome) sings, and Simon says it was the wrong song choice, but her voice sounded pretty good to me, considering.
Casey James (the guy who took his shirt off at Kara's request during the first round) finally gets to show what he does, which is apparently playing blues guitar. Randy says he is a real singer-songwriter.
Casey makes that cut, but Maddy does not. I bet she'll be back in a future season. She is so young, after all.
Didi Benami sings a Kara DioGuardi song (and plays guitar), and she sounds really lovely (but then we see Kara and Randy making a weird face at each other, so maybe they don't agree). Simon says he really likes that song, even though he didn't want to admit it. Simon says he likes the idea of her, a waitress, making it big on the show.
Crystal Bowersox plays guitar and sings "Natural Woman," and she is great, so great that she gets the other contestants to sing background from the audience chairs. Simon calls her infectious.
Didi and Crystal make it, too.
Tomorrow night, it's group sing time!
(Photo by Michael Becker/Fox)