In the name of excitement, American Idol just broke a busload of hearts prematurely and cruelly. Wednesday night, during the first moment of the show's beloved Hollywood Week, Idol threw an ugly twist at the contestants: an extra sudden death round right off of the plane.
Naturally, the judges made sure to spout reasons for this cruel ratings grab of a twist: if you're a famous singer, you need to be able to hop off of a plane and be amazing (but you also have a heads up, a team of handlers, a routine, and set resources for such things). These kids had nothing but shock and awe in their pockets.
The new Hollywood Week round goes like this: the contestants arrive in Los Angeles, they're bused to a nearby hangar, and then the folks who the judges were unsure about are asked to re-audition in front of the entire crew of contestants. Voices crack, nerves flare up, and all the while the judges sit on a pedestal and whisper about each contestant. But that's not much different from actual Hollywood Week, when contestants stand in groups and perform individually for a chance to continue on or go home.
This round was different because of the intense pressure, the lack of notice, and the fact that at the end of the round, one bus would be going to LAX and the other would whisk the happier group away to their hotel. But rather than telling the hopefuls which bus they were on once everyone loaded up, the producers let them wait until their surroundings delivered the bad news in the form of LAX's iconic silver letters. Many of the folks on the bus maintained their hope (and complete lack of geographical knowledge of Los Angeles) up until that point, only to learn it was all for naught when the charter bus lurched into the departures lane.
What's worse is this "twist" did very little to the competition — we still saw the same contestants get cut that would have flopped in their solo auditions on stage. We just saw them flop in an overly dramatic setting before being sent to their doom on a cloud of wishes and hope. The booted contestants' dreams were crushed in slow, painful motion and they didn't even get their promised visit to Hollywood. They didn't have a single night in a fancy hotel or the opportunity to step foot on a famous stage. Instead, they were drawn out and then smacked on their heads.
And for what? To spice up the most boring half of Hollywood week with some drama? Boring. To one-up NBC's gimmick machine The Voice? Again, boring. To save money on the 10 hotel rooms they would have booked for those contestants? That hangar had to cost more. Did Seacrest demand more dramatic voice-over work? Greedy.
Whatever the reason, the much-hyped Hollywood Week twist was not only the opposite of an exciting new twist, it was cruel and tortuous. Perhaps, by weeding out the duds in the group before Hollywood Week, the lesser contestants are supposed to be spared the cruelty of choking during group night or of messing up on the giant stage — after all, this season has shied away from showing terrible, William Hung-level auditions. The problem is that in execution, this was no different from Hollywood auditions except for the fact that the pressure and expectations were even higher. This was not kinder or gentler to these people who took time off of jobs, got sitters for their kids, and kissed their significant others goodbye to get on a plane to Los Angeles only to get right back on that plane.
Yes, the music industry is tough and cut-throat. Yes, you have to have thick skin to make it through. But the entire point of American Idol is plucking these talents out of obscurity, where they've never dealt with this pressure before. That's why there's American Idol boot camp before the live shows. That's why the audition rounds in Hollywood Week and Group Week are so rigorous: so that these folks have the chance to step up their game.
Still, I'll admit some of Wednesday's early eliminations were warranted and would have happened in the next round anyway, but all that means is that we could have gone without the cruel muscle-flexing competition we endured in the first 20 minutes of the episode and still ended up with the same 100 remaining at the end. So congratulations on crushing all those hopeful souls so completely, Idol. It sure wasn't worth it.
Images: Fox (2)