The Hollywood herd-thinning on "American Idol" began in an airport hangar Wednesday, when the show surprised the 212 hopefuls who'd survived auditions with a new fast-elimination round it called "Hollywood or Home."
"They don't even know they're singing today," Jennifer Lopez said of the contestants, who'd been bused in directly from the airport before even catching a glimpse of their hotel. "They don't know we're coming today."
But Lopez and her fellow judges, Keith Urban and Harry Connick Jr., did show up in the tricked-out airplane hangar -- to call names, hear songs, whisper amongst themselves, deliver ominous speeches and make cuts.
They'd reviewed the audition tapes, we were told, and summoned forth for another look those they felt might not be quite worthy of continuing.
Why not wait to make the cuts on the step-forward-and-sing round (or whatever it's officially called) on the Hollywood stage, as in the past? Who knows? Perhaps the hotel had been short on beds?
In any event, singers were individually summoned to the front to prove their worth as the judges debated their merits and demerits and sealed their fates.
"I don't know what we saw in her," Connick said of Caitlin Johnson, who'd made it through in San Francisco only to choke – "superchoke," Connick emphasized – singing "Only Girl (In the World)" in front of the judges, the cameras and her fellow contestants.
After she'd completed her awful performance, Johnson explained that she had "really bad stage fright" and was "just proud I made it this far."
She and 31 others – including Tristen Langley, son of Season 1 finalist Nikki McKibbin, and Khristian d'Avis, the contestant with the fake accent -- ended up on a bus that took them straight back to the airport, where they would catch planes back to their old lives without ever having caught sight of the Hollywood sign.
Twenty other singers – including, surprisingly, idiosyncratic sound healer Adam Roth, whose performance Lopez had defended -- were luckier, making it all the way through to Hollywood, where they would complete alongside the 160 contestants who'd been waved through without having to re-prove their worth.
Day Two in Hollywood saw more singers – Samantha Calmes, who had sung "The Jeffersons" theme song during auditions, twin Selena Moreno and American-flag-lovin' Lauren Ogburn – sent home and others survive. Those making it through included Majesty Rose York, John Fox, Spencer Lloyd, Bria Anai, the hilarious Munfarid Zaidi, who sang well even when he wasn't cradled in Connick's arms, and 99 others.
And then it was on to the prep for the group round, featuring its usual footage of fighting and tears. A singer feuds with her group and leaves to find another group, only to find her troubles continue. Another contestant is sick and reluctantly quits the competition. Yet another hopeful selfishly leaves her group in the lurch, returning just in time to take the stage. All the usual storylines were there.
How will the behind-the-scenes drama affect the group performances? Which of the remaining 104 singers will continue to hang in there and which will head home in tears? We'll soon find out.
Did you think the new hangar round was a good addition, or gilding the lily?