Perhaps in an attempt to live up to the drama implied by its apocalyptic-sounding name, the second night of the “final judgment” phase on “American Idol” included twists and tricks that were unexpected at least, it appeared, by the contestants themselves.
At the top of the show, 17 of the top 30 slots – 15 guys and 15 young women – who would be featured in next week’s live rounds had been claimed. And far more than 13 singers sat stressed out, their fates suspended, in the holding room.
Two country-singing dudes from Alabama – C.J. Harris and Casey Thrasher – sat before the judges, waiting to hear which of them had made it through, and which had not.
Calling the decision “bizarre and difficult and stressful,” Harry Connick Jr. turned to Thrasher, telling him that, after “a lot of deliberation,” he’d made it through to the top 15 guys.
Cue the sorrowful music – and the super-sad faces. Thrasher allowed himself only a moment of relief, and then threw his arm supportively around his disappointed pal.
“Aw, C.J., I tell you, man, the single hardest part about this contest is letting extraordinary people go because there’s only so many spots, man,” Connick continued, “and we are so happy to tell you that you got one of those spots. Congratulations, fellows.”
Caught off guard, Thrasher allowed himself to speak truth to the judges.
“I’m so tired of you guys’ tricks, man,” he said intensely.
Then everyone hugged it out and the contestants were off to be grilled by Ryan Seacrest about how terrified they’d been that one of them would be sent home.
Who else made it through?
Marrialle Sellers, 17. Though, during auditions, Connick had asked her to say she’d be the next American Idol, he now told her solemnly that she’d be presumptuous to think she’d made it into the top 30. She was so startled when he finally dropped the mask and gave her the good news that she “forgot how to breathe.”
Jena Asciutto (pronounced “Gina,” not “Jenna,” they’ll have us know), also 17, whom Connick called a “sleeper” contestant, predicting she’d surprise everyone.
Caleb Johnson, 22, a Season 11 returnee who looks quite a bit like a young Meat Loaf. “Are you relevant today?” the judges wondered. After Johnson was told he’d made it, he made a partially bleeped-out joke about making a mess in his pants. It’ll be a while before we get that image out of our heads, but it might not be a while before Johnson departs the “Idol” stage: In an instant poll, most voters thought the judges would send him home.
Ethan Harris, 20, who Connick believes could be a star, even though Keith Urban didn’t think much of his solo round song choice, “Amazed."
Majesty Rose York, 21, who was told by the judges that she’d had both good and bad moments, but that “rarely are we so enthusiastic about a talent.”
Fifteen-year-old Briston Maroney, who had to endure a long, drawn-out story from Connick implying that he’d be sent packing before being informed that he was safe. “You are a wicked man,” Maroney told Connick, which seemed to amuse the judges.
Brandy Neelly, 18, and Briana Oakley, 17, both of whom had been turned away in past seasons. “You know what it feels like to hear the word ‘No,’” Connick told the teenage singers, who’d been summoned before the judges together. After they both received “yeses,” Neelly – who, according to one report, has made it to Hollywood four times! -- thanked the judges for not making her cry. Aw.
Kenzie Hall, 17, who tearfully said she’d just wanted to make her mom proud. Double aw.
Austin Wolfe, 17, who beat fellow contestant Sandie Lee for the final female slot, even though she sang the same song – “Radioactive” – in the solo round as she had during auditions.
And that last slot on the guy side? That’s apparently up to us. The “Idol” voters have been invited to choose whether Ben Briley, 24, or Neco Starr, 22, should make it through to the top 30. “It’s the first time that something like this has happened probably in ‘Idol’ history,” Jennifer Lopez said.
So there you go, one last twist. Though the cruelest twist of the evening may have been that talented, original contestant Savion Wright didn’t make it through. “I thought it was my time right now. I thought this was the year, but I guess I was wrong,” he said.
Others sent home included Sarina Joi Crowe, Nalani Quintello, David Oliver Willis and Sandie Lee.
So which of the two unplaced contestants – Briley or Starr – would you rather see make it through? And what do you think of the top 30?