We're done with the initial auditions, and on to Boot Camp! Having not watched Season 1, I had no idea what that entailed, but I assumed it was similar to Hollywood Week on "Idol." That's basically true.
After fakey-fake "candid" videos featuring several contestants, most of whom were spotlighted in the original audition episodes, we ended up in Miami, Florida. From the 120 acts brought back from original auditions, 24 would be left standing in the course of a week. That is a much more aggressive culling process than I'm used to on these shows.
Since the show still does not have hosts (Mario Lopez and KhloeKardashian will presumably start with the live shows), the judges led us through the process in talking heads. (BTW: Am I crazy, or did Simon look like he's been to the "dentist" in his THs? His lips are not moving naturally anymore.) The contestants were put through a "series of challenges," the first of which was singing a song of their choice in front of the other contestants, so that they could all size up the competition.
First up was Diamond White, a bubbly 13-year-old who picked "I Have Nothing" by Whitney Houston. Diamond needs to tone down the parroted moves and stop oversinging. She also had some pitch issues. But for a kid who is barely a teen she did a surprisingly mature performance that got better as it went along.
Austin Corini, 16, still has that awful bleach-blonde hair from his initial auditions and still seems fixated on dull mid-tempo songs - this time he went with "To Make You Feel My Love." He's got all the ingredients to be a successful teen-pop star, but I don't think he has the connection with an audience to make those kinds of songs work for him. The judges seemed slightly divided - they liked him, but not the song.
Quick flashes of other contestants: David Correy, 26, came out and ratcheted up the energy with his version of Duffy's "Mercy," which is not a great vocal song, but he added a nice run. Dinah Jane Hansen, 15, did a phenomenal job on Mariah Carey's "Hero." Lyric Da Queen, 23, rapped while simultaneously dancing on the grave of Lisa "Left Eye" Lopez. Jason Brock, 35, who I just automatically think of as Fat Lambert, killed it. Carly Rose Sonenclar, 13, did a very solid version of Bruno Mars's "Runaway Baby," although Simon seemed to think she's too mature for her age. I was just glad to find out that she's not a one-trick pony, and I hope she can keep it up. She's one of my favorite at this point.
Jessica Espinosa must have been from an audition episode I missed, or they never showed her, but the judges seemed to remember her. I have absolutely no idea what song she was singing, but I hated it. I thought she really struggled through her number, but she has an interesting voice. The rasp didn't sound comfortable, if that makes sense. Her voice sounded constricted.
Janell Garcia was the girl who gave us some Benatar realness the first time out. This time she was similarly meek and nervous before going on stage, but she again came out and transformed into a bluesy sexy bomb as soon as she got the mic. You can tell that this is almost a persona for her - she just lets go completely when she sings. It's like a singing version of The Hulk or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I love this girl, and she really knows how to perform.
Vino Allen, 40, is like a grizzled, tattoo-covered version of Channing Tatum, and I would totally hit it. He's got a great voice for recording, and I'm very interested to see more of him. (On a side note, Vino and almost every single other contestant spotlighted last night is desperately in need of a makeover. DESPERATELY. I think he was wearing manpris.)
Johnny Maxwell, 16, seemed to be rapping to "I'll Be Missing You" by Puff Daddy, but Britney caught early on that he forgot his lyrics. And it got worse and worse as it went along.
Jordyn Foley, 12, the kid who sang "The Sun Will Come Out" from "Annie" last week and had absolutely NO business moving on, caterwauled a song I didn't even recognize. Some poor guy named Manny Acosta butchered "I Give My All." That obnoxious Trevor Moran, 13, did his typical foolery to Nicki Minaj's "Starships" -- a car-sing-along-caliber vocal with manic dancing -- and L.A. Reid actually had the audacity to say, "It just wasn't there today." The kid did exactly what he did in his first audition and you put him through. He's a joke, and you put him on national TV acting like he has real talent. You're the one who looks like an idiot here.
Nick Perrelli, 16, the crooner kid, completely crumbled under the pressure on "Feeling Good." Jake Garza, a 12-year-old, similarly fell apart (IRONY ALERT!) while singing "Total Eclipse of the Heart." He had a total breakdown of the everything backstage, and I'd like to point out that many of the biggest implosions were very young teenagers, whose pain was just exploited on national TV. That kid is going to go to middle school and be teased mercilessly for breaking down into heaving sobs, asking for his mom. That's not fair to anyone. Britney Spears was alarmed -- and I think legitimately sympathized -- with the very real emotional damage being done here. Given her background that makes sense.
The groups -- traditionally the damned on this show -- included generically good/cute boy bands L3vel, Citizen, Jetset, and then Emblem 3, which thus far has talked mad smack about pretty much everyone, continually alluding to their "artistry" and "musicianship." They choked on their version of "Iris" by the Goo Goo Dolls, and frankly, I loved watching it. When you act like this huge rock star and you get outclassed, you deserve it. The group did get the song back on track when another singer took over, but that was a very rough round for them. The judges still seemed to like it. I find them cocky and offputting, even if they did do an interesting arrangement of an unexpected song.
Tara Simon, the fantastically irritating vocal coach, came out and totally oversung "Somebody To Love." Can she sing? Yes. But she's so ridiculous that I hate her. Except I then come around to finding her hilarious to mock. So I guess I want her to move on? Tara Simon, you are destroying my worldview!
Willie Jones, 17, is serving up Kid 'n' Play realness, but he sings country. That was unexpected! He did "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy," and it started out OK, but then got really hokey really fast. He's got a great lower range but his upper range needs work.
Paige Thomas, the Rihannabe, did "I Will Always Love You" by Whitney. Her voice has too much vibrato, but when she really puts some gas into it, she's decent. I still think her look and style is what's really going to carry her in this competition, because the vocal was not as strong as it should be. I had the exact same take on her first audition, which the judges loved.
Cece Frey, 21, is the girl with the ill-considered leopard-print tattoo on her forehead, also did "Always Love You." I thought Cece's version was stronger, although she has to tone down the cabaret mannerisms and finish out her lines better.
The judges deliberated over their cuts. I found that Britney was quite opinionated, and voiced her concerns well. She was also clearly invested in the proceedings, which was fun to see. Demi Lovato was a basically a nonentity this episode.
At the end of the episode, we got three groups. Two went through, one was axed. Among those cut were Trevor, Jordyn, Jessica, the San Francisco transsexual bride (boo), Jake, and a bunch of people we didn't know.
Tomorrow night: Boot Camp continues with sing-offs, and Britney has a break down because she hates seeing children cry. Leave Britney alone!