'American Idol': Boys' Town

Finally we've arrived back in Hollywood, city of dreams and possibility. Yes, American Idol has entered the second phase of the season, when all the golden ticketed people descend on California like singing bugs.

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Finally we've arrived back in Hollywood, city of dreams and possibility. Yes, American Idol has entered the second phase of the season, when all the golden ticketed people descend on California like singing bugs. It's an exciting leg of the Idol wonder tour, when wheat and chaff are separated. Or, in last night's case, the men and the boys.

Because Fox is a lying network run by filthy liars, Hollywood "Week" is actually two weeks. Yeah, they drag this thing out as long as it can be dragged. They might even make it a week longer. See, 'cause, this week was all the guys, and next week will be all the girls. So maybe beyond that they'll do another round of cuts before the semifinals begin and America gets a chance to vote? I'm pretty sure they're doing that Las Vegas section again, so we may still be almost a month away from the vote. But, oh well. That is the burden of the Idol viewer. Our time is theirs to do with what they will.

So, yes, it was all the mens. A room full of desperate, needy young fellas and, gloryoski look at him, Ryan Seacrest in the middle. Sure Nicki and Mariah were there, but mostly this was a theater full of young men, and Ryan Seacrest was in charge of them. "It's all come to pass..." he murmured when he first walked out on stage and saw them all. "The wish worked." It was a big day for him, and it was certainly a big day for the contestants. Nerves and emotions were running high, and the judges pitied them for their trembling fear, but the cuts came fast and furious anyway.

First came the initial sing, with the guys going up in groups and each singing a couple bars of the tune they prepared. It's a re-audition, basically. Many people did well, but plenty got the brutally swift ax. That sexy doctor? Gone. The fireman? Finished. I don't remember if he got bounced on this round or if he made it to groups, but that handsome guy that Nicki had a big crush on? Clipped. Just like that, all those dreams, all that joy we watched mere weeks ago, over. Wrecked and ruined. Sorry guys. Though, in some ways they were oddly lucky. They at least didn't have to deal with the terrible stress and indignity that is group night, which came next. Oh lord is group night always a horror show. But, not satisfied with its innate awfulness, mean warlock producer Nigel Lythgoe decided that this year, they'd choose the groups for the contestants. Sure that might seem easier in some respects — there was no point this year when some strange loner got left out of a group, for example — but this being American Idol, it was inevitable that at least some of the groups would be set up as haha jokes.

You know, like the small, wiry red-headed kid who has some social disorders paired up with two huge black guys with booming voices. The comedy in opposites or whatever. They also matched a country boy ex-military guy up with a be-makeupped and be-frocked fellow named JDA (pronounced Jada), which caused some real tension. The red-headed kid's comedy group was actually harmless, kinda funny and sweet. They did well and all went through, so haha, no harm done. But the other group, who dubbed themselves Country Queen, really did have actual issues. It was a shitty way for the producers to make fun of the two effeminate guys in the group while pretending they weren't. Supposedly the problem was with the military man, but the bigger, less stated nature of the joke was that this real man's man had to deal with all these mincing fairies. It was a gay panic-y type of a thing and it didn't play well. Idol, knowing the milk-fed breadth of its reg'lar American fanbase, has always trafficked in weirdo shaming, though they've gotten better about it in the years since Adam Lambert. So it was kind of disappointing to see these people thrown together as a mean joke. This is their lives we are talking about! A grand opportunity! All boiled and thinned down to a stupid clash of fashion sense. Bah.

Turned out that, oh well, the joke was ultimately on the military man. His dreaded sissies went through to the next round while he was (justifiably, he screwed up his lyrics like crazy) given the heave-ho. He was overcome with emotion, anger and sadness and probably a little gassiness, and got teary outside. "I've never failed at anything..." he mooped to the camera. Which... Well, you're an overweight American man in his late twenties. Surely you've failed at something. Everyone's failed at something for heaven's sake. Think a little harder. Biffing an American Idol audition can't be the first time you've encountered failure. I refuse to believe it. But ah well, them's the breaks. He was ushered off to the Idol decompression chamber, where axed contestants must sit for two days before they reenter the harsh real world, and that's the last we'll see of him. Goodbye, jerk1

The news was better for a lot of the people we've been following. The kid with the stutter, Lazlo or whatever, he went through. Though he managed to piss off his group members in the process. See, he didn't know any of the songs, so his teammates had to spend a lot of time teaching him lyrics and stuff. Thus when they performed and the ones doing the teaching crapped the bed while Lazlo sang wonderfully, they blamed it on Lazlo. They were sent home and he went through and afterward one of them bitchily said "I'm glad we could help you get to where you were supposed to be, so congratulations." It was very passive aggressive and Ryan's voiceover afterword was basically like "Oh girllllll." Nothing to be done now, though. Lazlo — who, granted, was pretty annoying about not knowing any of the songs, like dude the show has been on since you were a baby, maybe make sure you know how it works and what kinds of songs they use? — is through and that's that. The bitter bitchy one returns to regular life having had one snippy moment on national television. I hope it was worth.

You know who else is through?? Johnny Kayser! Yeah, the guy that Colton Dixon killed last season but who is back now because of some crossed magical wires, has now made it about as far as he did last year. He sang in a very bad group, like a very very bad group, but he somehow made it through anyway. Ryan isn't quite sure what to make of the whole thing. On the one hand he saw what happened last year, felt Johnny's weight go limp as he slumped against him and blood gurlged out of his mouth, Colton standing behind him with that strangely placid look on his face. So Ryan knows that something is off and perhaps very wrong about his being back on the show. But on the other hand, he's Johnny Kayser. He's a syrupy golden pancake carved into the the shape of a low-rent Grecian demigod. Ryan feels very conflicted. But he figures he has time to make up his mind one way or the other. Or maybe the judges will do it for him. Sometimes they help him out like that, when things get too overwhelming.

Also miraculously through despite a bad group showing is none other than our beloved Papa Peachez. Yes, dear heavens, Nicki Minaj successfully fought for the lad once more, though she warned him that it was the last time she could do it. He's on his own now, he must travel on his own strength and steam. Wouldn't it be crazy if he actually made it to the voting rounds? That's really all he's got to do. He has to make it as far as semifinals and then the votes will take care of the rest. He'll do well enough for a little bit, odd novelty that he is, and gain some modicum of fame. Then when he's kicked off, looking like he does and being who he is, he'll just do the club circuit for the next few years or become some weird downtown scene staple — tarnished by reality TV stink, but emboldened by his own boldness. I'm not sure I really want that for Papa Peachez, but it could be interesting to watch nonetheless.

The tiny guy from The Glee Project made it through another round, so we'll have to put up with more of him saying "dude" every other word. That weird David Leathers kid from last year is still in the hunt, which I guess is good, though I find something about him a little off-putting. He's maybe too much of a show kid? Speaking of show kids, that little one with cystic fibrosis and the late-'80s blond kid cocky swagger? He rather shockingly didn't get sent through. Not shocking because of his voice — it's a tinkly little reedy squeak-whisper of a thing — but because of his story and of how adorable everyone thinks he is. He vowed to come back next year, and my guess is that if his voice changes even a little but he holds onto his good pitch? He could be a force to be reckoned with. Next year, though. It'll have to be next year.

And that's about it from last night. It was a long, languid two-hour episode, full of tears and frustration. But, remarkably, there wasn't that much fighting, was there? Usually group night is all about people storming off and shouting about when to go to bed, but this time it was pretty low-key. One guy credited the all-maleness of the event for the lack of drama, but that can't be true. I mean, as Ryan himself can tell you, rooms full of men can get pretty dramatic pretty quickly. I guess we'll have to wait and compare next week, when the ladies go. Will they fight? Will they screech? Or will they simply putter around like these dudes, awkward in their new surroundings, trying to find any handle or foothold to secure themselves on? Oh how hellish it must be in that antechamber to TV stardom. What a trying time. I'm glad it's not me. I'm not sure if I'm quite happy it's them, not yet. I need to get to know them better. But I am glad, at least, that this year's Idol is train finally picking up some speed.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.