Wednesday's episode of American Idol begins the two-week Hollywood Rounds - but with a twist. For the first time in the show's history, the men and women will compete separately here. Tonight, the guys start angling for 20 semifinalist slots. Follow the action and voice your opinions as I blog live during the show. -- Brian Mansfield
American boys: Group Day is nearing its end. Frankie Ford doesn't have the musical knowledge that the other members of Oz do, but rather than using them to support him, he alienates them, fussing with them and using excuses for his poor performance. Finally, the real reason comes out in tears: "I don't want to go home," Ford says.
When they start American Boy, they sound like they're singing two different songs, in two different keys. Adam Sanders and Papa Peachez manage to cut through the clutter.
But Ford doesn't, singing "oh, oh, oh," as he realizes there's no way he can stay in the competition.
Charles Allen rescues the performance with a great shouter's moment. But then the group falls apart on the last chords.
"Frankie, you fell apart for me today," Nicki Minaj tells him. "You lost me."
Peachez tells her the "big personalities" caused their problems - and she lets him know that the personalities will only get bigger in the competition, and once they're in the real world, they'll "be out of this world."
Keith Urban fights for Ford because of his spirit, and somebody changed their vote at the last second so that Minaj could keep Peachez in the competition. But she lets him know that he's become complacent and has used up all the goodwill he had previously garnered with her.
Ford leaves the venue in tears, doing his best not to say something he'll regret on camera.
"I swear to God I'm coming back next year," he says. "And I'm going to win. I'm going to win. I didn't come here to lose."
Killer Queen: Even Randy Jackson gets the joke with Country Queen.
"This is a funny group," he says, as they take the stage.
They've settled on Extreme's More Than Words - and they at least know the words, or at least most of them. Trevor Blakney, shown earlier struggling to learn the song, gets lost early in his solo section. And the producers' decision to put such disparate characters together realizes no surprises: Blakney, Lee Pritchard, Jda and Joel Wayman struggle to blend, even when they sound okay solo.
Carey recognizes the challenge of this group performing together and says she liked Blakney and Pritchard, but they won't be continuing. Jda and Joel, though, will move on.
Blakney takes the new hard. "I'm better than what I did," say the sergeant. "I've never failed at anything in my life."
The Idol producers take a shot at creating a boy band, putting the four youngest members together to form DKSK. David Leathers from last season returns, and Kayden Stephenson is part of the group, as well as Kevin Quinn and Sanni M'mairura. They tap into the doo-wop roots of boy bands, singing Billy Joel's The Longest Time. When they nail their harmonies, it's the sweetest sound we've heard the whole show. But it's also got some rough spots, Stephenson forgetting the lyrics among them.
Leathers and M'mairura both get to continue, but Stephenson and Quinn don't. "I wasn't ready," Stephenson says, shaking his head.
Stephenson's not the only audition face eliminated during Group Day: Griffin Peterson and Clifton Duffin go home, too.
Judges' favorites: Burnell Taylor returns with Mo' Flow, but he's having trouble learning Some Kind of Wonderful, and music director Michael Orland's patience quickly wears thin with him.
The group - which also includes Tony Foster Jr., Darien Moses and Mario Jose - clearly has some experience in group singing, no matter how well they know the song. Strong backing will carry you a long way.
Urban loves Taylor's "easy confidence" but isn't sure he quite measured up to the other singers. However, it's Moses and Jose that go home.
Super 55, with Lazaro Arbos, has chosen the Beach Boys Wouldn't It Be Nice, but Arbos didn't know it. "I hadn't heard of the Beach Boys, even," he says. He also fears that, since he can't communicate well, the other singers think he's not smart. "It's been kind of rough," one of the other singers admits.
Josh Stephens has a nice, clean-cut look and sound, as does Christian Lopez, but Scott Fleenor has even more trouble with the song than Arbos, who, if he survives this round, could go a long way in the competition.
Mariah Carey wonders if they had a difficult time blending and asks if they all knew the song. Arbos 'fesses up.
Stephens and Fleenor get the axe, but Lopez and Arbos will continue, and Arbos is in tears. But Stephens feels like he helped out the person who ended up taking his spot.
The wrong Direction: Let's raise the bar a little bit, yeah?" Keith Urban asks before the next group take the stage.
But the next group won't be the ones to do it.
Jason Jones, Dan Wood, Jessie Lawrence and one other singer clearly aren't familiar with One Direction's What Makes You Beautiful. But they sing it anyway.
You don't know-oh-oh the song? That's what makes this ugly as hell.
"If the word 'wrongest' can be used, this was the wrongest song for you guys," Urban tells them before demising all four.
The quartet with Devin Jones and Devin Velez decides to sing Payphone a cappella. It's a risk but it seems to pay off, though Keith Urban seems to think they would have done better with accompaniment. Three of the four make the cut, including both Devins.
Lyrics, what lyrics? Micah Johnson and Vincent Powell's group, The Four Tones consists of some sharp dressers, but how will their version of Sam and Dave's Hold On, I'm Coming sound? Pretty solid, actually. All four members of the group, which also includes Marvin Calderon, will continue in the competition.
Zach Birnbaum, Nate Tao, Cortez Shaw, Elijah Liu look like a boy band in the making as they sing Some Kind of Wonderful. There's serious chemistry going on there. They're all through to the next round, too - and if the show's smart, they'll keep them together.
Next up, is a group of guys that look like rockers but decided to sing One Direction. It's a mess. The producers don't even bother to show the results.
Then, The Taylors, who have picked a song that's completely unrecognizable, they get the lyrics so wrong. Paul Jolley and Will White survive somehow, but their stock's seriously damaged.
Gurpreet Singh Sarin botches his lyrics in Payphone, but he does it with such style the judges are still impressed. Not everybody in B Side is so lucky. Sarin makes the cut, but it was more on the strength of personality than performance. For some unfathomable reason, the judges decide to give them another chance.
"I think it's really crazy, but you're all going through," Randy Jackson. "Be better next time."
Nicki Minaj seems to have taken a particular liking to this group of singers, perhaps because of how they handled the utter collapse of the arrangement. She stuck her neck out for them - we'll see if it pays off for her.
More groups, more cuts: Group Day is off to a good start with the Mattheads. Can Normal Hills, which features returning contestant Johnny Keyser, keep the bar high with Reach Out, I'll Be There? We'll see: Keyser says he's not too familiar with the lyrics. And when he takes the stage, they fall right out of his head. And that's just the start of their problems. Kareem Clark sounds just horrible.
Urban wonders what planet Keyser's from, having never heard the Four Tops song before. Clark gets eliminated, but Keyser's previous performances let him scrape through, along with the two other members of the group.
Charlie Askew, who has a hard time communicating with people, has been struggling to fit in with the two other members of his trio. When Askew begins to feel ill, one of them wants to carry his teammate, the other wants to send him home. When they get on stage, the blend's kind of rough, but Curtis Finch Jr. takes a star turn come solo time, getting the judges to wave their hands in the air like they're in church. And sonofagun if Askew doesn't hold his own when it comes to the gospel vocalizing.
"I feel confident that this is a one-two-three you're all through," Randy Jackson tells them quickly, without even trying to fake them out.
'Heads up: Mariah Carey says she's concerned about some of the contestants and how they're going to hold up.
"I think they haven't slept in, like, two days or something," Keith Urban says.
The groups will perform live with the American Idol band. If they make it through, they'll move on to the solo round; otherwise, they're eliminated on the spot.
Up first, the Mattheads, whose rehearsal seems to have gone more smoothly than the others we've seen. Mattheus Fernandes starts Somebody to Love on a shaky falsetto note, but the group seems to have settled into the song by the time the band kicks in.
Nick Boddington, Gabe Brown, Mathenee Treco each take strong solo spots - Urban seems particularly taken by Brown's rok shouting. But Fernandes seems to be struggling to keep up, though his personality wins him some points.
Minaj says the group gelled well, and then the judges confer.
Minaj asks Fernandes, Boddington and Treco to step forward. Then, as if she has forgotten, she tells Brown to step forward, as well: All four will continue to the next round.
I think Minaj likes to see people sweat.
Groups, with a twist: Half the guys have been eliminated by the end of the first day, and the smart ones that remain start forming groups as soon as they learn their fate.
However, Ryan Seacrest notes, "This year, there is a special twist."
Ken Warwick and Nigel Lythgoe tell the men that the producers will be deciding each group's members. And once the contestants get put in the group, they're not allowed to change.
There's no clue how or why the groups got picked, but it's not going to make things easy, when it comes to song choice and choreography.
Lazaro Arbos is in the first group, and communication is going to be tough for his fellow singers. "He's not from around here, so he didn't know a lot of the songs," one of the other singers in his group says.
Trevor Blakney and Lee Pritchard, who favor country and down-home rock, get pitted with two guys who have more of a dance and pop orientation (the group name they choose: Country Queen). Elsewhere, Charlie Askew gets paired with a couple of gospel-based guys, so they're going to have selection issues, too. Clearly, some of these groups have been chosen for maximum tension.
The Mattheads, which includes Gabe Brown and Mattheus Fernandes seem to have settled into a groove with Queen's Somebody to Love. Others are singing One Direction, but the group with Papa Peachez and Adam Sanders can't settle on a song.
As things get late, Country Queen is arguing about whether to prioritize the song or the choreography. "We're experiencing some technical difficulties," Pritchard says. They eventually decide they'd be better off taking a break for some sleep rather than continuing to push through their differences.
The cuts continue: Mariah Carey enjoyed Cortez Shaw a lot, but Nicki Minaj thought he did a poor job with I Will Always Love You. "You ain't Whitney," Randy Jackson says. However, "you got another shot." Though it wasn't unanimous.
Curtis Finch Jr., a Missouri choir director, blows away the judges with a little gospel vocalizing. Frankie Ford makes a strong second impression. Expect to see them Thursday during Group Round.
Lazaro Arbos is feeling the pressure, and affects his stuttering. His frustration is palpable as he tries to introduce Robbie Williams' Angels. But when he sings, it's heaven. Nicki Minaj signals her favor, shaping her hands like a heart.
"You just simply must go on," Keith Urban tells him. "You're going through."
Trevor Blakney, Bryant Tadeo and Charles Allen sound like they might be joining him, as well. (I especially like Blakney's rendition of Lynyrd Skynyrd's The Ballad of Curtis Loew.
Tadeo tells Minaj he's tired, so Minaj tells him he'll have plenty of time to rest at home.Tadeo looks like he can't believe her - he knows he sang well - until Minaj says, "I'm kidding!" She does tell him, though, to never say he's tired. All three continue, but Brian Rittenberry, despite giving Brian McKnight's Back at One a gritty soulful performance, doesn't make the cut.
At the end of Day One, half the guys have been cut.
Up next, it's time for Group Round.
Off to a rough start: Hollywood Week's not off to such a good start for me. Just as I hit "post," my entire copy for the first segment disappeared.
Now I've got some idea how singing fireman Dustin Watts and doctor Calvin Peters felt. Both got told to return to their day jobs as American Idol began Hollywood Week.
But Cortez Shaw might fare better. He lights into I Will Always Love You so powerfully, Randy Jackson and Nicki Minaj aren't sure what to make of him. By the end of his a cappella performance, he seems to have won over Keith Urban, though. We'll learn his fate after the commercial break.
Others who survive the first round of cuts - where singers line up in groups of 10 and sing for the judges -- include Micah Johnson, Nate Tao and Chicago rocker Gabe Brown.