Tonight, American Idol goes to Hollywood. The two-week “Hollywood Round” will see smiles and tears, but more disappointment than joy. “The minute we hit Hollywood, we go, ‘God, we’ve got 300 kids here,” executive producer Ken Warwick told Entertainment Weekly in the midst of shooting Hollywood Round footage. “So the whole mental thing changes to ‘Who can we cut, and why?”
In the beginning seasons of American Idol, Simon, Randy and Paula were fun, but they were also serious about their job, only letting through approximately 50 people. Now, with the complete turn-around of the judging panel, viewers will see hundreds of Idol hopefuls in Hollywood.
So, what should viewers expect tonight and in the coming week? As usual, the Hollywood Round has three parts: A cappella, group exercise, and solos.
The a cappella section, also known as, “the lines” are usually the most subjective. These make-it-or-break-it moments for the contestants are in the judge’s hands. “I’ll think someone’s terrible; someone else will think they’re great,” said Warwick. “There are kids who’ve walked out of here devastated who could quite legitimately have been in the Top 10 or even more.”
For those loyal past season Idol viewers, you may be happy to hear that this year the group round rules have changed. Team Idol “threw a cat among the pigeons, as they say,” according to Warwick. “Voices — we [arranged the groups] with voices. We did it with the keys that they were in,” said Lythgoe, Idol honcho. “There’s one couple who share a room, and the big guy snores, and the little guy didn’t get any sleep — so we made sure we put them together.” Well, how sweet is that?
The group round gets even better, loyal fans. Each group will choose its own song from a selection of 20. “A lot of them don’t know the songs, which is really important to us,” said Lythgoe. “Because when you do ‘Music from the Movies,’ normally most of these kids don’t know songs from five years ago. If you’re in a part of the country where the radio stations don’t actually play that kind of music, you’re at a terrible disadvantage. So it’s fascinating.”
Note: Remember, embarrassment and disaster on unscripted television results in high ratings.
In the group round, elimination comes the quickest. “Some people really, really can’t do it — they can’t pick and learn a song in the period of time we need to do it in the show,” Lythgoe went on. “We need to sort of be up front with whether they’re going to be okay.”
For the solo round, Entertainment Weekly was on set to hear Warwick and the other producers’ give their “pep talk” to the boys, following the group round. The producers’ showed tough love toward the contestants, instilling in them to be on time (a skill this group has not yet conquered). Also, the producers’ told the contestants to dress to impress, show off their maximum amount of range when appropriate, and to bring up their worries with the vocal coaches and accompanists. And above all — “I said this to you yesterday, and a lot of you didn’t do it today,” Warwick told the guys. “Pick the right bloody key!”
According to Lythgoe, the judges reminded the girls during filming in Hollywood, that it’s not necessarily whether the girl next to them is a better singer or not- what matters is if that contestant is a standout against the entire crowd. “It was tougher with the girls, who are all very strong voices,” he said. “With the boys, there were real standouts.”
Viewers can expect to see hidden gems this season. “There are kids who were not in the audition shows who are turning out to be fabulous,” said Warwick. “We’re going back and telling the producers, ‘Find out where this kid was standing in the line. Find out where they were in the auditorium, in the football stadium. Dig up that footage. Let’s find out what – because we interview every kid that comes in before the judges – find out where there first interview was, what they’re about, what’s their story, is there a story? Is there not a story?”
We all know that during the Hollywood Round, the show will consist of follow-ups with previous contestants we’ve already met through the audition round. However, Warwick’s job is to carefully monitor the coverage during filming. “Very often, the judges get the names wrong, and and the cameras don’t know who they’re going to,” he said. “Because I direct the audition shows, I know that if there’s a story that we’re promoting, I can tell the director, ‘make sure you favor him a little on camera’.”
If the judges are split on a contestant, and it’s someone with a “big story,” Lythgoe, the more hands-on “people person” of the producing duo, will be the one to dive in, pointing and fighting for that person — it occasionally “becomes a casting vote,” said Warwick.
Well, now that you the viewers have more of an inside scoop, are you afraid that the judges will send someone home that actually could have won the show? Do you already have a favorite you’re hoping to see in the top 10?
Tune in tonight, on Fox, to watch the American Idol Hollywood Round kick-off at 8/7 c.