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February 13, 2008
Idol Chatter: Hooray for Hollywood!

idol.jpg
Fox

No one was happier than me when Season 7 of "American Idol" finally got past the audition rounds and made it to Hollywood Week. Whew!

Tuesday's two-hour show was actually very entertaining. It opened with the 164 hopefuls packing their bags and leaving home for a weeklong showdown with the three judges. But it took host Ryan Seacrest a chunk of time to explain all the changes this go-round.

To wit:

* Mercifully, no more group nights, that nightmare where contestants must learn to sing nicely together in groups of three or four. Instead, the 164 were on their own and could play instruments if they chose, which proved to be disastrous for many of them.

* The first two days of competition, there were no cuts, with the best of the contestants getting a bye on Day 2. But on the third day, the rest were singing for their lives. The judges needed only 50 of the 164 from which to choose the Top 24 (pictured above with Simon Cowell, wearing masks to, er, mask their identities).

Anyway, here's my recap of Hollywood Week, just in case you opted to watch "Big Brother" over on CBS instead.

* It only takes a single song: Brooke White, 24, with the curly blond hair and Carole King-like pipes, played the piano and sang a King compilation, "Beautiful." Randy Jackson said, "100 percent yes!" Among the guys, hands down for me was Michael Johns, 29, the Aussie with the devilishly good looks (Ok, he's hot), who sang "Light My Fire" and got the bye.

* I didn't need this song: Why in the heck did so many contestants pick "When I Need You," the sappy Leo Sayer love song? For the most part, they all reminded me of 1:30 a.m. in the lounge of a Holiday Inn with last call and the last slow dance. Anyhoo, the quote, "You've got the stage presence of a flea," came from Simon during all this.

* Songs in the key of anger: Several "yellers" were told to take it down a notch, including one young woman who got this from Simon: "It sounded like an angry girl in the bedroom."

* Beat this: For those who opted for instruments, many got the thumbs down, especially the drummers.

* Nurse with a song on her Harley: Everyone - except for me - is apparently in love with the motorcycle-riding, rock 'n' roll nurse Amanda Overmeyer, 23 (who I think looks 33). She took on the Doors' "Light My Fire." Sorry, but there's something creepy about the Lily Munster hair and the crackly voice. It made me think Amanda's been in the Holiday Inn past closing.

* Love song falls flat: Remember Ghaleb Emanchah, who impressed Paula Abdul with his Venezuelan-ness during the auditions? Well, instead of working on his vocals, Ghaleb spent Hollywood Week hitting on all the female contestants - anyone who would hold still for him. That was really clear when, while singing for the judges and strumming a guitar, Simon quipped, "You remind me of a waiter performing in a restaurant." Ouch! The proverbial kiss of death.

* Swan songs - or not: Josiah Leming, 18, the kid who was living in his car, finally got to sleep in a hotel bed. His first song (he played the piano) earned this from Simon: "Of all the auditions, this is the one I'm going to remembers." Still, on Day 4, Josiah was so nervous, he dismissed the band and backup singers and sang alone - and not very well. The judges let him through based on past performances.

Tonight (at 8 on Channel 40), the judges will reveal the Top 24, who will go on to perform for America's votes. I see folks like young David Archuleta, 16, from Utah, getting through, as well as Syesha Mercado, 21, who Randy dubbed, "One to watch. You could sneak up and give everyone a run for their money."

As for hunky Aussie Michael? I think he offered the final day's best audition ("Bohemian Rhapsody"), and he and Irish lassie Carly Smithson should both should make it to the Top 24.

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