‘American Idol’ Recap: Lazaro Arbos Laughs Last in Hollywood

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'Idol': What to Expect
Five things to look for in Hollywood.
After weeks of airing auditions episodes, FOX’s American Idol hit Hollywood for the grueling process that trims the long list of hopefuls down to the Top 40.

This season, the Hollywood round begins with the boys. For the first time in 12 seasons, men and women will compete separately until the Las Vegas round. Judges Nicki MinajMariah Carey, Keith Urban and Randy Jackson  are ready for the battle.

As usual, there are a few fabulous faces viewers don’t meet until Hollywood and this season is no exception. Fans get their first real look at the contestants’ personalities and the judges start making major decisions. Contenders are pushed to their limit during the weeklong process that leaves them stressed, sleep-deprived and seriously sweating the small stuff.

They’ll sing a cappella during a sudden death round, followed by group rounds and finally a solo performance. Producers reveal a new twist this year by choosing groups based on vocals instead of letting contenders pick their pals like on seasons past. Here’s what I learned from Day 1 of the Hollywood round.

Judges get tough. While quirky characters may have charmed the judges during auditions, their antics aren’t enough to keep them in the competition any longer. Karl Skinner, 26, got the boot after his dance moves failed to impress the judges. The foxy fireman, Dustin Watts, and Calvin Peters, the singing doctor, also get eliminated early on the episode.

When 22-year-old Cortez Shaw gives a not-so-great- performance of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” the judges look insulted. Nicki makes no secret of her disappointment. Although he makes it through, it’s the first of a few cutting critiques from the no nonsense panel.

Double standards do exist. Some groups (like Normal Hills and Last Minute) get eliminated for forgetting the lyrics to songs, and others (like B-Side) are saved for the same crime. Nicki points out that it’s all about the recovery and spares some of her favorites who demonstrate star power despite their disappointing deliveries. Papa Peachezis a prime example while Nicki warns the performer that this will be the last time she’ll be able to save him from the chopping block.

Sob stories won’t cut it. In a surprising twist, 28-year-old Brian Rittenberry gets cut after what sounds like a great rendition of “Back At One.” There with his cancer-fighting wife and young son, he is devastated when judges tell him he isn’t advancing. “I think they made a mistake,” he says. Me too.

Remember 16-year-old Kayden Stephensen? He’s the young man who’s suffering from cystic fibrosis and isn’t expected to live past 35. Well, he chokes during the group round. Paired with the other youngsters of the group, he can’t seem to get into the groove of “For The Longest Time” and his voice falls flat.

“I started singing and the lyrics kind of left me, but if you give me a second chance I promise I could be better,” he told the terribly torn panel. His pleading wasn’t enough to save him, and the judges sent him packing. I knew his voice wasn’t going to win the entire competition, but I didn’t expect him to leave this soon.

Fan favorites got the boot. Frankie Ford, 24, is the Brooklyn native who auditioned in NYC with a touching story about singing on the subway. Just like during his audition, his nerves get the best of him before the group round and he is unable to recover. Despite the judges’ connection to Frankie’s backstory,  the judges sent him packing — leaving Mariah in tears.

Frontrunners emerge.Lazaro Arbos, 21, solidifies his spot as a frontrunner from his very first note. As Lazaro tries to explain his song choice, he furiously fights his crippling stutter. But then, the confusion clears up once he starts singing Robbie Williams’ “Angels.” Nicki mimes a heart sign to him over her face and a few fellow contenders give him a standing ovation.

Later, he struggles to learn the lyrics to The Beach Boys’ “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” and is criticized by group mates, Josh Stephens, 19, and Scott Fleenor, 21. While his teammates try to blame his language barrier and speech impediment for slowing them down, Lazaro gives the best performance of them all making it through while the two jerks get sent home. BOOM! Watch it again above.

Curtiss Finch, Jr. continues his impressive streak by making everything sound like a gospel song. Mariah admits, “Curtis, I’ve been waiting for you all day and you did not disappoint!” Guess we know who her favorite is. He and group mate Charlie Askew, 16, earn the first standing ovation of the day from the judges’ panel, proving Nicki will indeed rise when moved.

The guys turn at the Hollywood round will continue Thursday when the remaining men tackle their solos for a shot at the Top 40.

Which dismissals shocked you the most on Hollywood Day 1?

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