‘American Idol’ Season 20’s Hollywood Week begins with split decisions… and Katy Perry’s split pants

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Katy Perry splits her pants on 'American Idol.' (Photo: ABC)

Katy Perry splits her pants on ‘American Idol.’ (Photo: ABC)

As American Idol Season 20’s young hopefuls gathered at Los Angeles’s Orpheum Theatre Monday in pursuit of their Hollywood Week dreams, a big group singalong of judge Katy Perry’s optimistic hit “Teenage Dream” was obviously in order. Katy herself led the 134 contestants in song, but then — with perfect, if presumably unintentional, comedic timing — she was feeling herself a little bit too much when she crouched down during that “skintight jeans” line. And she split the back seam of her extremely skintight red leather pants.

“The concert is over!” announced Katy’s aghast-yet-amused fellow judge Lionel Richie, as Katy strutted off the stage while almost literally letting it all hang out.

But an unrattled Katy, ever the consummate professional, quickly demonstrated to this season’s rookies that the show must always go on. “Can I get some gaffer tape?” she hollered, while a couple of intrepid stagehands and wide-eyed judge Luke Bryan got to work taping up the hole in her rock ‘n’ roll pants with some neon-yellow industrial adhesive. The DIY result actually looked kind of punk-rock/new wave, and the color scheme was very Tina Burner from RuPaul’s Drag Race Season 13; perhaps this’ll start a fashion trend. Regardless, an unfazed Katy stayed in those taped-up trousers for the rest of Monday’s two-hour Hollywood Week kickoff episode.

Of course Katy was unfazed. After all, this wasn’t her first Idol wardrobe malfunction. Back on the second episode of her first season, in 2018, she attempted to bust some sexy salsa moves during one audition and landed flat on her backside — and flashed that backside, along with her frontside, to everyone on the set. Katy also laughed off that wacky incident. And kudos once again to the producers, who — just as they did in 2018 — creatively utilized Idol’s familiar oval logo as a well-placed censor bar to keep this show family-friendly

Katy Perry figures out an impromptu fix for her wardrobe malfunction on 'American Idol.' (Photos: ABC)Katy Perry figures out an impromptu fix for her wardrobe malfunction on 'American Idol.' (Photos: ABC)

Katy Perry figures out an impromptu fix for her wardrobe malfunciton on ‘American Idol.’ (Photos: ABC)

While none of Monday’s contestants messed up as badly (or hilariously) as Katy did, many of these inexperienced singers did crack under pressure, which meant that some early standouts did not make it past day one of Hollywood Week. Among the cuts were Sam Finelli (the autistic pop singer whose emotional audition went viral), Zaréh (daughter of Season 4 top eight finalist Nadia Turner), TikTok babysitter Delaney Renee, frog-throated Burl Ives soundalike Luke Taylor, and one of my favorites from the auditions round, mustachioed country-rock troubadour Mark Osborne. Still, there were a few underwhelming singers that the judges puzzlingly decided to “roll the dice” on and put through to the upcoming “Duet Challenge” round, apparently based on the early promise of those contestants’ first auditions. (Side note: Apparently this season’s new Idol drinking game is take a sip every time a judge mentions rolling the dice. You’ll be drunk before the first commercial break!)

The theme for Monday’s episode was the annual “Genre Challenge” round, with each contestant voluntarily joining a category and competing within that bracket — with the help of several genre-specific Idol alumni, who served as mentors. The Country category was so packed/stacked this time around — Luke Bryan even declared this season’s crop of country contenders the strongest in Idol history — that both Season 10 runner-up Lauren Alaina and last year’s champ Chayce Beckham were on board to assist. Additionally, Season 7 winner and Idol game-changer David Cook mentored the Rock categories, Season 9 winner Lee DeWyze mentored the Indie/Folk singers, Season 10 fan favorite Haley Reinhart advised the Soul singers, Season 2 winner Ruben Studdard mentored the R&B contestants, and Season 6 champ Jordin Sparks took on the season’s other most crowded category, Pop.

Meanwhile, the three contestants who’d received platinum tickets and therefore were allowed to bypass the first round of Hollywood Week — Huntergirl, Jay Copeland, and Kenedi Anderson — watched all of their rivals’ solo performances while sitting pretty in an Orpheum Theatre balcony, peering down at the stage like royalty or the Muppets’ Statler & Waldorf. It was an awkward setup, and it wasn’t the best experience for viewers at home, who presumably would want to see performances by the supposedly best three vocalists of Season 20 (and of course make sure that those three singers’ stellar auditions hadn’t just been one-offs or flukes). But it turned out there was a plan in place… and everything would soon make sense.

In the crowded country category, the standouts were Mike Parker, who overcame his nerves to deliver a passionate and soulful version of Cam’s “Burning House”; confident piano performer Kaylin Roberson; classy/classic “Crazy” crooner Ryleigh Madison; and the inexperienced and painfully shy Kelsie Dolin. Kelsie was so terrified to perform in front of a live audience for the first time that she was almost shaking too hard to even hold her microphone, but she proved to be a natural with her pitch-perfect “Things a Man Oughta Know.” More seasoned country singers Olivia Faye and Sarahbeth Taite actually weren’t as compelling as Kelsie, and construction-worker everyman Noah Thompson (who’s basically this year’s Chayce Beckham) wasn’t nearly as good as Mike when he took on “Burning House.” But all of these singers got through to the next round anyway. And so, the country category won’t be any less crowded going into the Duets Challenge.

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The equally packed Pop category was also a bit inconsistent. Jacob Moran, who’d been through Hollywood Week before and had returned to the show this season newly confident and 60 pounds lighter, shockingly floundered, indicating that he might not survive Hollywood this time around either. Bullied high school student Douglas Mills Jr., whose first audition had been one of the most touching of Season 20, also choked during his perhaps fittingly titled James Arthur cover, “Train Wreck.” (“He didn’t have me in the palm of his hand,” Luke lamented.) But Sir Blayke, who I’d seen as more of a songwriter than a singer, managed to insert more of himself and his own harrowing life story into his performance of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors,” employing the break in his imperfect voice to good effect, and Katy said it was “much better than his audition.” And two of my favorite Pop girls were the adorable Ava Maybee, daughter of Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith, who sparkled on the Police’s “Roxanne,” and powerhouse Nicolina Bozzo, whose smoky cover of Billie Eilish “Everything I Wanted” was everything.

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Indie-Folk was another crowded category, given this show’s long history of WGWGs and ukulele-strumming quirky-girls. I was pleasantly surprised to see one of the series’ most underrated WGWGs, Lee DeWyze — who’s made quite a quiet career for himself as a TV composer, but has had a fraught relationship with the Idol franchise in the past — mentor this group of self-described “oddballs.” My favorites were the “little weirdo from Normal, Ill.,” Leah Marlene, whose winsome coffeehouse remake of Avril Lavigne’s “Sk8er Boi” was so smart and so fun, but also unexpectedly moving and a fantastic showcase for what Katy called her “trebly vibrato.” Fritz Hager — who already lacked confidence coming into the competition before an outvoted Luke said no at his audition, and admitted that he doesn’t “have the best voice of the season” — was a revelation on an impassioned, borderline-unhinged rendition of the X Ambassadors’ “Unsteady,” an absolutely perfect song choice. Katy called Fritz’s performance a “big surprise,” and even Leah, sitting in the Orpheum audience, appeared smitten. (Do I sense a new showmance about to happen? They’d actually be great together in next week’s Duets Challenge.)

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The Ruben-mentored R&B group was a mixed bag. Show-offy showboater Tobias completely ignored Ruben’s sage advice to ease up on his runs, as a result turning “Back to One” into what Lionel called an unrecognizable “riffing contest.” (Lionel said Tobias should have taken “half out of it,” while Luke barked, “Take three-quarters of it away!”) Somehow the judges decided to “roll the dice” on Tobias anyway, but he ought to learn by example from R&B peer Katyrah Love, whose keep-it-simple approach to Whitney Houston’s “Saving All My Love for You” was far superior. Katyrah’s tastefully chosen run proved a little can go a very long way.

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Thankfully, one of the leading Soul contenders, Tristen Gressett, who was a bit of an unfocused mess in his try-hard audition, took the tone-it-down direction well. The judges were delighted to witness his quick growth: “He actually listened, took the notes!” gasped Lionel. One Soul singer who came to Idol fully formed, however, was mature-beyond-years 17-year-old Danielle Finn — who showcased what Katy described as “crazy notes” and a “crazy tone people dream of” on an advanced song, Adele’s divorce ballad “Easy on Me,” making it look easy indeed. Standout crooner Christian Guardino’s cover of Billie Eilish’s “My Future” was a sublime mix of modern pop and old-school Vegas showmanship — another excellent, on-brand song pick that had Lionel exclaiming, “That boy is on fire!” And Kevin Gulllage, exhausted after many sleepless hours of rehearsal and running on fumes, flubbed the beginning of his performance, but he rebounded with good humor by really emphasizing that “tired” in his opening line of Al Green’s “Tired of Being Alone.”

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This season’s Rock category was also inconsistent — green singer-songwriter Cole Hallman still didn’t seem quite ready for prime time on his cover of Billy Joel’s “Vienna,” and Luke warned him, “You will not be able to get through on dice-rolls much longer.” But 16-year-old Emyrson Flora raised her game on a lesser-covered Adele song, “Love in the Dark,” and Morgan Gruber’s “White Room” was so spectacular that Katy thought she ought to be sitting up in the balcony with the three platinum-ticket contestants.

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And so, as Monday’s episode came to a close, we finally got to see platinum-ticket-holders Huntergirl, Jay, and Kenedi sing, on a group number of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’” that was solid, but frankly wasn’t the best performance of the night. This is clearly going to be a fiercely competitive season, so those chosen ones should not get too complacent. However, they’ll still have an advantage heading into the next round. At the end of the night, we found out why they’d been watching the Genre Challenge all along: They’d been secretly selecting their partners for next week’s Duets Challenge! While all of the other contestants will have their round two partners assigned by the judges, Huntergirl, Jay, and Kenedi will get their “pick of the litter” first.

So, will these platinum contestants choose duet partners who will complement them… or will they get into some shady gameplay and choose fodder contestants they can easily outshine? We’ll have to wait until Sunday to find out — but I have a feeling that the judges, after sitting through a first round of uneven performances, would not be impressed if Huntergirl, Jay, or Kenedi went with the latter strategy. See you then.

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