American Idol Las Vegas: more groups, more tears

American Idol hit a high point last night. For the first time in the season, it was about the music (a change in focus that has needed to happen since day one of the preliminary audition rounds). Contestants who deserved to be pushed through to the next round do, while others are sent home.

In the second round of group auditions, but with a change of location from Hollywood to Las Vegas, many a contestant shined under the new stage lights. With new creative freedom -- or demand, depending how you look at it -- the contestants were required to not only choose their own groups but also their own harmonies, arrangements and choreography. It was a big task for the fresh-faced singers, but most rose to the occasion.

The first group, featuring the teenage contestants David Leathers Jr., Jeremy Rosado, Ariel Sprague and the diva-riffic Gabi Charruba, offered a strong rendition of "Rockin' Robin" with cutesy dance steps. It's far too early to offer up comparisons between Leathers and a young Michael Jackson (plus Leathers is far from MJ status), but after watching the group's performance, one could see why they were given the song -- for Leathers to shine. The seventeen-year-old stole the performance, but Rosado, nineteen, wasn't willing to give it up without a fight, matching Leathers in skill and charisma. No surprise, all four contestants make it through the next round.

The next group up, with Adam Brock, Erika Van Pelt, Shelby Tweten and Angie Zeiderman, the self-professed Gaga wannabe, used "Great Balls Of Fire" to play to each singer's strengths. Brock, Van Pelt and Tweten were all pushed through; Zeiderman joined them, after it took a good thirty seconds for Randy Jackson to announce it. This devilish, half-a-minute bout of personal entertainment from Jackson, watching -- and enjoying -- as the contestants stand before him and the other judges awaiting their fate -- would recur throughout this episode, and in no instance was witnessing them squirm as enjoyable as Jackson made it out to be.

Richie Law, nineteen, coined "The Cowboy" by other contestants, also put on a good showing last night, finally partnering with someone who could match his low voice: Jermaine Jones, 25, also a baritone. They do "Breaking Up Is Hard To Do" with flying colors, and they're both sent on to the next round.

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...And just when we thought all of day one's champions were safe from elimination, the judges announced they would need to make additional cuts after seeing the contestants from day two. It wasn't much of a contest, as the day two contestants just weren't as interesting personality-wise, but nonetheless, many contestants henceforth were sent home. Angie Zeiderman was cut. Gabi Charruba of "Rockin' Robin" fame, was also forced to pack her bags. Zeiderman took it better than Charruba, who had the makings of a double-digit toddler in a tiara.

Regretfully, other contestants in whom Idol invested much time during the early rounds were also eliminated, including the devastated Britnee Kellogg, whose husband cheated on her and left her to deal with their kids, and Kellogg's teammate Jessica Phillips (actually eliminated earlier in the show), who must return to caring for her stroke-victim love interest. Phillips's commitment to not appearing weak on camera made for great TV, especially when she said, "I'm an actual artist. Seems to me the judges aren't not looking for an actual artist. I didn't come here to win a television show; I came to win a record deal."

Colorado contestants who were initially pushed through were also sent home after day two auditions ended, including Jairon Jackson. Only one of four Colorado contestants featured in last night's episode made it through entirely: Richie "The Cowboy" Law, of all people. A total of 28 people were cut to make room for day two contestants. We'll see how many who survived both rounds of cuts, like The Cowboy, can go from the Top 42 to the Top 24 come Wednesday's episode.

Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music

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