In case you're new to this season, Ryan reminds us that thousands auditioned, but only a few made it through to this, the Hollywood stage of the competition. The editing in the preview is too fast to follow, but it's looking like it'll be so dramatic that actual ambulances will be involved. So exploitative. Let's watch!
The episode starts a little creepy, with young women being awakened in their beds by camcorders being jammed in their faces at ungodly hours of the morning. That leads to a montage of other contestants packing up and leaving, some of whom I even vaguely remember from the last three weeks. They fly, they land, they step off buses, and the girl who lives in a tent tells us from her hotel room that this is like a dream. Walls and a bed, I know, right?
Ryan tells us that half of the contestants will be performing today, and they all pile into the auditorium. The judges are the first to take the stage, because it's really all about them, and Steven gives the "courage" speech from The Wizard of Oz, which is his version of a pep talk. Jennifer also makes a few remarks, and Randy just yells, "Season Eleven is on!" Encouraging. I don't think it really hit me until now that these are all the judges we're getting. I think at some level, I subconsciously believed that real judges would show up at some point, but these three appear to be it.
From the balcony, Ryan explains that contestants will come out onstage in groups of ten, sing a song of their choice a capella, and get no feedback. But for half of them, it'll be sudden death today. The first group we see includes soul singer/waiter Johnny Keyser from the St. Louis auditions, and Heejun from the Pittsburgh auditions. One of them is nervous, and one of them is not, and the latter is still Heejun. Johnny sings "Dreamin'" by Amos Lee. He works the microphone like an instrument, and easily wins over the crowd, even though he's extremely hot. That puts Heejun in even more of a state. He's feeling totally out of his league among all these tall, pretty people, but when it comes time to sing, he belts out "How Am I Supposed to Live Without You" like he's known exactly what he's been doing all along. Heejun might be working the modes angle a little too hard.
Quietly, from the wings, Ryan tells us that after each group, the judges will make a decision about each contestant in the group and tell them right then before they even leave the stage. The judges make them all stand there while they talk about them. Randy asks Johnny, Heejun, and someone named Gabby to step forward, so they're moving on. "Guess who's really pretty now?" Heejun asks. Don't worry, he'll be psyching himself out all over again by tomorrow.