Well, it's a good thing that the first few weeks were all about the singers auditioning on an elaborate stage in front of packed auditoriums, because otherwise this thing where the finalists hang out at the judges' houses would seem a little chintzy. Like they couldn't afford to rent a church basement for a week or something. I'm sure I'll feel differently when I see the judges' homes. Anyway, the thousands who auditioned have been culled down into 32 acts, and those acts have been divided into four categories, each one to be mentored at a different judge's house. The "Boys" will be at L.A. Reid's place in the Hamptons, the "Girls" at Simon Cowell's joint in France (and thank God the place will be teeming with cameras is all I can say), the "Groups" at Paula Abdul's place in Santa Barbara, and the "Over 30s" at Nicole Scherzinger's house in Malibu. And the 32 will be trimmed down to 16, in what I'm sure these previews aren't spoilers for at all.
After the titles, Steve is standing in front of the Eiffel tower, wearing a black-and-white striped t-shirt. He forgot his beret and cigarette. He warns us that this could be the toughest two days of the top 32's lives, as they scatter around the world for the next phase of the competition. "This is Judges' Houses." I wonder how long they tried to think of a better name for that. Not long enough, I think. It turns out that the contestants still don't know which judge they're getting; only a destination. I'm sure if the show thought it could get away with packing everyone on four windowless C-130 transport planes and flying them around for an equal amount of time so nobody knew where they were going, it would. But soon, the eight girls are in Paris, riding a water taxi and taking photos of the Eiffel Tower, like the world's slowest season of The Amazing Race. Meanwhile, Simon gets off his yacht and into his Corvette to drive home, where the girls are already hanging out waiting to find out who their mentor is, like a guy with Simon's ego isn't going to have every inch of wall space plastered with clues. Still, they act all excited when he comes out the back door to join them on the patio. Simon's happy too, because he tells them he knows the winner is in that category. I hope he means the winner of the competition.
The Groups show up at Paula's place, and they've narrowed it down to Paula or Nicole. Remember that included with the six preexisting groups are two Frankengroups the judges threw together at the literal last minute of Boot Camp: a sprawling crew called Intensity and four of the loser girls called Lakoda Rayne. Is it fair to pit two new groups of ex-soloists against six groups that have practiced together for years? Is it fair to the existing groups to throw a pair of "supergroups" into the mix? Well, that's Paula's problem, not mine, and I'm sure she'll rise to the occasion. She reveals herself to them in her backyard and is immediately swarmed. Paula reminds them all that she specializes in groups, so she's happy to be working with them. And here I thought they sent the groups there because she has the most bedrooms.