(CBS) "American Idol" has learned that collapsing girl singers seem to stimulate interest.
So in the immediate preamble of last night's group-singing, Hollywood-bringing show, we were already shown a panic-stricken Ryan Seacrest rushing toward another fallen teen.
Only the deeply committed will remember that just last week, 16-year-old Symone Zaire Blackfrom the stage before she was brought back to life by a mysterious green can of fizzy drink.
But this week was all about the groups. How could the judges tell which of the performers within a group were good and which not? Well, they're experts. At least, that's what the pink-ribboned 6-year-old girls who vote are led to believe.
The judges had to watch 42 groups. How could they even concentrate? How could they even tolerate? How could they not expectorate?
One of the sadder things about these auditions is that there is no audience, other than the remaining competitors.
First we saw the battling Betties. Two of them were sick. Others of them were pouting. When they finished, hardly anyone even bothered applauding.
Randy Jackson used the word "bleak." Which, in an objective person's lexicon, might have been "totally bloody awful."
Three of the five Betties were booped. How did two get through? More vomiting ensued - because excitement makes for good TV.
Jen Hirsh and four boys - temporarily dubbed Group Sauce - brought the house down and to its feet with their rendition of Sam and Dave's "Hold On, I'm Comin'." Perhaps it was the fact that they were well versed in post-pubertal self-expression that allowed them to sing well and communally - and not to vomit.
A group called 679 - complete with a dreadful, overbearing stage mom - sang well, but Kyle, the Berkeley student, was the only one eliminated. The unbearable stage mom sucked up to him afterward. Before, the cameras had caught her vilifying his talents.
Then a girl called Jackie fainted in the aisle. Soon, we heard Boston's "More Than a Feeling" being waterboarded. Tent girl, Amy Brumfield was on her way back to camping.
Lyrics were being forgotten, so much so that I swear one gentleman offered the lyric "butt crack."
Alicia the cop had finally found a group. They were awful. So awful, indeed, that they were all sent to jail. Well, the jail that is anonymity.
It was all getting faintly dull. So another singer collapsed. She was there one minute, in her nice red coat. The next, she was prostrate on the blue carpet.
No matter. A group imaginatively called Hollywood Five stepped up and sang "Mercy." They all went through - principally, it seemed, because they managed to keep the judges from screaming by being vaguely in tune.
Imani Handy - the Area 451-er who fainted - wanted to sing. As she moved to do so, she collapsed again. The three members of Area 451 prayed. Would they now be simply called Area 351? But no - Handy staggered up and on. She was sweating like someone new to Singapore.
And then Bryce Garcia, the group's first singer, forgot the words. As Area 451 staggered through, Handy seemed to be coping. Then she collapsed for a third time. This was beginning to resemble (or perhaps define) ridicule.
Ryan Seacrest rushed out, as did her mother. What could the producers do? Why, show you some ads, of course. What else could they do while you worried whether this poor girl would survive this surreal modern ordeal?
"The unthinkable happened," said Seacrest's voiceover. Indeed, Handy had already collapsed twice. It was clearly unthinkable that she might collapse again, once she was on stage. Perhaps the most poignant moment came when, as she lay on the floor, one of her fellow group members, Johnny Keyser, tried to carry on singing. I know Hollywood is cynical, sir, but couldn't you wait until they'd carted her off?
So many of these hopefuls are still children. And yet Handy sat on stage while the judges decided whether anyone from Area 451 would go through. Keyser, the show-must-go-on'er, was admitted.
"Solo, I will show you. I promise you," promised Handy. And yet, Lopez told her she was going home. She told her not to worry. As if that would help.
Symone Zaire Black, a previous collapser, was also sent home.
But what of MIT? No, not the school, but the group marshaled by country boy Rickie Law. Hee Jun Han, one of Law's critics, began well. As a group, though, they sounded like a chorus of garbage collectors at six in the morning. Oddly, they were all blessed to the next stage.
This one-hour show had a problem. It was two hours long.
Now we had to watch the 98 remaining singers performing solo again. (Well, not all of them.) Which made the group stage seem particularly nonsensical.
Reed Grimm decided to sing a cappella. Then, just minutes before he was due to sing, he was told this was against the rules in this round. And, gosh, this would make good television.
He rehearsed something new. Then he called his mom. Then he cried. The he told her he loved her. Then she told him she loved him.
Then he decided to play the drums. This was allowed.
Within seconds, Jackson muttered to Lopez: "Another Casey here." This was a reference to Casey Abrams, last year's jazzy and far-too-sophisticated-for-this contestant.
Grimm, quite naturally, stroked those drums and performed like a true musician. Which might not be too helpful in the future.
We needed more excitement. So we had some shots of Skylar Laine being taken to hospital. Yes, another collapser. At least this one was simply ill, rather than dehydrated or scared. But she is from the rough, hard side of country. She would sing on.
Despite the fact that the judges weren't supposed to say anything until everyone had sung, Tyler appeared to offer: "You had it from top to bottomless." At least that's what I think he said.
Joshua Ledet, Colton Dixon, Philip Phillips, Creighton Fraker and Adam Brock all sounded very, very good. But will they manage to survive, say, a country week or a Michael Jackson week? Or will they collapse in a heap like Black and Handy?
Pitcher's daughter Shannon Magrane, Laine and Hirsh all appeared to be very strong too.
But, as Lopez said: "It isn't just about singing. It's about stars." At least they hope it is.