The dogs in my neighborhood were barking and howling like crazy Wednesday night, as if football player Michael Vick was selling Encyclopedia Britannicas door-to-door.

The incessant noise was almost unbearable - that is until 8 p.m. rolled around, and the annual train wreck known as American Idol's "Group Day" began. At that point, I would have gladly turned in my comfy chair and remote control for a night in the dog house.

"Group Day" is always the most melodramatic and pointless portion of the entire Idol season. Tell me: why are contestants in an individual singing competition judged on how they sing and dance with others?

Two of my favorite singers in the competition, Paris Tassin - the single mom of a special-needs daughter, who had the look of a superstar and the voice to match - and Rob Bolin - who had one of the most pure and soulful voices in Idol history - both got sent home when their group performances fell apart.

Sure, Tassin did sound a bit shrieky during her solo and Bolin didn't come close to remembering the words to a song his two female partners chose for him. But neither of them should have been forced to sing with a group at all. And now, we might never know how good they could have been.

Jennifer Lopez blasted one group's performance as "a bad 'Glee' audition" when they failed to harmonize. That was fair. But there is no reason for them to be harmonizing in the first place. All nine previous winners, even the weak ones (an early-season bonjour to you Taylor Hicks), are now either solo performers or the lead singer for a rock band.

But nevertheless, we're forced to sit through it every year and, as a result, some of the best singer/songwriters often turn in performances that make solitary confinement sound like a week at Sandals Jamaica.

And this year was no different.

Not only because many of the performances were William Hung-esque, and boy were there some mind-numbingly awful performances. But also because the already catty process of forming groups became even more nasty when producers threw the contestants a curve ball. Each group had to include at least one person from each day of the prior round's two-day audition. This meant that many already-formed groups had to kick out their perceived weak links and try to cherry pick from the other groups.

This sent talented, but awkward-looking performers - such as chubby 15-year-old Jacee Badeaux and Sideshow Bob's love child Brett Loewenstern - pleading for a group to be in like the class nerd searching for a prom date.

Thankfully, both loveable outcasts scored big in a group together, dubbed Sugar Momma and The Babies. And when the young Badeaux broke down in tears in his mother's arms after advancing to the final day of "Hollywood Week," it had my wife bawling as if she had just finished a Nicholas Sparks novel.

Sadly, the great state of New Jersey had the worst showing Wednesday night.

Just when you thought that the most embarrassing thing to come out of the Garden State would be "Jersey Shore," Morris Plains-resident Tiffany Rios and Deptford's Shannon Livewell took the stage.

Livewell sounded like she was gargling a mouth-full of Jell-O during her audition and Rios took the word "terrible" to a whole new level.

When Rios couldn't find a group - which was not a surprise to anyone but the strangely conceited Rios - sweetheart Jessica Yantz volunteered to be her partner. Yantz would've been better off sticking her hand in a blender, as both were sent home before they could even complete their song.

There were some solid performances, but what really stood out to me were the weak performers that the judges let through.

So I'll leave you with three singers that I hope do not make it into the Top 24.

  • Ashley Sullivan: The 25-year-old Massachusetts native is probably the weakest singer left in the competition and, for some reason, she is always crying. She is way too dramatic and even briefly quit the competition until her boyfriend unfortunately talked her into staying. Sullivan's stage presence is bizarre, her vocals are shaky at best and, in my opinion, she shouldn't have even made it to Hollywood.
  • Jacqueline Dunford: She looks a lot like Heidi Montag, but is a little more talented. This puts her somewhere between a toad and a wood chipper in terms of musical ability. Another similarity this 21-year-old has with the plastic surgery-addicted reality television queen is the nauseating relationship she is in. Montag's long-time beau is the insufferable attention hound Spencer Pratt and Dunford is dating Nick Fink, who threw a temper tantrum last week when she advanced and he didn't.
  • Clint Jun Gamboa: I just don't like him. His vocals were decent. But his day job is hosting karaoke (not exactly what the already karaoke-heavy Idol competition needs) and he comes across as a more cartoonish and obnoxious version of last year's ninth-place finisher Andrew Garcia. Plus he was the one responsible for kicking Badeaux out of his group. And for that alone he deserves to go home.

Check back in tomorrow when I will give my "pre-season" pick to win it all.

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