The X Factor Recap: Ranking the Top 32!

This just in: At 23 years of age, Whitney Houston’s mawkish 1988 ballad “One Moment in Time” has apparently reclaimed its power as an un-ironic, soul-stirring anthem that can accompany small-screen images of joy, triumph, and the overcoming of obstacles. How else to explain the melismatic octave changes and lyrics about “racing with destiny” that accompanied The X Factor‘s announcement of the Top 8 contestants in the “geriatric” quarter of its search for America’s next great singing sensation?

All of this, of course, is just a long-winded way of saying that as the octet of octogenarians (okay, that burrito slinger was only 30) learned they were “winners for a lifetime” (or at least the next week), and Paula Abdul showed Nicole Scherzinger that weeping involves more than a single drop of Visine rolling down an artfully powdered cheek, I might’ve gotten just the slightest bit choked up.

But let’s not make this about who did or didn’t succumb to Simon Cowell’s masterful emotional manipulation and reach for the Kleenex. Let’s instead talk about the 32 acts who are advancing to the “Judges’ Mansions” round, and how exactly  they earned the right to step-ball-change right over the scattered feces of Paula Abdul’s miniature Chihuahua army.

We kicked off with some reheated leftovers from Wednesday night’s meal, getting glimpses of the final group-round performances. Chris Rene, 94 days sober, whipped off his shirt mid-rehearsal, his sister Gina Rene took to the stage in alarming black lace Capri pants, and Marcus Canty’s excessive vibrato on “What’s Going On” was described by Simon as “amazing.” Where is Nina Garcia when you need a monster to question a judge’s taste level?

Then, proving X Factor‘s producers have the same exact 100 songs on their iTunes as their American Idol counterparts, we then heard from groups tackling “I’m Every Woman” and something by Rascal Flatts, followed by Emma Henry and Her Two-Tone Hair (aka the girl who got a “no, but maybe when you’re a little older” from J.Lo during American Idol‘s 10th Season) covering Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars.” Emma sounded pretty good — even as she made brazen shapes with her human image — but once the flopsy-haired Brewer Boys joined in, everybody else in the ensemble seemed outclassed.

After that group had finished, the judges again winnowed down the field, causing ousted/dreadlocked rapper Tatiana ‘Reina’ Williams to yell abuse at the camera. “Maybe I’m just too talented!” she raged with such conviction that I almost believed she believed herself (but not really).

Finally, it was time for the 64 remaining acts to hit the stage — in front of a live audience of thousands — in the last pre-Judges’ Mansions round. I could give a play-by-play of the dozens of performance snippets we witnessed, but that’d be like demanding you read the names of every beige paint swatch in Home Depot: There’s no way you’re going to remember ’em all anyhow, and frankly, there’s little reason your should.

Instead, I’m going to rank the individual acts in each of the four judges’ categories from least- to most-promising.

Simon Cowell: Girls
8. Simone Battle
7. Tora Woloshin
6. Rachel Crow
5. Tiah Tolliver
4. Jazzlyn Little
3. Caitlin Koch
2. Melanie Amaro
1. Drew Ryniewicz

Simon definitely drew the deepest, most talented category — as evidenced by my having to put Simone at the bottom of the list. Okay, she didn’t remember a single word of the lyrics to “Your Song” — “You just wrote a whole new song!” Simon gasped when Simone said she was aiming for a “different twist on Elton John’s original —  but there was something cool and Fiona Apple-y about her arrangement. Plus, she dresses like she’s in a mid-’80s Jody Watley video! Rachel also ends up lower than I’d expected, despite a stunning rendition of “If I Were a Boy.” There’s just something slightly studied/overly precocious about her personality — although I was highly impressed by her mid-performance “stank face.” Keep it up, sister, and I might become a fan for life. Drew, on the other hand, is the same age as Rachel, but with every facial expression and utterance she makes, the kid is just so authentically 14. And how to compare Caitlin’s lullaby-ish “Cry Me a River”  against Tiah’s “This Is a Man’s World” vs. any of the fabulous auditions from Melanie, Jazzlyn, or Tora. Simon’s got his work cut out for him!

L.A. Reid: Boys
8. Skyelor Anderson
7. Nick Voss
6. Brian Bradley
5. Phillip Lomax
4. Chris Rene
3. Brennin Hunt
2. Marcus Canty
1. Tim Cifer

Yikes! L.A. might have declared “I think I just won” when he drew the under-30 guys, but I don’t see how he came to that conclusion. More than half of his musical gladiators have either questionable vocal skills (Chris hasn’t sounded on point since “Young Homie,” while Skyelor and Nick are at least two years of intense vocal training away from conquering their pitch problems), questionable personalities (hello, Brian, Phillip, and Brennin!), or both. Well, at least Marcus and Tim seem like nice-enough chaps, eh?

Nicole Scherzinger: Over-30s
8. Christa Collins
7. Dexter Haygood
6. Tiger Budbill
5. Stacy Francis
4. James Kenney
3. Leroy Bell
2. Josh Krajcik
1. Elaine Gibbs

Given her pre-seaon hype, plus her “I missed my dad’s funeral for Boot Camp” backstory, I don’t see how Stacy won’t make the Top 16, but her rambling rendition of “Summertime” proved she hadn’t really taken Simon’s “less is more” advice to heart. I far prefer Elaine, who’s nailed every single note that’s escaped her mouth this season, as well as affable everyman Josh and exceedingly subtle Leroy, who does more with a whisper than most vocalists do with a 30-second glory note. (Still, Josh, “Up to the Mountain” isn’t really a Kelly Clarkson song. Next time you’re in doubt about something like that, Google it, k?)

Paula Abdul: Groups
8. 4Shore
7. 10 Random Youths
6. Illusion Confusion
5. The Anser
4. Four Non Non-Blondes
3. Stereo Hogzz
2. The Brewer Boys
1. 2Squar’d

I can’t lie, I squealed with delight at the sudden reappearance of 2’Squard (one of my fave X Factor auditions thus far), and the equally promising Brewer Boys, but I groaned just as loudly at the inclusion of aggressively insipid 4Shore (whose rendition of “Fix You” will probably be addressed in next month’s Goop newsletter). No matter how it all shakes out, though, it should be interesting to watch Paula juggle such a heavily populated category. Let the first tearful breakdown of their collaboration commence in 5, 4,3, 2…

And finally, presented without comment below, is a screengrab of ousted Siameze wearing a Siameze t-shirt. Now quick, print out a screengrab of this image, then put it on a t-shirt! Yes. We. Can.

What did you think of the end of X Factor boot camp? Have you already got a favorite contestant? Sound off below, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!