The X Factor Recap: Cry Hard, With a Vengeance

And the Emmy nominees for Best Supporting Object in the Trumped-Up Reality-Show Drama of The X Factor‘s Top 17 Announcement Episode are: Nicole Shapeshifter’s shimmering eyelashes; the pillow used to mop up Stacy Francis’ tears-and-mascara gravy; the matching “wedding bands” worn by all three (!) members of rejected boy band The Anser; Tora Woloshin’s floppy white hat; and Steve Jones’ soft but muscular embrace. And the statuette goes to…

…the pillow used to mop up…wait! Simon Cowell is rushing the stage. He’s calling an audible and changing the script. The winner is Christa Collins’ “Creepy/Awesome Baby on a Lilypad” Hat!

See, there really is justice in the world. As well as truth, beauty, freedom, and love. And, often (though not always) tears, backstories, accessories, and world-class singing.

So this is The X Factor. Let’s check in with Steve Jones, standing in front of the Eiffel Tower in his black-and-white vertical-striped t-shirt. The same black-and-white vertical-striped t-shirt he wore in front of the Eiffel Tower on Sunday night’s episode. Nope, Ryan Seacrest’s contract would never allow such sacrilege (though he burns all his shirts after one wearing, just to be on the safe side).

Before we get to an analysis of the Season 1 Top 17 — oh yes, you read that right, 17 instead of 16 — let’s kneel on our couches in the Nicole-approved “break it to you gently” position and review who got cut during Tuesday night’s bloodbath. (For extra dramatic effect, play one of The X Factor‘s already over-used go-to montage ditties — O-Town’s “All or Nothing,” Christina Aguilera’s “The Voice Within,” or Coldplay’s “Fix You” — while you read this recap.)

BOOTED BOYS
* Nick Voss: “I’ve wanted to be a star since I was five,” said Nick, pretty much summing up his central defect as an artist — digging the fame more than the actual music.
* Skyelor Andeson: L.A. once again implied that Skyelor’s focus on country music was “limiting.” Would that conundrum have held true if Skyelor happened to be white? Why the face, L.A.? (Refreshing to see a reality-show judge who demands his artists stay inside the damn box, or better yet, not even be aware there is a box in the first place, no?) I’d have appreciated it if L.A. had just been honest and told the kid his vocals weren’t strong enough for the big show.
* Brennin Hunt: “Inside, I’m pretty insecure,” said the guy who once described himself as “the total package.” Um, okay. Yeah. Still, while Brennin is probably right that at 26, he’s already “getting old” for major-label consideration, I was shocked L.A. didn’t pick him over Phillip or “Astro.” I mean, granted, Simon probably already has Season 1 locked up, but you’d think L.A. might want to give him a serious run with a vocally consistent, Pepsi-commercial-ready option, no? Then again, Brennin’s already gotten to duet with American Idol Season 10 semifinalist Kendra Chantelle, so in some ways he’s already won at life.
* Tim Cifers: Sorry, I’ve got nothing to say about this ouster because I got so distracted by Tim’s ridiculously adorable baby friend! (Okay, to be fair, we never saw this dude hit a bum note, but no way was L.A. going to get stuck with a pure Nashville artist with questionable charisma.)

GARROTED GROUPS
* 2SQUAR’D: I truly, madly, deeply loved that original track they performed at the Miami auditions — it’s called “Shine,” and it’s on YouTube — but then they got the “side of a milk carton” edit, and their Judges’ Homes rendition of “Bohemian Rhapsody” was a hot mess. So while I still can’t believe Paula cut them in favor of Lakoda Rayne (just typing those two words together causes an involuntary eye roll), I’m not all broken up about it, either.
* Illusion Confusion: “I’m mad as hell,” said that one dude from this trio. Or were they a quartet? I honestly have no idea anymore.
* 4Shore: When Paula looked at these four gentlemen in their custom t-shirts and and called them “technically, the most beautiful-sounding” competitors in her category, I trembled with terror. Honestly, I never heard a performance from 4Shore that sounded completely on pitch — even with the “Judges’ Home” special sound-enhancing, environmental-noise-deleting button. But perhaps Paula’s praise was a consolation prize, since moments later she cut them for the sole reason that she couldn’t figure out which member of the quarter was the lead singer. Talk about axing the right group for the wrong reason! Sister, try using that logic on the funky divas of En Vogue!
* The Anser: At least threse three spelling-challenged guys from Salt Lake City, UT, still have their matching rings to symbolize their love and lifelong commitment to each other(‘s music).

OUSTED OVER 30s
It’s pretty clear Nicole is an alien life form who is sustained by equal parts oxygen and human tears. Thus, despite the fact that Christa Collins and James Kenney displayed far more promise (and ability to memorize their lyrics) than Dexter Haygood, their mild-to-moderate composure wasn’t nearly as appetizing as Dexter’s constant state of sobbing emotional collapse. Tiger Budbill, meanwhile, had decent chops, but you don’t show up for your big TV moment in a bowling shirt, exposed tank top, shorts, and sneakers. Maybe Nicole couldn’t see through her giant false eyelashes, but her immediate greeting of “you look good” was perhaps her craziest comment of the night. Yet while Tiger was perhaps a little too “everyman” to top the charts, here’s hoping his X Factor exposure gets him enough local work to pay his mortgage.

And finally, please tell me I wasn’t the only person whose first thought during Simon’s “I made a mistake” moment was, “Oh good! Simon can add Melanie to his roster, and stupid-ass Nicole can bring back Elaine Gibbs!” I know the X Factor editing team tried to paint it as an Elaine Gibbs-vs.-Stacy Francis proposition, but Nicole could’ve given one spot to Weepy McSobstory and still put through Elaine (“one of the most talented singers I’ve come by in my entire life,” Nicole sighed) over Dexter, no? Kudos to Elaine for keeping her head up and not allowing Nicole to collect her tears in a cup for a pre-lunch snack: “It’s been an awesome journey. Hopefully, my dream is not over.” Dance labels, take note!

GIRLS
Is it possible that I actually understand/support every one of Simon’s yeses, and yet still feel completely depressed about each and every one of his “no” votes? Tora Woloshin was serving quirky and dynamic star power while still managing to hit (most of) her notes. Jazzlyn Little did indeed have a raw grit about her, one that could’ve been fostered and enhanced with the right mentor. (Then again, Simon’s guidance of the careers of Leona Lewis and Il Divo suggest he might’ve sandblasted the powerful urban vibe right out of Jazz.) And, oh, Caitlin Koch, with your delicate phrasing and sublime subtlety, I’ll miss you most of all! (Until you win Season 11 of American Idol, that is.)

And finally, my pre-season rankings of the Top 16:

17. Dexter Haygood (Over 30s): It’s so nice when contestants do the hard work of providing their own brutal critiques. “I stunk up the room,” said Dexter of his “Crazy in Love” cover. And yet, here he is eating Elaine Gibbs’ lunch. (Side note: Dexter’s “They don’t need it as much as I need it” logic activated none of my sympathy receptors. This is a search for the next big radio star, not Extreme Makeover: Life Edition.)

16. Lakota Rayne (Groups): Expecting an injunction from the Lakota Nation in 5, 4, 3, 2…oh wait, these white chicks are gonna get the boot before their attorney finishes dictating his memo!

15. Phillip Lomax (Boys): I love that L.A. was all “take my advice into the competition,” but his advice was essentially “you need more time.” Which I am translating from Reality TV to English as: “You are my cannon fodder, dude.”

14. Intensity (Groups): There was an Old Paula who lived in a shoe/ She had so many children in this makeshift group, she didn’t know what to do/ She gave them some dance steps, “Cold Hearted” retread/ Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

13. Rachel Crow (Girls): One more word about everyone having their own bathroom and I am gonna flip my damn lid. (Do you think she came up with that bit herself, or is she reading off the X Factor producers’ cue cards?)

12. Brian “Astro” Bradley (Boys): Here was the kid’s chance to come off as humble and full of gratitude, and instead he makes a comment about “getting girls” and not being able to walk to the corner store without being mobbed. Here’s hoping L.A. calls in Supernanny Jo Frost as a special guest mentor.

11. Stacy Francis (Over 30s): She decided to turn off the disapproving voice of her first husband that’s stuck in her head. Or maybe she’s just drowning it out with her hollerating? Okay, that was mean. But kind of honest, right? I say the first time she has a tearful breakdown on the live stage, America will give her the boot.

10. Tiah Tolliver (Girls): She can’t really sing, but I think some of Simon’s Kool-Aid got into my sauvignon blanc.

9. Marcus Canty (Boys): Funniest sob-story intro of the night: “I grew up in an okay neighborhood…” Hey, kid, people are going to vote on whether or not you sing well, not on whether you overcame the hardscrabble streets to do it.

8. Stereo Hogzz (Groups): Those fellas were sporting some aggressive pocket kerchiefs, no? Still, that lead singer is pretty solid, maybe solid enough to keep Paula in mentoring mode well into the holiday season.

7. Simone Battle (Girls): Just because she’s a diva doesn’t mean she’s not likable. And that Judges’ House version of “Help” has me daydreaming about her debut record Honey, Work.

6. Josh Krajcik (Over 30s): Prediction: Dude’s income will exceed $12,000 in 2012. Really needs to SPF that chest when he’s in the California sun, though.

5. Chris Rene (Boys): We already know that he’s not the strongest vocalist in the competition, but he’s a seriously compelling performer, and a decent songwriter to boot. Now if we could just convince the producer to stop playing “Fix You” every damn time he’s on the screen. I mean, reality TV has its uses, but a cure for drug addiction? I don’t think so.

4. Leroy Bell (Over 30s): “I don’t know if you want it enough,” said Nicole, apparently believing that because Leroy is 60 his mind will soon wander to visions of prune juice, semolina, and hard candies. Nonsense! This mercifully understated singer is the lightweight mentor’s best chance at giving Simon nightmares of not taking home the Season 1 crown.

3. The Brewer Boys (Groups): They’ve gotten a decent amount of screentime without being pimped in the extreme, but Paula’s gonna have to do something about those Bieber wannabe haircuts if she wants America to think of them as viable artists in their own right.

2. Melanie Amaro (Girls): I don’t really care if he planned it from the get-go, I thoroughly enjoyed Simon declaring “I made a massive mistake,” flying to Sunrise, FL, and surprising a stunned Melanie with the news that he’d changed his mind and added her to the live-show lineup. Some people will say the time for Melanie’s brand of big-voiced diva music has passed, but everything in the music biz is cyclical. Maybe the time for Melanie’s brand of big-voiced diva music is about to make a comeback…starting with Melanie?

1. Drew Ryniewicz (Girls): I’d accidentally seen a spoiler saying Simon hadn’t picked her for the live shows — despite her devastatingly beautiful cover of “It Must Have Been Love.” To which I say, “Suck it, spoilers”! My heart seriously stopped beating during Simon’s drawn-out reveal: “You weren’t the best teenager. You weren’t. You were the best contestant of the whole day.” And Drew’s breathless response — “I don’t even know if I’m speaking English right now” — was flawless, not too precociously rehearsed, not so mature that she was creepy, but just a genuine kid on the brink of superstardom.

What did you think of the X Factor Top 17 announcement episode? Who are your favorites from each category? Who’s the one elimination that’s still stinging you right now? And who’s your pick for early eliminations? Sound off below and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!