There are moments where The X Factor reminds me of a horror-movie version of an industrial farm-raised turkey: Genetically groomed and pumped full of steroids, bursting at the skin with muscle and sinew, and — if it could figure out how to better maneuver its unwieldy form — ready to burst from its cage and brutally flip the carnivore-Thanksgiving dinner relationship.
Indeed, Simon Cowell is to reality singing competitions what growth hormones are to poultry: Why settle for a dozen backup dancers when you can project the image of 1,000 hoofers against a backdrop? Why wait for the season finale to dump 20 tons of confetti on your contestants? And why shine a single spotlight on a vocalist when you’re pretty sure her body can withstand the scorching heat of 50 Klieg lights?
I sometimes wonder if The X Factor‘s quieter, stripped-down performances resonate more with me simply because they provide merciful respite from the cavalcade of whirling backup dancers, violently flashing lights, and pulsating backing tracks.
Oh, but wait! It’s that tall, handsome, British guy in the impeccably cut suit. I can never remember his name, or anything he says, but I know his jawline will last forever, and I think there’s some statistic going around about him being able to send 770 Tweets per minute. British guy is doing a lot of pointing, and he’s trying really hard to project a vibe of relaxed jocularity, but I can see some of his circuitry poking out from under his shirt collar. He’s telling us that the winner of X Factor will get to star in his or her “very own iconic Pepsi commercial” (ugh) and that he’s super-pumped the show has just been picked up for a second season. (Don’t get too excited, buddy; we all saw what happened to Cheryl Cole, and she was actually good at her job.)
Anyhow, enough about the guy they really should replace with Cat Deeley. Let’s review this week’s performances!
Stereo Hogzz: Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation”
Critique is dead! Long live hyperbole! Yes, folks, your ears did not deceive you: Simon actually said that there isn’t a band in the world right now as good as Stereo Hogzz. (!) And he gave this baffling critique in spite of the fact that the band’s lead singer didn’t hit a single note during the slowed-down opening segment of Janet Jackson’s driving dance hit. Thankfully, Trace’s vocals improved noticeably once the beat kicked in and the lighting guys created a lightning storm in hell and a dozen or so plushie Storm Troopers took the stage to dance it out — then got magnified by 1,000 against the backdrop. Plus, I can’t really say anything too negative about a group that sang the praises of a club — the Rhythm Nation, duh — whose membership card I’ve carried since 1989. People of the world unite/ Strength in numbers we can get it right/ One time…
Chris Rene: The Carpenters’ “Superstar”
Chris’ rehearsal package was pretty illuminating: The singer himself admitted he was “wobbly” on Top 17 night, and then his mentor actually came out and said that Chris is “just better on his own songs.” So why not let the guy sing an original track, L.A.? Instead, we got Chris standing awkwardly atop a flight of stairs and offering a somewhat competent cover of a Carpenters classic. Chris’ biggest problem is that he doesn’t have enough breath support to hold onto his notes and properly finish the ends of his phrases. Well, that and the fact that his rehearsal outfit — an oversized plaid shirt paired with oversized plaid shorts — should be hurled directly into the random flames that appeared on stage in the middle of his performance. Said pyrotechnics prompted my favorite Simon comment of the night (“You literally put him in hell!”) and least favorite comment from that unfunny British hunk (“This man sounded heavenly!”) No, @SteveJones, don’t improvise!
Leroy Bell, Lonestar’s “I’m Already There”
In the real world, I’m probably more likely to buy Leroy’s album than half the folks in the competition, but with Nicole Scurvymonger choosing dreary tracks like Lonestar’s “I’m Already There,” I fear the world’s sexiest grandpa will be one of the early casualties of the competition. I mean, just because the dude is missing his teenage son doesn’t mean Nicole had to make a completely literal artistic decision and force him to sing a country ballad about a dad who’s away from his wife and kids. Why not let his gravely voice shine on something with a little more of a rock-soul vibe? On closer inspection, the judges’ seemingly innocuous comments — L.A.’s “I wish you the absolute best”; Paula’s “I wish you the best of luck” — look like the start of a tearful farewell. For a moment, I worried Nicole would follow those comments by closing her eyes and bursting into self-indulgent song: “I wish you joy and happiness. But above all this, I wish you love.”
Rachel Crow, Katrina and the Waves’ “Walking on Sunshine”
Look at Paula being the voice of reason and wondering why Simon doesn’t showcase Rachel’s potent pipes — which she showed off at Boot Camp with “If I Were a Boy” — instead of stranding her atop a stack of faux speakerboxes with a trifle of a tune like “Walking on Sunshine.” And honestly, the lyric changes — subbing “telephone” for “mailbox,” and putting another nail in the coffin of the fine art of letter-writing; and changing the chorus from “Walking on Sunshine” to “You’re My Sunshine” — just made me momentarily think Rachel had forgotten her words. But what did L.A., the guy who’d been hyped pre-season as a judge even tougher than Simon, have to say? “Oooh, widdle Wachel, it’s tough to cwiticize you because you’re SO LOVABLE!”
Lakoda Rayne: Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide”
Paula made each member of the quartet channel a season, though it’s not clear if, for example, Dani was just playing the role of “Summer” for this performance, or if she’ll be expected to stick with it for the rest of her X Factor run. From the looks of their early ’90s pageant gowns, though, Lakoda Rayne looked more like they were channeling popsicles: Lemon, Grape, Cherry, and Chemical Turquoise. There wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the gals’ take on “Landslide” — save for one member going noticably awry on the chorus; yikes! — but there wasn’t anything particularly special or unique about it, either. You know if these gals wind up in a bottom-two singoff, though, Paula is going to fight hard to keep ‘em: I mean, who else is going to accompany her on her daily frozen-yogurt run?
Josh Krajcik, Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts”
I’ve got no qualms with Nicole’s choice of a “woman’s song” for burly Josh — the lyrics fit him just fine, and more often than not, you can kill any karaoke comparisons with a little gender scramble — but the problem is he simply didn’t sing it well. The entire opening verse was way too low for Josh’s comfort zone, and even when his voice opened up on the chorus, he was still struggling with his pitch. Yes, on an emotional level, Josh hit his marks — Lord, I sound like J.Lo now — and it’d be a shame for him to finish twelfth after showing so much early promise, but if you’re only as good as your last performance, the burrito maker might be dangerously close to a return engagement at the onion-chopping station.
Melanie Amaro, The Eagles’ “Desperado”
Oh man that a capella intro was flawless. So good, in fact, I kinda wished that Simon had done away with any accompaniment whatsoever, and just let us bask in the power and pitch perfection of Melanie’s voice. Like her mentor, I don’t think I realized just how good Melanie was, but if she’s going to ride this train all the way to December, Simon needs to fire any stylist suggesting the option of a silver blazer, and assign Melanie something uptempo — and written within the last 20 years.
Astro: Naughty By Nature’s “Hip-Hop Hooray”/Missy Elliot’s “Get Your Freak On” (complete with self-penned verses)
“They told me that I was whack and would never be known/ And when I kicked it they predicted that I would get sent home/ But now I’m killin ‘em with the live shows/ Gettin ‘em with the flows, I be havin”em trippin’ every time they listen,” spat Astro, kicking off a lively and undeniably tight Naughty By Nature/Missy Elliot mashup. Okay, kid, you’ve put me (and millions of other naysayers) in our place. Like it or not (and I’m still pretty sure I fall into the latter category), Astro is a force to be reckoned with in the competition. And he’s not afraid to rock a gold pant, either. “Dope.”
Intensity: Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America”/LMFAO’s “Party Rock”
The pack of youths (“youths” delivered using Liz Lemon’s chilling delivery) known as Intensity “don’t want to be Disney,” but I’m afraid it’s too early for them to rock ass-less chaps and cover Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty.” The good news is that the group’s lead vocalists this week — Ellona and John, I think? — hit harder than a middle-school dodgeball. That said, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that part of me shuts down/tunes out every time I’m faced with so many members bouncing around the stage, and all the electric-kaleidoscopic stars bursting on the backdrop, and the kids’ faces suddenly getting projected like dystopian dictators, and the streamers rocketing, and sheer noise and scope and awfulness of it all. Also: Why were the judges spelling out their critiques? They do know that these kids are old enough to understand what “s.o.r.r.y” means, yes?
Drew Ryniewicz: Nelly’s “Just a Dream”
I question the taste level of the American Beauty-esque, shot-from-above-on-a-bed-of-petals intro — Simon does realize Mena Suvari was a projection of Kevin Spacey’s inappropriate sexual fantasies in that movie, yes? — but to me, Drew (in her pink, tiered tutu and tights) gave the performance of the night. The adorkable teenager hit all her notes, captured the emotions behind the lyrics of a song you simply wouldn’t expect her to cover, and managed to seem like the kind of artist you’d expect to hear at the Grammys or the AMAs or the VMAs or SNL — except without the lipsynching and/or pitch problems. “I’m seeing a star emerge in front of me,” said Simon. Me too, sir. Me too.
Marcus Canty: Bobby Brown’s “Every Little Step”
It’s sometimes hard to tell what the judges really like on The X Factor – seeing how everyone is “great,” “amazing,” and “fantastic” — but they seemed particularly jazzed about Marcus’ paint-by-numbers cover of “Every Little Step.” To me, though, it raised the question Simon asked before the performance: “Why do we need another Bobby Brown?” Marcus’ voice is strong enough that L.A. should be assigning him offbeat and unexpected songs that can show he’s unique and exciting — and not just a future member of some New Edition tribute act. The staging of the performance, too, detracted from Marcus’ vocals, and bordered on overwhelming. There were so many dancers, and so much movement, and so many lights, that all I could really take away from it was Marcus’ awkward squat-and-shuffle dancing, and that’s probably the last thing he’d want anyone to focus on.
Stacy Francis, Patty Griffin’s “Up to the Mountain”
Stacy was offended by Simon’s comment last week that she’s just a church singer, but that didn’t stop her from hollerating the bejeezus out of a song that Crystal Bowersox once handled with such delicate beauty on the American Idol stage. Don’t get me wrong: Stacy has more talent in her eyelashes than most current pop tarts have in their whole bodies, but someone needs to help her learn about the joys of restraint. And I don’t think that person is going to be Nicole. “You are fulfilling your purpose!” declared her mentor. Ah well. If her purpose is to attack and destroy every note of every song she sings, then mission accomplished!
My Bottom Two Prediction
Leroy Bell and Lakoda Rayne
What did you think of this week’s X Factor? Who was your favorite? Who do you think will be participating in the bottom two sing-off for the judges? Sound off below, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!