The X Factor Recap: The Best and the Brightest [Updated]

panda jones x factorI’m going to come right out and say it: This Wednesday’s X Factor was the show’s best episode ever — and  partially because its stars included a pretty boy who spent what felt like 45 minutes debating whether or not to pop his collar, a trio of smokin’-hot sisters, a man who found a controversial (possibly deadly?) solution to male pattern baldness and a heavy-set black woman named Panda who got carried out on a stretcher. (Spoiler alert: All of ’em advanced to Boot Camp!)

I know, I know, you’re reading this and saying “The X Factor is barely out of diapers. Is ‘best episode ever’ really such effusive praise?”

Well, actually, yes. During the course of the 120-minute telecast, I laughed, I chair-danced, I cried, and the entire extravaganza may have become a part of me. Or at least it became a part of my internal iPod, finally (!) ending the repeat loop of Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” that’s been rolling in the deep part of my cerebral cortex for a week now.

Yikes. That’s way too much personal information this early in a recap, this early in a season. (I only had a glass and a half of X Factor Juice tonight, just in case you’re judging.)

In addition to a lineup packed with highly entertaining — and in some cases seriously talented — candidates trying to inherit Season 1 champ Melanie Amaro’s crown and sash, Wednesday’s show contained a few additional unexpected occurrences: British X Factor judge Louis Walsh pinch-hitting for Simon Cowell. (He was like a glass of weak soda-fountain lemonade compared to Cowell’s tart, homemade forumla). Britney Spears singing an a capella “Happy Birthday” to L.A. Reid. (Okay, she didn’t sound fantastic, but at least I didn’t have to put quotes around the word singing, yes?) And one of those “look at me, I’m on TV” auditions ending with the guy getting arrested for trying to steal his X Factor mic pack. (Wasn’t it payment enough to look like a total nincompoop on national television?)

Anyhow, without any further confessions on a dancefloor, let’s get down to the business of ranking the 13 latest singers headed to Boot Camp, and then placing them in a larger context alongside the other successful auditioners from the first two nights of X Factor Auditions:

13) Normani Hamilton: Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” | We only got a 15-second snippet, but the gorgeous teenager had things cranked up to 11 from start to finish. Needs a lesson in dynamics, perhaps?

12) Brandon Hassan: Ray Lamontagne’s “Trouble” | The lesser of two “Troubles.”

11) Jeremiah & Josh: an original track called “Now Life Starts” | Britney’s “I wish you could wake me up in the morning” said it all. Granted, we only heard a snippet of singing, but I wondered if these dudes would be headed to boot camp if they had the same severe allergy to the gym with which I’m afflicted.

10) Vino Alan: Ray Lamontagne’s “Trouble” | Whoever ends up coaching this 39-year-old dad will have to get past the fact that he’s replaced all of his hair with tattooed “flames,” a sight that prompted one of Britney’s hilarious/unfiltered “yeesh” faces. There’s an appealing world-weariness to Vino’s voice, though. (Also: Bonus points for the name “Vino.”)

9) CeCe Frey: Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man” | Self-proclaimed button-pusher with leopard-print face paint stalked the cameras like a lioness tracking a baby impala — and tried to psych out her competitors with stare-downs and obnoxious asides. (Who else loved the irony of CeCe huffing to a fellow auditioner “wow, what a generic answer,” moments before dropping the most clichéd comment of the night (“I’m not in this thing to make friends”)? Still, The X Factor‘s editing team zigged where I expected them to zag: Instead of CeCe’s audition being a point-and-jeer experience, she actually performed with solid pitch and undeniable charisma — at least after Demi got her to switch from the ill-fitting “Unchained Melody” to “Ain’t No Other Man.” I’m not sure anyone in America is ready to speed-dial on CeCe’s behalf, but I’d also venture to guess that most of the postal worker’s bravado is simply a smokescreen to mask rampant insecurities.

8) Rizzloe Jones: Freestyle rap using the phrases “X Factor” and “marshmallow” | Rizzloe concocted a few sharp rhymes out of thin air, but I’m not convinced the “high-pack ADD animal” with a penchant for referring to himself in the third person has a particularly pleasing voice. As Britney put it (with unintentional hilarity): “You remind me of a young Vanilla Ice Ice Baby.”

7) Tate Stevens: Randy Houser’s “Anything Goes” | Burly, bearded country singer had a deep, rich singing voice, if not a surplus of charisma. Was there anything cuter than the way Tate tried to tousle his hair into some sort of viable style after removing his cowboy hat? And was there anything sweeter than his daughter declaring “To me, he’s already my superhero and my star.” I’d have wondered if someone at X Factor made the kid read that off a cue card, if it hadn’t been delivered with enough sincerity to bring a tear to my eye.

6) Citizen: En Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go (Love)” | “You’re 10 years out of date,” said Simon to this aggressively groomed, multi-ethnic, and undeniably handsome five-man throwback to the days when Nick Carter had the same-sized fan base as Justin Timberlake. And while he had a point that the guys’  choreography was a bit tragic, their song choice and harmonies were spot-on. And, really, Simon, how are they any less cool or modern than One Direction?

5) Ally Brooke: Jaci Velasquez’s “On My Knees” | Stunner in black leather shorts and a jaunty fedora looked like she dropped in from the set of 90210, and she somehow managed to seem more wide-eyed than obnoxious while rattling off a litany of her outsized ambitions (she’d like a clothing line, a perfume line, and a career as big as Beyoncé’s). Displayed an undeniably pretty tone, but it sounded to me like she was on the brink of tears right from the opening note. She’ll have to keep those emotions in check — and learn to stop singing when her mentor says “cut” — if she’s going to survive Boot Camp. Bottom line: The girl is ridiculous, but maybe not in a bad way.

4) Diamond White: James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” | The way Diamond talked about her hardscrabble background — “[My mom and I] have to share a bed, which is not cool” — set her up as Rachel Crow 2.0, only significantly less rehearsed. And while her James Brown cover wasn’t equal to what Joshua Ledet did on Idol — is anything equal to that, really? — she delivered it with a precision and soul that was almost jarring considering her tender age of 13.

3) Panda Ross: Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me” | I’ll admit that, based on the track record of reality singing competitions on Fox, I became instantly nervous when plus-sized Panda took to the screen with her “SINGLE” necklace and intentions of making Simon her “baby daddy.” But nope, nobody’s about to turn Panda into a joke. Her plain-spoken humor — that bit about her name being inspired, in part, by her mother’s white cell mate, had me howling — and quiet confidence (tweaking the lyrics to let Simon know she’d buy him jewelry if she won the $5 million prize) were second only to her deep, rumbling singing voice. “You sound like a legend,” declared the cranky British judge, which is all the more remarkable when you consider Panda had just sprung herself from the hospital with a case of pneumonia, and had to be taken from the arena gasping, hacking, and wheezing on a stretcher. Ever the entertainer, though, Panda scored one last laugh as she was hoisted into the ambulance: “I don’t want Simon to see me like this!” Indeed, let him see her in Boot Camp, where she belongs.

2) Jessica Espinoza: Pink’s “Nobody Knows” | I’ll admit Jessica had me hooked from the moment she said she knew what it was like to be hungry, then made a joke about looking “well-fed.” (“It’s from the dollar menu!”) But man, nothing could’ve prepared me for the depth of heartache and longing she brought to Pink’s “Nobody Knows.” As Simon put it, Jessica actually sang for her life, and in the process, delivered what might have been the most emotionally satisfying audition in X Factor‘s two-season history. If her future coach can sort out her unfortunate two-tone hair situation, this chick has a shot to become a major music star.

1) Sister C: Pistol Annies’ “Hell on Heels” | We only saw maybe 20 seconds of this sister act’s slow and sultry cover of Pistol Annies’ country hit, but those 20 seconds were absolutely stunning. Here’s hoping they get more airtime during Boot Camp, rather than disappearing completely (which will then force me to make random references to them in my X Factor recaps for the next six or seven years).

22) Quatrele Da’an Smith: Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way”
21) Normani Hamilton: Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools”
20) Brandon Hassan: Ray Lamontagne’s “Trouble”
19) Reed Deming: Bruno Mars’ “Grenade”
18) Jeremiah & Josh: an original track called “Now Life Starts”
17) Vino Alan: Ray Lamontagne’s “Trouble”
16) CeCe Frey: Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man”
15) Rizzloe Jones: Freestyle rap using the phrases “X Factor” and “marshmallow”
14) Johnny Maxwell: an original track called “Do It Big”
13) Paige Thomas: Rose Royce’s “I’m Going Down”
12) Tate Stevens: Randy Houser’s “Anything Goes”
11) Citizen: En Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go (Love)”
10) Ally Brooke: Jaci Velasquez’s “On My Knees”
9) Emblem3: an original track called “Sunset Boulevard”
8) Carly Rose Soneclar: Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good”
7) Jillian Jensen: Jessie J’s “Who You Are”
6) Diamond White: James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World”
5) Panda Ross: Sam Cooke’s “Bring It on Home to Me”
4) Jason Brock: Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind”
3) Janell Garcia: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ “Paris (Ooh La La)”
2) Jessica Espinoza: Pink’s “Nobody Knows”
1) Sister C: Pistol Annies’ “Hell on Heels”

Who were your favorites from The X Factor‘s third episode of Season 2? Were there any moments that made you cringe? Was the misdemeanor arrest 1-800-Too-Much? Hit the comments with your thoughts!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Jared says:

    Loved it! I am so in love with The X Factor! Best competition show ever!!!!!

  2. RodMod says:

    I felt so relieved when Simon returned!!

  3. nothing has knocked me out like last yr’s rachel crowe, marcus candy or stacy francis yet, but i really am feelin Panda, Diamond, the tatted guy n the country guy!

    • TiaGata says:

      I had my Rachel Crow moment when that young girl was singing the other night. I haven’t been moved by anyone this season (my exception below), Rachel used to make me have emotions – LOL!!!

      My exception is the country singer Tate Stevens – I really, really liked him. (I was thinking to myself Blake Shelton is gonna hate he didn’t get this one!!! LOL.)

  4. Rachel says:

    Panda was my favorite.

  5. Jo says:

    I totally agree that this was a great episode! Loved Tate, Vino, Panda, and Sister C!

    • Liliana says:

      When I saw Tate I saw a star! I just hope he won’t be cast off as ‘too old’ to pursue his dream… he certainly has country appeal (and I’m not a big country fan).

  6. Paul says:

    I liked Panda & Tate (even if his voice is a bit generic sounding, it was strong). I really was not crazy about Ally. I thought she lacked control. Overall though a pretty solid episode.

  7. SpagBol says:

    Well, Louis Walsh certinally wasn’t my favourite. This was pretty much his audition for a north american gig and all I saw was a cloying personality and some terrible acting during their scripted segments. L.A. Reid just gained a big chunk of leverage come contract renegotiation time. (Not that this show will even get to its 3rd season)

    Other than that Alison Iraheta II, i mean Jessica Espinoza I, was pretty good if you are a fan of Alison. And round these parts you better be.

    I hope Panda receovers from upchucking “that stuff” long enough to make it to Boot Camp. She is likely to cross a few boundaries and tweak Simon’s poochy, extruded, man nipples (cant someone tape those down?) It will be good TV either way.

    The show is still a dud. I still miss Steve Jones. And nobody I saw tonight is worth 5 million dollars.

  8. MB says:

    Loved it and what I find so refreshing is that they are truly judging by the voice even if their chairs are not turned around. My favorite judge is Demi. Someone I was so opposed to before seeing her on XFactor. You just never know and should give new judges a chance before screaming I am never watching the show again and that goes for Idol also.

  9. blingedup says:

    Well first, let me ask — How can you NOT love Panda? I hope she stays around for a while. I may actually have to re-watch her part. Especially where she sang to Simon that she would buy him jewelry. ha!
    LIked the country guy, Tate, and his daughter crying backstage made me cry.
    I’m really loving this X-Factor season so far!

  10. raftrap says:

    Very fun episode, completely agree, the show is finally catching up to its name.

    • CrystalFan says:

      I hated the X Factor last year………am loving it this year. It’s fun! And I am surprised at my fondness for Demi. She is refreshing.

  11. Titina says:

    I hate this show so much. So manufactured..
    The only person who saved it was Jessica Espinoza. And that was about it.

    • Tess says:

      I always love when people proclaim X Factor to be “so manufactured” as if it’s the only reality competition show (singing or otherwise) that is. They are all “manufactured”. If you think anything called “rality” on tv isn’t actually manufactured then I have a bridge to sell you.

      This was a really good audition episode (maybe still needs a little more good singing and a little less backstage stuff) but the judges’ have been solid and the talent was promising tonight and the pace of the episode was better than last week since there wasn’t nearly a half hour of judge touting at the beginning.

  12. brandon says:

    PANDA! I want to hang out with her.

  13. Lisa says:

    Jessica Espinoza was AMAZING. I didn’t think a voice with such force was going to come out of that little thing! WOW, Good luck Jessica!!!!!!! Loving Panda too, get well soon!

  14. Teecie says:

    Really did not get all the love for Ally or CeCe. Would like to have seen more of Sister C. Thought Jessica, Panda and Tate were wonderful.

    • Robin Tompkins says:

      I agree with everything you said! Ally and CeCe were not very likeable and not that talented. I heard a lot of missed notes when both sang.

    • KathyB says:

      Agree x1000 with your comments. Also do not get the love for Rizzloe at all – maybe was fun at his high school talent show but let’s face it, did not make up those lyrics on the spot (yes he put in marshmallow as a throwaway word – but he could have easily rhymed it with the word “go” which he said almost every other line!). Seen it MUCH better by Wayne Brady who has not exactly been a rap hitmaker…

  15. Teecie says:

    Loved Reality Check with Melinda! Just so you know, Michael, Carly Rae sang live when she was on Canadian Idol … and she was pretty good!

  16. ben says:

    Diamond is amazing!

  17. marygrace says:

    Really enjoyed last night. I was not expecting to like the new judges panel like I do but they seem to be actually trying to judge the contestants…imagine…..and understand “this show is not just about me” Love how L.A. loves good music. Fun night!

  18. Jack says:

    I was a huge fan of Tate – it’s nice to see someone on this show who can actually sing country (not like that Skyler kid from last year, whose voice was truly awful).

  19. Patricia says:

    I agree that the talent in this episode was very good but what the heck is wrong with Britney? She’s not all there, she’s so awkward, when Demi mentioned LA’s bday and that they should do something special I couldn’t stop laughing when Britney was like ohh ohh I know I’ll sing happy birthday lol the look on Demi’s face, and the singing that was too awkward to watch

    • Lisa says:

      In Britney’s defense, I think that was more poor acting rather than her not being all there. Those moments are scripted or, more likely, semi-scripted. They’re told what to talk about, generally what to say, and then they have to say it on camera. Britney’s just not very good at it. Demi is obviously a lot better.

  20. Carly says:

    Didn’t get the freestyle rap dude whatsoever. Was unimpressed. If you rap you should probably be INCREDIBLE cause youre competing against ppl like Carly Rose and Jillian J…it was meh to me….didn’t get Cece either. She got through but don’t think she’ll last very long against the competition IMO. I loved Diamond White, her innocence and joy brought tears to my eyes. Also really dug the country guy—what an awesome likeable and TALENTED dude! Overall a very solid episode.

    • soundscene says:

      CeCe sounded terrible to me. So many off notes–strong, but not on pitch. I truly thought the judges would hate her.

      I also disliked the Rizzloe guy. His freestyle rap isn’t going to get him far, though.

      Liked Tate and Panda the best last night.

  21. Vivi says:

    Jillian Jensen is ranked way too high on your list. Judging from that one audition, she does not have that great of a voice.

  22. Erin says:

    Ok, so I don’t watch this show on a regular basis, but I caught a few minutes of tonight’s episode and have to ask…do Brittney’s facial expressions bug anyone else? It always looks like she’s constipated or something and it was driving me crazy.

  23. J. May says:

    Panda was UHmazing. She needs to get herself healthy though (healthier, anyway). I look forward to a season of rock and soul from the panda bear.

  24. Adam says:

    When I heard Panda singing on x faxtor I could hear Melinda Doolittle screaming sing it Heffa at the tv!

  25. murley says:

    i was also not impressed with cece’s voice and was a little surprised she made it through. diamond was very cute and had a good voice with a lot of potential but she didn’t blow me away like carly rose. the 3 wow factor voices from last night in my opinion were tate (loved him, loved his family), vino and panda.

  26. Tate FTW says:

    I watched the auditions just to see the train wreck. Silly me. Now i’ll be watching every week to vote as often as i can for Tate. My “i don’t do country music” husband rewound 3 times to listen to it again, so that should tell you something!

  27. smith says:

    I disagree with your list of best auditions this season!! I think Carly Rose should be alot higher then 8! I would put her in the top 3. CeCe I refuse to spell it like she wants was horrible. Take away the music in the background and she would of sounded as bad as she did in unchained melody. I cant believe you ranked her so high.

  28. MEL31602 says:

    Surprised Tate and Vino are not higher on Slezak’s list, as they were two of my favorites of the night. Also really enjoyed Panda (surprisingly) and Ali. I’m glad you showed love for Sister C though because they blew me away

  29. SM says:

    After the AU version of the voice I cannot hear It’s a Man’s World anymore. Nothing can compare to that version. sortof like Summertime and idol.

  30. Carol says:

    Way to go San Antonio, Texas. 4 of the 22 listed are from the River City and we didn’t even have the tryouts in our town. Go Paige! Go Reed! Go Ally! Go Jessica!