The X Factor Recap: Boot Camp Is Only Skin Deep [Updated]

x factor boot campThe X Factor was in a precarious position Wednesday night — and I’m not just talking about the way it drove a bespectacled 12-year-old boy to openly weep for his mommy.

Indeed, Fox’s jewel-encrusted, aggressive and occasionally gassy reality singing competition had to serve as an amuse-bouche for the main course: The first 2012 presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

How to strike a tone, then, that could serve as appropriate lead-in to a verbal battle to become leader of the free world: An old-fashoned girlfight between two lovely ladies and their respective versions of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”? A scathing commentary on the state of the modern American boy band? Or perhaps the introduction of a female rapper with a bespangled eye patch covering the hell out of Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two”?

Hey! Why not all of the above?

The one-hour telecast focused on “Task One” from Season 2 Boot Camp — held in Miami, the better to capture b-roll of bikini-clad ladies sunning themselves — in which the 120 acts who’d made it past the live auditions were herded onto a stage and asked to perform one song for the judges, while also surrounded by their gawking competitors. The show kicked off with some cinematic, semi-scripted shots of contestants in their natural settings: Country crooner Willie Jones watching his dad fixing a car in Shreveport, LA. The bros of Emblem3 soaking up the sun in Cali. Jillian Jensen, weeping again.

And then, like bullets from a machine gun, the performances began, fast and furious and pretty much blending into one noisy blur. Here are some of my quick impressions:

Diamond White: Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” | I could hold it against the 13-year-old for choosing the most egregiously overdone ballad in the history of reality singing competitions, but then I wouldn’t be giving her credit for taking some interesting liberties with the melody on the opening verse, or for being insanely on point with her riffs on the chorus. She’s like Season 1’s Rachel Crow, except she ad-libs all her own dialogue.

Sister C | We got to hear only one note from the three-girl country act, but Britney Spears’ scrunched face made me worried my favorite audition obsession somehow flubbed their opportunity. Then again, maybe Brit’s lunchtime burrito simply wasn’t agreeing with her?

Austin Corini: Bob Dylan’s “To Make You Feel My Love” | Decent voice, but the kid has no sense of phrasing, and lacks the maturity to convey a song with this much emotion.

David Correy: Duffy’s “Mercy” | Slayed that opening note like Brienne of Tarth against an overmatched rival, and caused L.A. to point skyward, joyously, when he broke out the falsetto. Ding, ding, ding! We have a contender!

Dinah Jane Hansen: Mariah Carey’s “Hero” | Only heard a note or two, but this teenager is going to have to break out of the Melanie Amaro Big Ballad Prison if she wants to grab the Season 2 crown.

Lyric Da Queen | Anybody who covers Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock should advance directly to the Judges’ House without passing go, and possibly collecting $5 million. I wonder, though, if the eye patch was merely an accessory, or if girlfriend was masking an unfortunate sty.

Jessica Espinoza: Whitney and Mariah’s “When You Believe” | Pristine movie ballad proved a woeful choice for a gal who showed grit and rasp and real rock tendencies in her very memorable audition. I can’t fault the judges for sending her packing.

Jennel Garcia: Gavin DeGraw’s “Sweeter” | She’s overplaying the sexy-girl card with her penchant for booty shorts, fringe-bottomed tank tops, and Betty Boop posturing, which is a shame, considering her distinctive rock wail is plenty stirring all on its own. Is there a mentor in the mix that can help her with that? (Probably not.)

Vino Alan: Bad Company’s “Bad Company” | Tattooed dude has a big ‘ole instrument (and a wonky way of holding the mic) but I’m with Britney: He’s good, not great.

Johnny Maxwell: P.Diddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You” | Forgot his lyrics, but advanced to Task Two. See what being a cute, teenage boy can do for you!

Emblem3: Please tell me these egomaniacs are being set up for a terrible, terrible takedown at the Judges’ Houses rounds. They barely had enough breath between the three of ’em to squeak out the final lines of the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris,” and their “we’re cooler than the other boy bands” shtick is already as threadbare as a Simon Cowell t-shirt.

Tara Simon: Queen’s “Somebody to Love” | Looked and sounded like Xena Warrior Princess doing battle, but with a lance sticking out of her back. Painful to the max.

Willie Jones: Kenny Chesney’s “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” | Score five more points for Britney, who quashed Simon’s enthusiasm for the Louisiana teen by astutely noting that he only excels when he’s in his deep lower register. “In his natural singing voice,” she said, face scrunching with disapproval, “he’s not very good.”

Disaster montage: Pigtailed Jordyn Foley croaking “Jar of Hearts” into a soggy note salad; Trevor Moran committing felony obnoxiousness on “Starships” (“I thought he was gonna be a lot better,” lied Simon); and Nick Perrelli delivering “Feeling Good” as if he was an SNL parody of The X Factor (how tragic was his bunt on the final note?); and 12-year-old Jake Garcia blanking on words, melody, and why exactly he chose to wear matching orchid shirt and glasses. Yep, all the evidence we needed for why the X Factor age limit should’ve been raised, not lowered.

Only heard a note or two from Jason Brock, Carly Rose Sonenclar, Citizen, Jetset, L3vel, so I can’t really judge. (Side note: Did Citizen lose its fifth member, or did the camera just cut him out?)

And finally, we had Paige Thomas and CeCe Frey in an “I Will Always Love You” showdown. I’m not sure either of these women has a voice big or controlled enough to be tackling Whitney Houston’s most iconic ballad, but if I had to pick a winner, I’d go with cocky, leopard-appliqued CeCe, who hit the big note with more clarity and more authority. Paige’s over-reliance on vibrato borders on the unpleasant, even if she comes across as a far more pleasant human being. CeCe, for her part, needs to learn the audience never appreciates a comment like, “I’m about to bring the CeCe thunder here at Boot Camp.” #ThirdPersonFail

The hour ended with the 120 acts being split into three groups, two of which advanced to the next round, one of which exited in tears. Among the evicted: Jessica Espinoza, Rizzloe Jones, Trevor Moran, Jordyn Foley, and Quatrele Smith.

Everybody else, I have to be honest, this isn’t an easy process, and while you were good in your performances, I’m going to have to tell you, it’s bad news…you’re going to have to sing for us again tomorrow! [Side note: Simon didn’t actually think that shirt he wore in his end-of-episode confessional, you know, the one with a neckline so plunging it might possibly have been an unbelted bathrobe, was attractive, did he?]

Who were your favorites from Night 1 of The X Factor‘s Season 2 Boot Camp? Were there any moments that made you cringe? Hit the comments with your thoughts!