A mere 45 minutes later, however, the state of my mental health rested entirely in the fates of a lady rapper from Flint, MI, who fancies a sequined eyepatch; a trio of Texas sisters who look like they’ve been perpetually trapped inside a tampon ad; five (possibly six) teenage boys glued together by Simon Cowell’s sweat and Marc Anthony’s tears (it’s hard to keep count when they keep moving around so quickly); and a postal worker with a leopard-print forehead who’s received such a colossal “bitch edit” that it’s kind of hard not to love her just a little.
In other words, the Judges’ Houses portion of Cowell’s British reality import has received a major upgrade in Season 2. Or maybe it’s just the rejiggering of the four major X Factor categories. Last year focused on “Boys,” “Girls,” “Groups,” and the positively ancient “Over 30s.” This year, we’ve got mixed-gender “Teens (12-16),” “Young Adults (17-24),” “Groups,” and the still somewhat dusty “Over 25s.” (People like me who fall into the “40 and over” group can be found in a Dumpster behind L.A. Reid’s mansion.)
Anyhow, let’s rank the performances of the six young adults (mentored by Demi Lovato and a Jonas brother) and the six groups (mentored by Cowell and Anthony) who performed over the course of the two-hour telecast in the hopes of being one of the four acts to advance per division into the live voting rounds.
6) Nick Youngerman: Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” | Look, Ke$ha is no Aretha Franklin. She’s not even Belinda Carlisle. And a small part of me dies inside every time I type the dollar-sign symbol where the ‘S’ in her name should be. But she actually is responsible for singing a melody on the chorus of “Tik Tok,” and that’s something Nick Youngerman absolutely failed to do in his sloppy, spoken-word rendition of “Tik Tok.” Maybe I’m just bitter and baffled that Nick advanced to Judges’ Houses despite completely blanking on his lyrics during Boot Camp, but I found myself nodding my head at the latter half of Demi’s assessment: “I couldn’t tell if I was loving it or super annoyed by it.” If the guy wasn’t super cute, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, would we? Here’s hoping Demi doesn’t feel the need for gender parity in her division.
5) Jennel Garcia: Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” | I can’t lie and say I didn’t adore her audition to “Paris (Ooh La La),” but everything she’s done since has either come off like a desperate announcement that she’s 18 and sexy and got the booty shorts to prove it, or a slightly aloof response to anything resembling a challenge to who she already thinks she is. Demi was spot-on with her suggestion that Jennel avoid playing with her hair too much, and instead of whining how it shook her confidence right before she strutted into Demi’s living room to perform, Jennel should’ve embraced the note with a smile. Plus, while the subsequent vocal was decent, the most memorable thing about the performance was Jennel’s exaggerated facial expression on that final “Yeah I liked it!” Well guess what? I didn’t.
4) Paige Thomas: Chris Brown’s “Turn Up the Music” | Demi and Nick Jonas seemed disappointed by Paige’s energy level, but I was impressed she managed to keep her eyes open, what with 20 lbs. of false eyelashes spackled to her lids. (Side note: What’s with all these beautiful young women trowelling on the makeup on reality singing competitions anymore? Is the end goal to make it seem like there are more 40-plus types in the mix?) Whatever the case, I liked the way Paige stripped down the intro, and even though her chair-dancing moves were a wee bit contrived, they still came across as sensual and fluid, despite her rocking a leopard bathing suit with crunched-up blue taffeta train. I’m not sure if this young mother has the chops to survive when she’s backed by the full X Factor band and a herd of dancers, but isn’t finding that out one of the things that differentiates the show from Idol and The Voice? Onward, sister!
3) Willie Jones: The Tony Rich Project’s “Nobody Knows” | I haven’t been a big believer in Willie’s talent to date, but I have to give him respect for choosing to repeat the song whose lyrics almost slayed him during boot camp. (In fact, I respect the decision so much that I won’t even complain about Willie pointing skyward on the word “angel.”) Nick seemed perplexed whether Willie fit in the country or R&B wheelhouse, but honestly, wouldn’t it be Demi’s job to steer Willie through the vagaries of major-label pigeonholing? And what’s more, seeing how it’s 2012 and all, isn’t it maybe a good idea that everyone stop gasping and tuttering that the black kid likes to get his twang on?
2) Jillian Jensen: Sara Bareilles’ “Gravity” | Jillian’s was far from the night’s most perfect vocal — she hit a couple rough patches on the verse, yes? — but the upper range of her register was pretty breathtaking, and her tone was, to my ears, the most distinctive among the Young Adult category. And seeing that Jillian was actually appreciative that Demi subtly addressed her penchant for pulling crazy faces while she sings, I’m optimistic that she could keep on growing once the show hits the live voting rounds.
1) CeCe Frey: LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It” | I’m not going to go on and on and on about CeCe’s supposed former infatuation with acting like a cocky she-beast, or about the “I put up a front because I’m really vulnerable on the inside” angle she’s been playing the last couple edits. I just like that fact that she has repeatedly referenced hard work and a willingness to learn among her arsenal of skills. Better still, though, was the creativity she showed in reworking LMFAO’s indelible dancefloor anthem into a ballad — without losing any of its cheeky humor. Nick was right that CeCe’s “I swear, it’s just for fun, okay?” saved the performance from veering into unbearable territory, and I didn’t really hear a single note that didn’t hit its intended target. If Demi can help CeCe navigate the treacherous waters of maintaining her confidence without being seen as “unlikable,” this modern day “Cheetah Girl” might avoid being stoned in the Internet square, and perhaps win a few (million) fans before the busy holiday greeting-card season hits her former coworkers at the post office.
6) Dope Crisis: Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass” | It was pretty clear from the fact that Dope Crisis got what felt like less than a minute of screen time that they’ll be one of the perfunctory “here’s one of the final cuts you don’t have to feel bad about” eliminations as the field gets whittled down to 16. And while I’m not usually one to let a Simon Cowell type tell me it’s gruel, not Cinnabon cereal, in my bowl, in this case, the distinct scent of soggy, unflavored oats hangs heavy in the air.
5) Emblem3: The Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” | If that one dude can’t even be bothered to button his shirt or put on some shoes at Simon Cowell’s mansion, then I can’t be bothered to turn the notes I took during their performance into an actual paragraph. With that caveat on the table, here goes: “The one always has his shirt open.” “Blondie is not wearing shoes!” “Hat’s vocals sound a little labored.” “Young one seems superfluous.” “Blondie lost his place. Rapping???? No!!” “Marc likes that they soaked up the sun.” “Simon: ‘That’s why he missed his cue.'” “Not good enough to be this smug about the competition.”
4) Playback: Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl” | I can’t pretend that any of these teenage boys’ voices were particularly fantastic, but if they make it through to the live shows at the expense of Emblem3, it’ll rank among my Top 10 Feel-Good Reality TV Moments of 2012. Plus, as Simon noted, Playback has something naive and fun and likable (albeit prefabricated) about ‘em. Maybe it was the way Austin Corini bounced around like he was on a pogo stick. (Austin Corini: “What’s a pogo stick, old man?”) Maybe it was Johnny Maxwell’s big grin when he got a minute in the spotlight. Or maybe it was this flawless bit of bitchery during Emblem 3’s performance:
Brandon Hassan: “Is his shirt off again?”
Josh Metzler (or I think it was him, anyway): “Is it ever on?”
These two keep the barbs coming and they might end up joining Melinda Doolittle and me on Reality Check someday. (Side note: Apologies for the two-week hiatus, but we’ll be back with a new show next Monday.)
3) Lylas: Shontelle’s “Impossible” | Okay, so these five chicas didn’t exactly embrace the idea of blending their voices in perfect harmony — instead choosing to individually shine in a way that was all, “Nick Youngerman made it through as a solo act, and all I got was this stupid girl group?” But nevertheless, the sum of their individual parts — Dinah Jane Hansen, Lauren Jauregui, Ally Brooke, Normani Hamilton, and Camila Cabello — make up an act I’d very, very much like to hear breathing new life into some En Vogue, Brownstone, Jade, 702, Zhane, and 3LW jams in the immediate future. (Side note: Can someone please package a reunion tour comprised of En Vogue, Brownstone, Jade, 702, Zhane, and 3LW right about now? Thank you!)
2) Sister C: Shelby Lynne’s “Leavin'” | For some reason, X Factor producers keep trying to tell us this sisterly trio is unlikeable or standoffish or even “annoying,” but how can any of those adjectives apply to an act that has the impeccable good taste to perfectly cover Shelby Lynne’s “Leavin'” as a followup to their equally sublime audition of Pistol Annies’ “Hell on Heels.” I don’t really care if their soundbites aren’t scintillating of if they’re Stepford pretty or their hair never seems to move a centimeter out of place. These gals have got chops, and if they get cut in favor of Emblem3, well, then I’ll probably be referencing them every time I mention Emblem3 for the rest of the season. (I know, I know…I’m both tragic and predictable.)
1) Lyric 145: Miley Cyrus’ “Party in the USA” | Little known fact: Everyone from Flint, MI, ends up either in jail or dead. Oh, or else they tear the damn roof of The X Factor like LYRIC DA QUEEN, who was mashed up with Queens duo One4Five to make up a new trio about which I am ridiculously excited. As Marc Anthony pointed out, Lyric is most definitely a superstar — and her male counterparts offered solid support, too, as they turned Miley Cyrus’ inescapable earworm into something decidedly cooler — right down to the synergistic line “and a Britney song was on.” If that’s not enough for you, Lyric gives a good sound bite, too. In fact, let me let her have the last word on this paragraph: “I’m from Flint, Michigan! A yacht is so far-fetched, it ain’t even funny!”
And with that, let me turn things over to you:
Who were your favorites from Night 1 of The X Factor Judges’ Houses? Anyone you’re rooting against? Hit the comments with your thoughts!Follow @MichaelSlezakTV