Welcome back to another recap of The X Factor! Or as Paulina Rubio likes to call it, “Where am I? Who am I? And why is there a camera in my face?”
Too mean? Oh well. I mean, yeah, PowPow (as I affectionately think of her) managed to correctly identify all three of her contestants tonight for the first time, but her total butchey of the universally recognized moniker “Mick Jagger” (aka “Meek Yaggar!”) means she’ll continue to play the role of human piñata in this recap zone. (Side note: Why is nothing in my apartment filled with CANDY?!)
In other news, Kelly Rowland drew all her design inspiration this week from Game of Thrones (hey, Beyoncé has House of Dereon, Kels has House of Baratheon); Carlito Olivero got upstaged by an army of holograms; the coaches tried to sell us on the idea of Tim Olstad as the new Robin Thicke (Rated W…for What the What?); and Simon made a last-second effort to sabotage Lillie McCloud by declaring her one of four acts who should be worried come Thursday’s results show (along with Carlito, Tim and Ellona). (Was that Simon’s subliminal way of inspiring her voting base, or simply an act of unabashed douchery?)
While you ponder that question, let me cut to my letter grades for tonight’s performances:
Jeff Gutt: Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” — Grade: B- | Jeff’s pitch and power were solid here — despite some iffy spots in his falsetto, he’s one of the better vocalists in the competition — but his performance lacked the wickedness and theatricality needed to fully sell a rock-opera composition with lyrics like, “So you think you can stone me and spit in my eye?” Granted, “Bohemian Rhapsody” should never, ever be condensed down to a sub-two-minute ditty for the purposes of a reality singing competition — sorry, Kelly, but that was misstep No. 1 — but the lack of “oomph” is on Mr. Gutt. (Side note: I need this dude to stop mentioning his son — and his need to win to give said son a better life — in every pre-performance package. If the situation is truly that desperate, then maybe it’s time to take a note from Dolly Parton and start workin’ 9-to-5, no?)
Tim Olstad: Elton John’s “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” — Grade: Beige Paint | Tim started out decently enough — although I’m not sure he was actually responsible for the main piano line we were hearing — but the minute he stood up and walked away from the keyboard, his
bitch pitch wobbled and swayed like Paulina’s mind trying to form a cohesive thought. Far more egregious, though, was the way Tim’s delivery boiled away any shred of originality or emotional connection, leaving the audience with nothing but a husk of a song. But, wait! If dude sticks around till December, maybe we’ll get a chance to hear him deliver Handel’s “Messiah” with all the dramatic tension of “Chopsticks”!
Khaya Cohen: The Beatles’ “Let It Be” — Grade: C+ | Simon was right when he said Khaya’s Bottom 3 finish last Thursday was “a joke” — her Winehouse-ian spin on “Borderline,” after all, was fresh and well-sung — but this time around, it was as if Demi pulled a prank with an inscurtable song choice, bizarre staging (was the spinning, lit-up globe a subtle product placement for Sprint?) and an outfit so hodge-podge it even had PowPow momentarily lifting her head up off the judges table and declaring, “the wardrobe, you need to stand it up a little if you’re gonna be a pop star.” Worst of all, Khaya overbaked the vocal, caterwauling and yelping in an effort to drag the Beatles’ classic ballad into a church-y kind of soul jam. Speaking words of wisdom, I hope Khaya survives into Top 8 week, but here’s hoping she wrestles back artistic control from her mentor once she’s there.
Josh Levi: Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” — Grade: B | Josh, who is most likely too young to have ever used a public payphone, began his performance in a red British telephone booth with a slowed-down minor-chord rearrangement of one of the greatest songs of the ’80s. I didn’t especially love the finished makeover, especially when a rubbery dance beat kicked in and Josh dropped the “some of them want to abuse you/some of them want to be abused” line from the chorus, but the kid stayed in tune while busting out a few energetic dance moves and proved willing to aim for something more than simple mimicry. Kelly had a decent point that Josh needs to loosen up and “experience more freedom on stage” — but then again, that’s easier said than done when your mentor’s got you dodging a squadron of dancing police officers.
Alex & Sierra: One Direction’s “Best Song Ever” — Grade: A- | Let’s hear it for the one act tonight that actually managed to improve on the original version of the song they covered — and look positively adorable while doing it. With an easy, romantic electricity flowing between them and harmonies tighter than an ER nurse’s tourniquet, the Florida-based duo took a trifle of a pop song and infused it with a warmth and romanticism that was very different than the dangerous sexiness of “Addicted to Love” or naughty flirt of “Blurred Lines.” I don’t really buy the complaint that Alex & Sierra don’t vary up their performances enough: I mean, just because a pizza restaurant serves only pies doesn’t mean they can’t offer a wide range of interesting variations, right?
Rion Paige: Elton John’s “Your Song” — Grade: A- | Will you promise to finish reading this recap if I admit to greeting with extreme cynicism the news of Rion covering “Your Song.” (Yes, I’m embedding the Twitter evidence of my awfulness below.)
Oh, OK, it's a dedication to her baby brother. I'm a terrible human being.—
Michael Slezak (@MichaelSlezakTV) November 21, 2013
Is there anyone less genuine than Mario Lopez on The X Factor? (No need to answer, that's a rhetorical question.)—
Michael Slezak (@MichaelSlezakTV) November 21, 2013
OK, so maybe the Mario Lopez mention isn’t relevant — but it’s true! But back to Rion. I’ve got to be honest and admit that in previous weeks, I’ve found the judges’ adoration for her to be completely mystifying. But tonight was far and away her best vocal of the season — lilting, accurate and with just the right amount of restraint. As Simon said, it was “beautiful to listen to” — and it sounded like a relevant record from a budding country-pop artist, no?
Carlito Olivero: The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” — Grade: D+ | Honestly, I couldn’t get past the holograms of Carlito bumping and grinding — and then randomly sprinting! — in the background. (How Simon called the staging “sensational” makes me wonder if he banged his head against the wall too hard last week after Sweet Sensation’s ouster.) The vocal wasn’t terrible terrible, but then again neither are four or five performances one happens to hear on karaoke night at any given bar or pub across America. And in a week where Alex & Sierra, Rion and even Josh got creative with their arrangements, Carlito’s paint-by-numbers work wasn’t special enough. The funny thing is, I believed Kelly and Demi when they told Carlito they think he’s capable of more and better, but we’re too deep in the competition — and the mentoring feels too fleeting all around — to make me optimistic that we’ll see the needed growth between now and the Dec. 19th finale.
Lillie McCloud: Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” — Grade: A- | I can sum up my feelings about Lillie’s performance with a single screengrab of Kelly Rowland’s “awe-face” (pictured, right, and snapped midway through Lillie’s set). Seriously, the woman handled every word of Kate Bush’s haunting classic so delicately it was the vocal equivalent of polishing and putting away champagne goblets at Buckingham Palace. If Simon’s prediction is right and Lillie winds up going home Thursday night, I’m hoping the L.A. County coroner is on hand to rush out on stage and call “time of death” on the entire X Factor franchise. What? I’m not even trying to exaggerate!
Ellona Santiago: Ellie Goulding’s “Burn” — Grade: C | Look, I know this is a singing competition — wait, Rachel Potter went home last week, so maybe it’s not? — but I have to be honest: While Ellona looks and occasionally belts like a pop diva, every time she speaks (in her pre-performance packages and when interviewed by Mario) she has all the passion and joy of a robot with a malfunctioning battery. It’s a baffling juxtaposition, watching her strike poses and hit her high notes one minute, then press her internal Siri and use a voice totally free of tone or human spirit to tell Simon she doesn’t want to be perceived as a singing, dancing puppet. (I wouldn’t have been shocked had Ellona followed up her plea by adding that the British judge should turn left in 40 feet, then bear right at the fork in the road. Badum-bum!) Also problematic? The way Ellona fell off pitch during the second verse of “Burn,” probably not coincidentally coinciding with her step down from the fainting couch and into the arms of those gold-painted dancers. As far as X Factor Ellie Goulding covers go, Ellona’s no Fifth Harmony, and this was no “Anything Could Happen.”
Restless Road: Coldplay’s “Fix You” — Grade: C | Uff da. Was Simon listening to those botched harmonies? When he rose from his chair at the end of the country hotties’ performance, I thought he was about to flee the arena in shame, but apparently that was a standing ovation! And sorry, but if “Fix You” was worthy of such positive feedback, then I’m wondering why my hubby didn’t whoop and whistle after I finished what I felt was a really spectacular brushing of my teeth midway through updating this recap. (While we’re on the subject, give yourself a Standing O for opening your Web browser with such zeal and finesse!) Colton’s solo bits were better than usual — see, I’m not a total monster, America — and parts of the chorus sounded OK when the backing track kicked in and I couldn’t hear any more live vocals. But as Demi cheekily noted, it seemed as though Simon spent more time with RR on staging than he did on actual singing. (Oh, who am I kidding! He barely spent any time with them at all — unless that 30-second phone call counted!)
Should Be Bottom 3: Tim, Carlito, Restless Road
Will Be Bottom 3: Ellona, Carlito, Jeff
And with that, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of Top 10 performance night? Who will and should be at risk? Who were your faves? Take our poll below, then share your thoughts in the comments!