The X Factor: The Inside Story on Season 2's Wildest Production Numbers
Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” (Top 13 Week)
With a Movie Week theme and a song from the Top Gun soundtrack, Friedman says he wanted a concept that suggested aviation without being too literal. That brainstorm eventually led to an idea of Paige being plane-wrecked on a deserted island with a beautiful man. “And what better way to have her enter than by parachuting into the scene?” he asks.
There was some initial hesitation among the production staff — being strapped into a harness “definitely affects your breathing because it's really tight around your body,” says Friedman — but Paige herself had no hesitation or complaints. “This is what she had dreamed of for so long,” he explains. “There was never any sort of coaxing that had to be done to get her onboard with any of my plans.”
Paige Thomas (Continued)
And what about that unfortunate wardrobe malfunction that gave viewers a full shot of Paige’s undergarments as she floated down to the stage? “You know what? Awful moments like that happen all the time in this industry,” says Friedman. “We’d rehearsed it with cameras, and the fan was hitting the back of the fabric — not the front — but as luck would have it, it didn’t go that way during the live show, and the dress blew upward. The sign of a true pro is when they keep going, and Paige kept going.”
Friedman adds that Paige wasn’t remotely nervous about being caressed by dancer Mykey Martinez (a frequent Rihanna collaborator) once she had her feet on the ground. “She asked, ‘Can I kiss him?’ Demi wouldn't let her, which was a shame because I thought it would have been a real shocking moment, and who doesn't love a little bit of shock? Shock is what makes things memorable.”
“Lady Marmalade” (Top 8 Week)
Friedman says the performance was not, as some speculated, an homage to Madonna’s 1990 VMAs rendition of “Vogue,” but rather was inspired by the Sofia Coppola movie Marie Antoinette — as well as a 2013 Chanel fashion show that centered on the ill-fated French queen.
Interestingly enough, though, the final performance was quite different from Friedman’s initial idea. “I had planned to use four 7-year-old boys in tuxedoes; they were going to come out of boxes and dance with CeCe, and she was going to then put them behind these mirrored doors, and then adult versions of the young boys were going to come out. I thought it was going to be one of the best things we'd ever seen, and Demi just did not like it.”
CeCe Frey (Continued)
Friedman brought in So You Think You Can Dance‘s Tyce Diorio to choreograph the piece, and hired the “best possible dancers” — including folks who’d worked with Katy Perry and Taylor Swift. Every costume and prop was handcrafted, he adds, and “the pastel confetti blast at the end and roses being thrown at CeCe’s feet was sort of the cherry on top.”
And while Simon Cowell compared the performance to having too many servings of chocolate cake, Friedman disagrees. “I felt this number, more so than anything this season, was a complete success when it came to the marriage of costume and lighting and choreography.” Part of the credit, he adds, goes to the artist herself. “CeCe was incredible. CeCe was your dream, a muse,” Friedman adds. “When you have the best director, creative director, choreographer, hair, makeup, wardrobe stylist at your fingertips, the best thing you could possibly do is listen and learn — and that was exactly what CeCe did. And she made it really far.”
“Diamonds” (Top 6 Week)
Sometimes it takes a village to build an X Factor performance. Friedman pulled some reference photos for the diamond-shaped cage that would suspend Diamond above the stage for her performance of “Diamonds,” and the show’s art department immediately went to work outsourcing a product that could be framed in lights with a plexiglass chair in the center. “It’s amazing. You just give these people your dream scenario, and then watch it hit the stage three days later,” he says.
It’s not all glitz and glamour, though. Friedman says the show contracts with a company called Branam that oversees safety for all the show’s “flying” sequences. “When Britney used to fly on her tours, we used Branam to come in and train her, and they have technicians who run all the equipment,” he says. For Diamond’s performance, the company built something similar to a car seatbelt to keep her safe inside her cage. “There's a company or a great crew that work on every little aspect of the show,” Friedman adds.
Diamond White (Continued)
Friedman says that sometimes, contestants can become wary of using any sort of production or gimmicks that previously landed them in the Bottom 3. For Top 6 Week, “Diamond didn't want dancers. She was sure of that,” says Friedman. “She said, ‘When I have dancers, I end up in the bottom.’ She didn't even want me to have any of the band on stage. She thought that it was a distraction from what she was doing.”
“‘Supercalifragilistic’ was a late song decision — we got it at the tail end of our creative day,” says Friedman. “I immediately thought of doing this acid-trip Mad Hatter tea party, where they were all sitting at a table, and I wanted the table itself to come to life.” To achieve that effect, the show’s wardrobe department selected a graphic, black-and-white print fabric, and used it to create both the tablecloth and the dancers’ unitards. “The dancers were hidden under the table, they were lying on the table, and they sort of just exploded out of it,” Friedman adds. “I just wanted the performance to feel like we had gone to another world, because their song had truly transformed into something else; we needed the stage to do so as well.”
Lyric 145 (Continued)
Friedman says Lyric 145’s mentor, Simon Cowell, is extremely hands-on. “Sometimes there's a lot of trust, and sometimes he hates everything,” he notes. “With ‘Supercalifragilistic,’ the dancers initially all had these huge plastic umbrellas, and it was such an incredible look, but Simon cut the umbrellas the day before the show. He didn't like them. He thought it was a little bit too much.
Cowell, says Friedman, “definitely edits until he's at a point where he feels confident putting something on stage and that he can back it up. Because if the other judges don't like it, the worst thing that could happen is for him to say ‘Well, you know, I don't even like it either.'”
“Anything Could Happen” (Semifinals Week)
“I wanted to create this playful, make-believe land where anything could happen; that was taken from just the title of the song,” says Friedman. “My team and I kept asking as we went into this: ‘What is surreal? What can we make surreal?’ We built everything, the table and the chairs. The table that appeared to be suspended in the air by balloons; I wanted each chair to look like it had two backs. And the opening shot, rather than playing a piano, Lauren was playing a cake.”
One unexpected element that Friedman found himself drawn toward was a pastel color palette. “I'm never a fan of pastels. They're never something I put on the show. And now this season, with ‘Lady Marmalade’ and ‘Anything Could Happen,’ I've done two pastel numbers, and it's my new favorite thing. Pastel is the new black for me.”
Fifth Harmony (Continued)
Friedman says that with a place in the Season 2 finale on the line, he felt it was important for the girl-group quintet to respond to criticism that they hadn’t been working the stage. “I wanted to give them a chance to dance and do some choreography — and I had confidence they could do it,” he says. “Camilla will proclaim that she's not a good dancer, but I think she is adorable with her movement. And while the choreography was minimal, it was still really impactful. I was pleasantly surprised with the results.”
Of course, there were a few stumbling blocks to Fifth Harmony’s Semifinals success story. “I wanted bubbles completely all over the stage, flying through the air, but due to safety and how slippery they get on the stage, we couldn't do that,” says Friedman. “And during camera blocking, we had a dancing disaster. One of our male dancers got hit with a serving tray in his eye and had blood everywhere. He had to go and get stitches, but he still performed in the end.”
What were your favorite production numbers from Season 2 of The X Factor? Did any of Brian Friedman’s tales from the set surprise you? Sound off in the comments!