The X Factor Recap: Newark State of Mind

Warning: The following recap of Thursday night’s episode of The X Factor will not contain discussions about Guy With Hula-Hoop, Never Been Kissed, Lady Named “Cashmere,” Inappropriately Sexual Duo, Madonna Fan With Regrettably Short T-Shirt, or Guy Who Single-handedly Destroyed Rent.

Call it an incomplete version of events, if you will, but why wallow in sad, stale footnotes now that the show’s inaugural round of audition episodes are in the books? Especially when we’ve seen and heard these exact same reality-show archetypes so many times in the past 10 years that they feel as fresh and funny as a “Why did the chicken cross the road?” joke.

Nope, as we head toward next week’s Boot Camp round and the promise of a new day, let’s instead keep our eyes on the $5 million prize, and the handful of hopefuls we met on Thursday night — Hour 1 from Newark, NJ, and Hour 2 featuring a “best of” compilation from various cities — who have the potential to win it. In order from most to least promising…

* Jazzlyn Little (“I’m Going Down”): Talk about 16 going on world-weary! This raven-haired teen (pictured, left) took to the X Factor stage with the glum, petrified expression of someone about to face the firing squad, explaining that singing was her only escape from the stress of real life, and admitting her sole attempt at uploading a video to YouTube had only scored 500 hits. “That’s terrible,” replied Simon, adding with a wink that Jazzlyn had a little something to learn about self-promotion. But once the judges dispensed with so much chatter and the track began to play, insecure Jazzlyn exited stage left, replaced by an uncaged beast of a singer ready to stalk the stage and cut straight to the heart of  that classic heartbreak anthem “I’m Going Down.” Jazzlyn’s choice of the Rose Royce/Mary J. Blige classic proved she’s already got better musical taste than 90 percent of her competitors, and her delivery was absolutely sublime. I loved the way she crept through the verses with a slightly sleepy, Erykah Badu-ish cadence, only to hit the gas pedal and unload all her pain and anger and frustration on every word of the chorus. Simon’s been known to be a little ridiculous with his superlatives, but I don’t disagree that Jazzlyn has the potential to be a “world star,” especially since she seems to have an understanding of what exactly it’ll take for her ride this wave till the end of the year. “This just means more work,” she told her family as they exited the amphitheater. Who’s ready for boot camp?

* Tora Woloshin (“I Want You Back”): If you go to Google Reality TV Critique Translator and type in “the competition is about more than just the voice,” you’ll see that it actually means, “Hey, you’re really good-looking, so we’re gonna overlook those intermittent pitch problems and put you through to the next round.” In Tora’s case, however, I can’t help but put my standard operating cynicism on hold. Sure, I noticed a couple issues with breath support on the tattooed auto mechanic’s rendition of the Jackson 5’s rollicking “I Want You Back,” but she displayed such an infectious ebullience working the stage in her turquoise and purple scarf dress, and managed to convey so much joy with her delivery, that any and all technical concerns were pushed to the back of the fridge. Even her interview packages hint that she may have been born for stardom. Or, as Simon said, “I have a very, very good feeling about you.”

* Brennin Hunt (“How We Make It”): I almost dismissed this dude (pictured, right) based entirely on his absurd remark about going into his audition with a strike against him on account of his male-model good looks. (If only the music industry would give super-hot people a chance every once in a while! Insert eye-roll here.) But on the other hand, at least you can’t accuse the guy of false modesty — which, frankly, would be even more annoying on a guy whose hair could book shampoo commercials and whose jaw is so strong it can actually bench-press Paula Abdul’s entire body weight. And what’s more, Brennin actually has a lovely and distinctive instrument (no, that’s not a double-entendre) which he used to fine effect on an original track that reminded me vaguely of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.”

* Liliana Rose Andreano (“You Are My Sunshine”): Simon said she didn’t look like a star until she began singing, and I concur: There was an almost Patsy Cline-like purity to Liliana’s vocal, and she gets bonus points for bringing along an adorable meemaw in a blue pantsuit.

* The Brewer Boys: We only heard about 10 seconds of music from these Biebery bros — not enough for me to even I.D. what song they were performing — but those 10 seconds were more pleasing to the ear than any of the boy-band acts we’ve heard over the last two weeks.

* Cari Fletcher (“Alone”): L.A. Reid was probably right that Cari has “a star’s name, a star’s face, and a star’s voice,” but I appreciated Simon pointing out that the lithe, camera-ready blonde doesn’t have a particularly distinctive tone. Her Boot Camp mission, should she choose to accept it, will be to learn how to fully inhabit a song — without compromising her penchant for pitch perfection.

None of the remainder of the evening’s Boot Camp invitees struck me as $5 million acts. In fact, I’m not sure I’d invest $500,000, or even $50K, on the lot of ’em combined.

* The best part of 14-year-old rapper Brian Bradley‘s audition package was some genius producer’s decision to open it with a snippet of “Here Comes the Hotstepper.” (Yes, I’m going to iTunes to buy it the moment this recap is finished.) Second best was host Steve Jones’ bewildered reaction after hearing Brian utter one word — “tornado” — in response to his question, “You ready to blow them away?” And running a close third was Simon Cowell’s facial expression during Brian’s original rap track (“Stop Lookin at My Mom”), which looked as if he’d been confronted by a particularly challenging trigonometry problem. “You are arrogant, obnoxious, and argumentative. But you are one of the most talented young people I’ve seen in a long time,” said Simon, who probably considers Il Divo’s cover of Abba’s “The Winner Takes It All” as the closest thing to hip-hop on his iPod. What does he know from rapping? That’d be like me judging the “spring ewe” class at the Delaware County Fair. I guess at the end of the day, Brian’s got some skills, but his whole audition shtick just reminded me that sometimes (oftentimes?) it’s good for teenagers to hear the word “no.”

* Paige Elizabeth Ogle (“You and I”): Hit all her notes in the very brief snippet shown, but I can’t really hear anyone but Haley Reinhart sing that track now — not even Gaga herself.

* Leroy Bell (“Lean on Me”): No idea about his voice. I’m still grappling with the fact that someone who’s 59 looks like he’s 10 years my junior. Didn’t anyone think to ask him for his skin-care regimen?

* Kelly Warner (“Hallelujah”): This young woman who makes a living cutting hair a nursing home — talk about a niche market! — gave off great energy and successfully conveyed emotion on her cover of “Hallelujah.” But all I could think was: “‘Hallelujah’? Really? Isn’t it time to call a moratorium on that song?”

* AusEm (“Jar of Hearts”): Everything they ever learned about song delivery and staging, they got from Glee. And not one of the good episodes, either. How long before the judges pry Austin away from his BFF Emily and roll him into one of the season’s struggling boy bands?

* Stereo Hogzz (“Mr. Right Now”): If this is what’s passing as a top-quality group on Season 1 of The X Factor, then good luck to the judge who gets saddled with that category.

* Nick Dean (“Walk Away”): He lost me at “my first single,” and he didn’t win me back with that creaky little voice of his, either.

* Aaron Surgeon (“I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing”): I’m so bored writing a sentence about this guy that I could die.

* Steve Jones in a truck: Are they going to show that footage once an episode for the rest of the season or what?

What did you think of the final audition episode of X Factor? Are you excited about Boot Camp, or feeling a little skeptical of the whole thing? (“Tornado.”) Did you find yourself giggling over Simon’s laughing fit on that “When you said that people scream after karaoke, I don’t think that was a compliment.” critique? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!

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