There were moments watching contestants from The X Factor‘s 12-16 age bracket on Thursday night where it felt like somebody was building a three-story log cabin out of saplings. “But they’re so young!” “How are they going to hold up to the pressure?” “Will this lead to a hideous collapse ending in hospitalization?”
But have no fear: Erstwhile Mouseketeer Britney Spears was on the scene to mentor these impressionable young minds on how to navigate the perilous waters of childhood fame — without bumping into the tricky icebergs of quickie marriages, public emotional meltdowns and dubiously conceived forays into celebreality television.
On the flip side, we had what might as well have been scenes from Season 3 of The Walking Dead (at least if you viewed it through the shady shades of L.A. Reid and Justin Bieber). Yes, folks, OLD PEOPLE* were allowed on television, with all their gaping sores, sloughing skin, and inconvenient dreams. HOW DARE THEY? Why should we bother to discuss any of these people when even their own mentor recoils in disgust at the mention of their ages? Monsieur Reid won’t bother to learn their names unless they crack the Season 2 Top 5! (*In The X Factor universe, old people = the “Over 25s.” Eww. Over 25? People live that long anymore?)
Anyhow, let’s rank the performances of the six teens (mentored by Britney and will.i.am) and the six folks destined for the grave (mentored by L.A. and Justin Bieber) who performed over the course of the one-hour telecast in the hopes of being one of the four acts to advance per division into the live voting rounds. Side note: Can you imagine being a grown-ass adult able to drink alcohol and tie your own shoelaces having to endure advice from the Bieb such as “You just have to give it your all”? Um, kid, they have a 4-in-6 chance of performing live in front of an audience of 10 million people: It’s likely they won’t be giving it only 47 percent! Whatevs.
Let’s get to the contestants, but before we do, let me pose a question: Should we assume it’s going to be bad news for that the one contestant in every category who got little or no prior screen time, had his or her Judges’ Houses segment edited down to less than two minutes, and then had his or her performance interrupted with interview clips? And if the answer is “yes,” can anyone come up with a good reason for the show’s producers to strip nearly 50 percent of the suspense out of next week’s Top 16 announcement episode?
6) James Tanner: Shop Boyz’ “Party Like a Rock Star” | I rewound my DVR and listened extra carefully to try to figure out if there was any reason to disagree with Britney’s tough take on his performance (“I’m just not convinced it’s strong enough”). But no, James’ lyrical flow never pushed the needle on my ear-ometer past the “ordinary” setting. Anyone else find themselves pondering why the judges chose to weld Dinah Jane Hansen to that pre-fab girl group instead of giving her James’ solo slot at Judges’ Houses?
5) Reed Deming: Plain White Ts’ “Hey There Delilah” | Reed has a solid voice and an impressive ability to hit his notes, but I don’t think America* is ready for a 13-year-old kid who dresses like Tom Cruise on the talk show circuit and says things like “My whole life** has been in preparation for this moment.” Bottom line is he’s simply too young to believably convey the emotion behind any song I’d ever want to hear. (*by “America,” I mean myself) (**Reed is the same age as the BlackBerry!)
4) Arin Ray: Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” | It seems like 90% of Judges’ Houses performances involved taking an uptempo radio hit and turning it into a plaintive ballad. (Call it Drew Ryniewicz syndrome.) Arin’s rendition of “Starships,” however, turned out to be one of the more believable remakes. The former member of Season 1 youth collective InTENsity has a surplus of charisma and a pleasant tone, but it’s his ability to breathe meaning into his lyrics (and, well, his looks) that could make him a serious contender for #TeamBritney. Of course, maybe it was just will.i.am’s truly sage advice — “Spill it out on stage. That’s what I do: I spill!” — that brought out the best in Arin?
3) Carly Rose Sonenclar: Karmin’s “Brokenhearted” | will.i.am compared Carly Rose to a caterpillar that turns into a dragon, and it was probably his most astute observation all night. This young woman has a gargantuan instrument, and yet wields it with such precision that she could cut glass. My one concern about the Lady Sonenclar is that she’s almost too studied, too perfect, to really connect with the speed-dialing audience, but I can’t call her cocky — only honest — for saying she’d be shocked if she doesn’t make it to the live shows.
2) Diamond White: Avril Lavigne’s “I’m With You” | Britney and the Black Eyed Peas dude engaged in a little post-performance banter about Diamond needing to work on her choreography and stage presence, but I think it was just a red herring to create some suspense for next week’s show. After all, Diamond actually improved on Avril’s original, with a delicate upper register on the verse, and an effortless but well-timed display of power on the chorus. To quote her pint-sized rival Beatrice Miller, Diamond is “flawless — to the point where it’s not fair.”
1) Beatrice Miller (hell yeah!): David Guetta featuring Sia’s “Titanium” | What I appreciate about Beatrice offstage is that, whether or not she’s been groomed for childhood stardom since she was a zygote — and really, if your vocal training doesn’t begin at the cellular level these days, what chance do you have to make it? — she still comes across as a real life human teen, not a permanently perky robot who’d never frown (on the off chance there was a casting agent on the premises). “Anyone else sick to their stomach?” she asked, before taking a moment to wipe away her tears of nervousness. I’m just not sure why the kid was worried: Her reworking of “Titanium” was completely stunning, with her voice often retracting in places where you’d expect it to explode — and vice-versa. And there wasn’t a single botched note in the mix. Let’s let our resident philosopher will.i.am have the last word: “That was fresh!”
6) Tara Simon: Hoobastank’s “The Reason” | Tara wondered before her performance why everyone always says less is more. Why can’t more be more? (Translation: Why can’t I throw every vocal trick at my disposal into a 90-second performance?) But I’ve got some other questions Tara should’ve asked herself: Why were you strutting around making alien trilling noises while your fellow contestants were in rehearsal? Why was the opening verse of “The Reason” nearly inaudible? And how could you be fist-pumpingly thrilled with your performance when you went completely sharp on your big glory note, and most of the chorus sounded pretty strident? I wouldn’t mind Tara’s loopy brand of egomania — “It was a near-perfect performance,” she grinned — but the problem is she’s a generic peanut butter who’s somehow under the impression she’s Jif.
5) Tate Stevens: Brian McKnight’s “Back at One” | Tate has expressed his desire to leave behind his past life pouring asphalt so many times that I’m worried he won’t have a job to go back to should he not advance past the Judges’ Houses round. Unfortunately, he seemed to hit a lot of flat notes on the chorus of his countrified reimagining of Brian McKnight’s unabashedly romantic R&B ballad. Still, Tate’s penchant for tinkering with songs outside his preferred genre may serve him well if/when he makes it to the live shows.
4) Daryl Black: Hall & Oates’ “She’s Gone” | The tiny snippet we heard of “She’s Gone” sounded smooth and tuneful, but the way he’s getting edited, Daryl might as well be the first teenager to investigate the clanging noise in the darkened basement at the start of a Halloween slasher movie.
3) Vino Alan: Pink’s “Sober” | Vino’s slouchy, “I’m over this!” body language is that of a fifth grader who’s been forced to stand in front of the classroom and tell us what he did on his summer vacation, but vocally, he might be the most committed performer of The X Factor‘s second season. Sure, the opening verse was a little low for his comfort zone, and yes, his final few lines got a little screamy-screamy, but percolating up through the flaws was an impressive display of emotion, and a rich, distinctive vocal tone. I just wish L.A. hadn’t made such a big deal about Vino scuffing his shoes when he was bidding the mentors farewell. I mean, Vino is a regular dad who’s aiming high and taking one last swing at a major-league singing career, not a turn-of-the-century servant who accidentally got cranberry sauce on the governor’s sleeve.
2) David Correy: Jessie J’s “Domino” | At 26, David is the least likely member of the “Over 25s” to offend L.A. Reid with unsightly gray hairs, creaking joints, and the perpetual smell of Ben Gay. More importantly, though, the tattooed fella displayed perfect pitch and a radio-ready flow that might be enough to score a hit or two before he’s sent to an assisted living facility for a life of shuffleboard, bingo, and liquid turkey dinners. I’d vote him most likely to give L.A. some bragging rights between now and the end of the holiday shopping seasonl
1) Jason Brock: Fergie’s “Big Girls Don’t Cry” | I can’t lie: Jason could’ve sounded like ball bearings in a blender and I’d have still loved him, if only for correcting the grammar of Fergie’s “I’m gonna miss you, like a child misses their blanket” and changing it to “I’m gonna miss you, like a child misses its blanket.” But almost as important, Jason used his big, robust voice to infuse the ballad with a surge of pure theatricality. Reedy-voiced youths beware: This fabulous fella could be your stealthiest competition!
And with that, let me turn things over to you:
Who were your favorites from The X Factor‘s second Judges’ Houses episode of Season 2? Anyone you’re dying to see in the live shows? Anyone you’re actively rooting against? Hit the comments with your thoughts!