The X Factor Recap: Who's in the Top 16? And Who's Your Early Pick to Win? Take Our Poll!

sister c x factorThe alarmed look on Simon Cowell’s face said it all. Tuesday night’s Top 16 announcement telecast of The X Factor featured more hysterical weeping than a Grey’s Anatomy season finale, a Justin Bieber concert, and an onion-slicing competition combined.

But all those tears weren’t entirely for naught. Demi Lovato and Simon Cowell narrowed down their respective Young Adult and Groups acts from six to four — and combined with the decisions by Britney Spears (Teens) and L.A. Reid (Over 25s) that aired last week in certain parts of the country (see the recap of those decisions here) — leading to a Top 16 that may not be flawless, but is nevertheless pretty promising.

Strangely enough, though, anyone tuning in to The X Factor for the first time this season might have thought differently. The way the show’s producers kept mashing up contestants’ isolated vocals with swelling/inspirational Top 40 hits by established artists resulted in a cacophonous sound that was akin to an elementary-school orchestra during tuneup.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of soundtrack choices for reality singing competitions — or any TV shows in any genre — can we please call a moratorium on using Coldplay’s “Fix You” as shorthand for “sad things happen to emotionally fragile people”? Somewhere, Chris Martin is using stacks of hundred-dollar bills to rekindle the fire in Gwyneth Paltrow’s outdoor wood-burning oven (not a euphemism), but at what cost to his soul?

Anyhow, here’s how tonight’s announcements played out (ranked by division, from least to most promising):

Young Adults — Age 17-24 (Demi Lovato)
While shark-eyed label execs like L.A. Reid have probably fired assistants for accidentally booking meetings with artists who don’t fall in the 17-24 age group, I can’t help but feel Demi’s category is least likely to produce the Season 2 champ. That’s not to get too harsh on the Lady Lovato — she’s begun to win me over by giving plainspoken advice to her contestants and providing a couple of decent laughs during the audition rounds — but I can’t grasp how she cut raspy-voiced Jillian Jensen in favor of the inferior Paige or the probably-never-gonna-win Willie. (Somehow, I’m envisioning producers telling Demi, “But Jillian cries mascara-smudging, snot-running-down-your nose tears. That’s just too much reality for reality television!”) Anyway, without further ado…

4. Paige Thomas: Nobody in Season 2 looks or dresses more like she came off the pop-diva assembly line than Paige, but the young mother needs to spend more time getting her vocal glitches worked out than she does staring into a confessional camera and crying about the state of her life, her dreams, and her adorable toddler daughter.

3. Willie Jones: Demi told Willie that his biggest challenge will be finding a way to marry his passion for country music with his R&B tendencies. (In other words, she’s not sure if America is ready for a black kid who wants to be the next Scotty McCreery.) I’d say, though, that the inexperience that percolates through Willie’s performances — and the fact that he wore a bolo tie (!) to his final day at Judges’ Houses — are far bigger concerns that need addressing.

2. Jennel Garcia: Jennel’s audition to “Paris (Ooh La La)” still ranks among the season’s best, but there’s something borderline desperate about the way she’s trying to add the letters ‘S’ and ‘E’ before the show’s titular ‘X.’ Demi has already warned Jennel about her excessive hair-flipping, but I’d also say girlfriend needs a stern warning about nasty outfits like tonight’s chartreuse blazer (no blouse!) paired with booty shorts (Jennel must have gotten some kind of “buy 49, get the 50th pair free!” offer) and lacy stockings. If she can rein in her randy tendencies, however, the kid might still have a shot at the crown.

1. CeCe Frey: “She may not be the most likable person in the competition,” said Demi, who probably views CeCe the way Alicia Silverstone’s Cher eyed up ragged new girl Tai in Clueless. In other words, the brash postal worker is something of a fixer-upper, but the foundation is all there — including the “on-fire, fierce attitude,” and a really solid pop singing voice. Plus, She Who Paints Face Like Leopard keeps mentioning her willingness to work hard — which is never a bad thing in a reality singing-competition contender. But will hard work extend to her picking up Demi’s dry-cleaning? (I kid! I kid!)

Groups (Simon Cowell)
Simon may have the deepest bench of any mentor in the competition — as any one of his four groups has an outside shot at the Season 2 crown — even dreadfully arrogant Emblem3 (provided they return to their audition-round form, and learn that missing their cues and botching their harmonies isn’t the equivalent of “doing their best”). To be honest, I was a little surprised Emblem3’s spot in the finals didn’t go to cheesier-but-more-energetic Playback, but it was probably the right move: I mean, I can’t envision those cherubs cracking the Top 3 in their own category, let alone the entire competition. Plus, the quintet (or is it sextet? I can never keep track!) will provide endless fodder for the Teens and Young Adults category in Season 3. Also cut: R&B duo Dope Crisis, whom I suspect you’ve already forgotten thanks to a stunning lack of airtime. (Way to build suspense, X Factor editors!)

4. Emblem3: So the one dude who’s always in a hat used “work hard, play hard” as his life motto. The blonde rapper did one interview without his shirt, and then after he got the news he was going to the live shows, leapt into Simon’s pool — the better to rip off his top again and get a chance to “dry off” on TV. The third kid continued to play Teller in a production of Penn & Teller: The Musical! They’re all just completely Rated H…for Hell to the No!

3. Lylas: Collectively, this quintet has more vocal firepower than the entire Young Adult category combined, but their biggest challenge will be getting all five members to gel only a few weeks after Simon cobbled ’em together. The good news is, Lylas has already learned how to simultaneously burst into tears/screams of hysteria, a skill they displayed after Simon made them the last act to advance to the live shows, beating out fellow pre-fab act Playback.

2. Sister C: “You just don’t ignore talent,” said Simon, after putting the season’s strongest country act into the live shows. I was expecting the cranky British judge to axe the trio for an alleged lack of likability (a theory that has yet to be supported with actual footage). I’m not sure if Simon’s concern stems from the fact that the three sisters didn’t get half as weepy as the ladies of Lylas during his deliberations, but here’s the thing: I only need Sister C to sing brilliantly — which thus far, they’ve managed — not drive themselves to the brink of emotional collapse. I mean, can’t a little levelheadedness be an appealing attribute? It’s not like the losing acts get dropped into the pit to be fed to the Rancor, is it?

1. Lyric 145: I’m not gonna lie to you: I’m not the world’s biggest rap fanatic by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m completely under the spell of Lyric Da Queen and her two guys from Queens. They’d better live up to that awesome “Party in the USA” cover or I’m gonna be devastated.

And with that, let me turn things over to you:

Did the right acts advance to the Season 2 Top 16? If not, who was unjustly ousted, and who should’ve been kicked to the curb? Hit the comments with your thoughts!