The X Factor Recap: Even Though the Sound Mix Is Something Quite Atrocious... [Updated]

arin rayWelcome to The X Factor, sponsored by Aleve — the long-acting analgesic with the power to ward off gale-force migraines caused by the pack of perpetually screeching harpies sitting in the first three rows of the audience.

It doesn’t matter what the Top 13 are singing. It doesn’t matter how the judges are reacting. It doesn’t matter if Demi Lovato can’t pronounce the names of the singers she’s mentoring. And it doesn’t even matter whether the producers fill Mario Lopez’s teleprompter with the script from Ken Burns’ Jazz or an announcement that a meteor is hurtling toward the Earth’s surface and we only have 60 seconds to live (he’d read it with the same soulless enthusiasm that he’d use to sell the “Xtra Factor App” anyway).

Those ghoulish sorority sisters are programmed to make it rain — rain blood from your ears. With more “I’m going to be on TV!” hysteria than the people who stand in Rockefeller Plaza trying to catch glimpses of Today‘s Matt Lauer and more aggression than a mid-’90s sitcom laugh track, the X Factor audience feedback drowns out everything in its path.

PHOTOS | The X Factor: Pre-Season Rankings

And that’s a real shame, seeing how the Season 2 Top 12 13 are a pretty talented bunch. Sure, the first live, viewer-voted performance show of the season contained a couple song choices (“I Have Nothing,” “I Believe I Can Fly”) so tired that they came with a mug of warm milk and a fluffy pillow, but there was only one catastrophic vocal in the bunch (sorry, CeCe!).

Let’s run down the evening’s set list — I’m gonna be pithy this week, since I’ve also got a two-hour episode of The Voice to recap — with letter grades for everyone! (Oh, and because it apparently wouldn’t be X Factor without a “shocking” twist, Diamond White was reinstated in the competition after the judges decided they just couldn’t imagine the finals without her. When the announcement was made, I swear I detected a look on her mentor Britney Spears’ face that read “Who’s that again?”) Onto our grades for “Songs That Have at Some Point Made Their Way Onto a Movie Soundtrack.”

Jennel Garcia: Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock N Roll” | Simon and L.A. called this performance a Joan Jett “parody,” which makes me think they may not know the meaning of parody. Sure, it wasn’t the most groundbreaking performance in reality TV history, but it was really strongly sung, and I loved the liberties Jennel took with the melody on the second verse — making the song soar in places where the lady Jett was content to drop snarling attitude. Demi’s a bit liberal with calling everybody and their sister a “rock star,” but in this case, she may actually be right. Grade: A-

Arin Ray: Estelle’s “American Boy” | After last week’s forgettable mess, I’d written off Arin as destined for an early exit, but I may have judged him too harshly too soon. “American Boy” was nothing short of stellar: The vocal was totally on point, and Arin never got upstaged by the pack of backup dancers dressed in hideous cigarette box/racing flag regalia. I hate to borrow an X Factor cliche, but the kid looked like a star up there. (And isn’t it time someone — anyone? — ate Chris Brown’s lunch?) Side note: Every time the producers mention Arin was part of Season 1 child troupe InTENsity, I want someone to put him on the spot and name all the members of his erstwhile group. Grade: A-

Fifth Harmony: Christina Perri’s “A Thousand Years” | There was still a bit of “pass the mic from Girl A to Girl B to Girl C” going on at the start of each verse, but I’ve got to give credit to this quintet of crazy good vocalists for giving us their first real harmonies of the season. (And not a moment too soon, considering they’re now called “Fifth Harmony.” Try again next week, America!) I especially loved Dinah Jane’s ad-libs on the final chorus, even if that Camilla chick is so much the Beyoncé of the group. I feel like everything about their edit and their trajectory is leading to an inevitable victory. Reality TV vets, am I right? Grade: B+

Lyric145: “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” (from Mary Poppins) | The whole Alice in Wonderland banquet table setting, their American Horror Story light dancers, the choice of song — well, on paper, it would all sound quite atrocious. But there’s an audacity to Lyric 145 that is matched by their charisma and talent. They’ve got the ability to sell you exactly the thing you didn’t think you wanted or needed. And in an era of declining record-company profits, that’s a skill that might be exactly what an X Factor champ needs to have. Grade: B+

Beatrice Miller: Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” | Beatrice’s ability to work the stage was made all the more impressive by the fact that someone in wardrobe cruelly weighed her down with 47 pounds of scarves and jackets and leggings and accessories. L.A., who’s been absolutely abhorrent all season, made a good point that Beatrice’s tone sounds like it could be on a hit record — which might be why I loved this performance despite some intermittent pitch problems. Grade: B+

Tate Stevens: Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead or Alive” | The only thing more ridiculous than L.A. introducing Tate with the phrase “representing the working class” was Khloe Kardashian praising the Missouri native’s “southern charm.” Or maybe it was Britney’s feedback that the asphalt-laying dad is “a slice of America.” (Good grief — who writes her critiques?) Tate sounded good while coloring inside Bon Jovi’s lines. In other words, I’m not going to be mad if/when he sticks around another four or five weeks, even if I don’t truly believe that he’s “seen a million faces, and rocked them all.” Grade: B

Carly Rose Sonenclar: Bruno Mars’ “It Will Rain” | No doubt this kid has one of the season’s strongest voices, but I felt like there were more than a few flat notes during her rendition of “It Will Rain,” maybe because it’s not really the type of song she should be singing? (Come on Britney…give the kid a grand Broadway ballad or an old jazz standard already.) Also, does it make me a bad person that I reacted to Carly Rose’s end-of-performance tears by thinking, “Oh, so she can cry on cue!”? Grade: B

Emblem3: “My Girl”/”California Girls” | These youths are like the musical equivalent of throwing Red Bull, a Starbucks frappucino, amphetamines, and Banana Boat sunscreen into a blender: There’s a ton of crazy energy, a few moves that border on convulsions, and a lot of tanned skin. And certainly, there was a little nifty creativity using the track of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful” to tie together a Temptations oldie and a Katy Perry romp. I’m just not convinced the vocals were particularly pleasant. Does that matter? My years are all, “Yes, yes it does.”Grade: B

Paige Thomas: Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away” | Poor, Paige! She’s had her head shaved, she’s had to be separated from her adorable toddler daughter, and now Demi hoists her above the stage on cables, blows her skirt up to her neck in front of 10 million people, and then hires some random dude to rub up on her while she’s trying to sing a big romantic ballad. The vocal was a lot better than last week’s “What Is Love,” but still, Paige seemed to get swallowed whole in all the crazy-aggressive staging and costumery. Grade: C+

Diamond White: Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing” | I seriously just cahhhhhhhhhn’t with this song choice to the point that I’d consider voting Donald Trump for President if he promised a constitutional amendment banning it from all future reality singing competitions. (Okay, I wouldn’t. That’s DISGUSTING.) Anyhow, cute as she is, Diamond’s voice sounded strained to the point of snapping from start to finish. Grade: C+

Vino Alan: Percy Sledge’s “When a Man Loves a Woman” | Vino was mostly on pitch while tackling a much more logical song choice than last week’s Nickleback cover, but there wasn’t an ounce of nuance or finesse in his delivery. It was really more “When a Man Yells at a Woman,” and if I wanted to see that, I’d be watching Jersey Shore.

Jason Brock: R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly” | See me running through that open door? I do that every time some poor misguided contestant has to sing it on a reality singing competition. Jason did with it what he could — taking it to church, riffing till his face matched his red leather suit jacket — but there’s only so much air freshener one can spray to mask the smell of decaying X Factor dreams. Cue sad trombone. Grade: C

CeCe Frey: Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” | I’m not sure a single note of this vocal performance was in tune, and the look on CeCe’s face as she awaited her critique tells me she was thinking the same exact thing. The cheetah print face/hair craziness is back, but the hard-working postal worker’s inner sparkle seems to be fading away. Grade: D

And with that, let me turn things over to you: Who were your favorites from The X Factor‘s Top 12 performance night? Were the judges too hard on any contestants, or too easy? Who’s going home on Thursday? (I’d guess CeCe or Jason.) Hit the comments with your thoughts!