After last week’s lukewarm welcome from the audience, Steve Jones works on pumping up the crowd this week by using finger guns and raising the roof. Next week he’s going pump his fist and yell “Roo! Roo! Roo!” while pointing at the Dogpound.
“Keep it current, Steve!”
His other job is to introduce the judges. A thousand years from now, when some advanced race of people sifts through the ruins of our culture and watches our old television shows, they’ll wonder about these gods that we worshiped. These gods that were welcomed on stage with pyrotechnics and lights and epic music. They’ll wonder about the hundreds of people worshiping these staggering, weaving gods and ask themselves “what were these gods celebrated for? What did they do that allowed them to cast judgment on people?”
And they will be referring to LA Reid, who salutes the crowd, and Nicole Scherzinger, who presses her palms together and bows down, because that is the custom here in America. It’s how we start all of our meetings and how we greet one another and not at all stupid or pretentious. And they’ll be referring to Paula, who attempted to walk in a straight line across the stage but appeared to wobble and weave with every other step. And they’ll wonder who is the grinning, tight-faced man who had the most chest hair and received the most applause, and they’ll be talking about Simon.
“Bow before us!”
So the judges take their seats and we get straight to the performances. OK! So here’s what I like about this show. Each judge introduces the act that they’ve been mentoring, and even though this is a multi-million dollar production and the judges are all well versed in being on television, they a) never seem to know what camera to look into during the introduction, and b) never really seem to know what group they’re introducing. For a few, precious seconds, this becomes a high school TV studio production of “Morning Announcements.”
So Paula’s up first and stumbles and stutters and slurs until she decides to introduce The Stereo Hogzz. For the first time, we get to learn what their “real” names are: Trace, John, Just’n, Trae Badd, and KG. What is a Trae Badd? I think it’s something I would have really liked when I was in middle school….
In the pre-performance video, Paula works the boys extra hard to get their choreography on point. Off to the side, Simon says that this will be a make-or-break performance for their vocals. Simon strikes me as that one friend you have who shows up at every group activity with a Wendy’s cup filled with vodka and OJ. This person doesn’t actually participate in any activities, but rather sits to the side and offers useless snarking and critiques. Also see: people who write for blogs.
So The Stereo Hogzz are doing “Rhythm Nation” and they’re all dressed as Che Guevara… if el Che had ever had the opportunity to participate in a pride parade. They start high above the actual stage, bathed in red light. And there are so many effects on the first solo that it’s hard to tell if they sound good or not. It sort of sounds like me trying to order drinks at the bar using the I Am T-Pain app on my iPhone. And yes, I am aware that that’s highly obnoxious, but I happen to be an obnoxious drunk, so everyone just has to deal with me until it’s time to go get a jumbo slice and sober up.
So, Los Che’s give a mediocre performance that has more goose stepping than actual good singing and they’re accompanied by backup dancers who have full face masks on for some reason. This is all very Star Wars meets Eyes Wide Shut. They end with very defiant poses that they hold for a comically long time, until LA begins talking over the wildly cheering crowd, who all seem to be hopped up on some sort of Jolt cola/cocaine combo.
LA says they absolutely have what it takes to be stars, but it’s up to the public. Nicole says that “The Stereo Hogzz have landed, o-kaaay.” Simon says that Paula’s smugness over the performance is putting him in a bad mood and he doesn’t think there’s a band in the world right now as good as they are. Take that U2 and Coldplay and Sugarland and the Roots and Nickelback! Ha! Just kidding on that last one! The Stereo Hogzz lead the crowd in chanting for Paula, and she says that they make her life more interesting and she wakes up everyday thinking about them. Paula! You naughty minx! First the Idol kids and now you’re taking your cougar act on the road?? Mee-yow!
Chris Rene admits that his last performance wasn’t so good and his problem is that he can’t relate to songs that he didn’t write. That is a problem. If he was that good a songwriter, he probably wouldn’t be hauling trash for a living. So now his goal is to dress ass-tastically and try to “feel the song” he’s given.
He’s set aside the thug routine for the first part of “Until You Come Back to Me” and he actually sounds really good. Halfway through, the song switches to a more contemporary beat and he has a couple of rap verses thrown in. He also has flame throwers on stage, which is kind of weird, because this doesn’t strike me as a “we need fire!” type of song. Unless it’s in an infomercial for one of those slow jam R&B compilation CDs that has the generically attractive couple slow dancing next to a fire place while the face of Luther Vandross is opaquely superimposed over the scene.
Performance from Hell.
During this performance we also learn that, for someone whose life revolves around music, LA Reid has some ultra-corny dance moves. Nicole says “I have so much mad love for you, my friend,” which is a bit redundant. She adds that he has grown and sounds amazing. Paula is proud, which means she wasn’t paying attention for most of the performance and can’t think of anything else to say. Simon says that Chris made a comeback, but he doesn’t understand the staging; it looks like Chris was performing in hell. LA says it’s called fire, baby, because he’s hot.
Steve Jones comes out and says that it sounded heavenly — which is pretty funny! Then he puts his arm around Chris and starts to massage his neck, and suddenly it’s real uncomfortable on that stage.
We are reminded for the umpteenth time that Leroy Bell is super old, ya’ll. Not only is he 59 with one foot in the grave, he has six grand kids! But wait, he also has a 13-year-old son. Hmmm. When I was in elementary school, I used to have classmates who had nieces and nephews and I was sooo jealous at the time. I didn’t realize it meant that their parents were horny little bunnies who never learned how to use birth control.
Anyway, Leroy’s been pulled out of the nursing home to perform and the judges want him to use the emotion that he has from being apart from his son to connect with the audience. So he does “I’m Already There” with a pianist on stage and lots of sparkly lights and the whole set up sort of highlights the age thing. He sounds amazing, as usual. Was it exciting to watch? Not necessarily. But he’s the kind of artist that you wouldn’t feel bad about paying to see in concert.
LA did not love the song choice but he loves Leroy’s voice. Paula says she’s never seen someone work so hard and wrap his life experience around every song. Simon says he’s really good, but he’s got a confidence issue and the staging looked dated. I’m not sure that I get lack of confidence from Leroy. He just seems kind of laid back. No matter how much confidence he has, he’s never going to pull a Dexter Haygood and go flinging and screaming across the stage.
Nicole tells Simon that sometimes less is more, which prompts a totally unwarranted oh, snap reaction from the audience and other judges. She adds that Leroy made dads all over the country proud. Yes, he’s going to get that massive “dad vote” that’s so coveted on these shows. Steve Jones comes out to announce that he thinks that Leroy is full of confidence. Simon gives him a look that lets him know that the opinion of the help is totally not needed right now.
Good news, guys. The X Factor will be returning next year, Steve informs us. He looks very relieved. Awesome. One network will now essentially have the same show running almost year round. And cities across the country will continue to be plagued by lines of enthusiastic, delusional people there for auditions. Do you think that we will ever run out of talent? It’s a real concern I have.
Rachel Crow is up next, and one of the nice things about seeing her pre-performance video is seeing the interaction between her and Simon. He’s actually coaching her and he speaks to her like an adult, which is probably really helpful in preparing her for the business.
She sings “Walkin’ on Sunshine” and is dressed like a pink, sparkly circus ring master. Whoever did the set design for her performance was tasked with the mission of creating the most headache-inducing eyesore in the history of live television.
To that person I say: mission accomplished.
They’ve changed up the lyrics to the song and despite all of the distractions, Rachel still manages to shine through and give another killer performance while making it look fairly easy. LA says she’s one of the most charismatic people and it’s tough to criticize her because she’s so lovable. “Whatever you wanna do, you can do it,” he says. Another thoughtful critique by LA Reid.
Nicole says that Rachel has a classic recording voice that reminds her of “Michael Jackson from the Jackson Five.” Just in case you didn’t know which Michael Jackson to whom she was referring. She did not, however, like the lyric change and gives Simon the side eye for that. Paula says that Rachel makes her think of sunshine, but she hopes that Simon gives Rachel a song that shows more of her range next time.
Because Simon will not be critiqued, he goes back to Nicole’s comment and says the lyric change was inventive. When Nicole argues he interrupts by saying “grown ups are talking,” which is pretty nasty. He’s a big, hairy-chested baby sometimes. Steve Jones steps in to bring the cute back by calling Rachel Little Miss Sunshine, which makes her giggle and they hug and my ovaries explode.
Lakoda Rayne is apparently going to follow their mentor right over a cliff. Paula wants them to each represent a season for their performance because… well, because there are four of them and there are four seasons and that was what Paula could come up with. If there were seven of them, they each would have represented a different dwarf. If there were eight, they would have each been a reindeer. Dani is going to represent summer because she likes the sun. Paige Elizabeth is fall because she’s clumsy. Hailey is spring because she’s very fertile. Cari is winter because she’s dead inside.
In the pre-performance video, Simon calls this idea “stupid.” LA says it’s cornball and chee-chee-chee-chee-cheese, like his dance moves. The girls are doing “Landslide” with a changing seasons graphic behind them and a wind machine set on high. I’m still not getting the whole seasons thing, because winter is represented by yellow, which seems to be more of a summer color. Spring is dressed in purple, which I don’t really associate with a season at all. Maybe it’s invoking Easter? Whatever. I have to stop thinking about this now.
Do you remember those old episodes of America’s Next Top Model when Ms. Jay was on the judging panel and every season would have a ridiculous accessory that would get larger as the season wore on? That’s what’s going on with the hair pieces of Lakoda Rayne. Every week, their weaves get a little bigger and longer. If they make it to the end, they’ll be wearing Simone Battle’s hair vest.
So, they take “Landslide” nice and slow and it’s harmonious and it sounds really good. Having a simple set works for them and even though they look like bridesmaids at a wedding in the woods, they make up for it with their beautiful sound.
LA thinks they look incredible and blended well, but he doesn’t like that they’re straddling the line between pop and country. Nicole must have taken a toke during the last commercial break, because she’s like:
“Don’t forget to bring a towel!”
She says that the four voices sound like one voice and they put her in a trance and zzzzzzz…
Simon says that it was a massive improvement vocally, but he hates what their prom dresses and the idea of turning them into seasons is “lit’rally” insane. Then, Paula busts out her dozens voice and is like: this coming from a guy from London, where there’s one season: miserable! And everybody’s like oh, snap, again, except for me who just felt embarrassed for her.
She sure told you!
Nicole introduces Josh Crackerjack and says he’s more than a burrito maker and speaking of, she could totally go for a burrito right now, or some tacos, or maybe, like, a churro with some caramel dipping sauce. In the pre-performance video, we meet Crackerjack’s girlfriend of eight years, who has been supporting him this whole time and she says it has been hard! Apparently, making minimum wage at Chipotle isn’t enough to support a family.
Nicole has chosen Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts” for this performance, and everybody, including Crackerjack himself, is a little confused by this, since a fragile song for women. And lord knows, men can’t be going around singing lady songs! They might spontaneously menstruate or start lactating or something. It’s been known to happen. Ask John Mayer.
So Crackerjack has another simple set, this time with lots of fog. He’s going the exact opposite of Lakoda Rayne. As the weeks go on, he seems to be getting makeunders.
I can tell that Crackerjack put his all into this performance and he was working really hard at it, but I wasn’t quite feeling it. I kind of want him to do more bluesy, less polished songs. Nicole tries to help him out by making faces, and mouthing the words, and doing dance moves like she’s a tot mom on Toddlers & Tiaras.
LA digs it, Paula thinks Crackerjack nailed it, and Simon says the risk paid off. Nicole is crying and says she feels like a proud mom and she feels his voice in her veins.
In the video leading up to Melanie Amaro’s performance, Simon informs us that one of the reasons he’s so successful is because he can admit when he makes mistakes. Also, he’s humble. Melanie says that getting sent home and then being brought back again has made her work even harder and this week she’s taking it out of her comfort zone.
She’s singing “Desperado.” If they were going for weirdest possible song choice, kudos. The song is pretty, but it always makes me think of the episode of Seinfeld where Elaine dates the guy who has to stop whatever he’s doing when “Desperado” comes on. So it makes it hard to take this seriously.
Melanie starts off a capella, and Simon looks pretty pleased with himself throughout the entire performance. Melanie sounds beautiful and makes it look very easy to give goosebumps to people. Again, not the most exciting performance, but definitely one of the most talented ones.
LA and Nicole agree that it was a beautiful performance, while Paula adds that Melanie’s voice is like fine china that you only bring out for the most special occasions.
Only the finest for Paula.
Simon declares Melanie the one to beat in the competition.
During Astro’s video, we found out that he refuses to do songs that don’t contain his own lyrics, so he’s writing a couple of verses for each performance. This is incredibly admirable, but also irritating in its diva-ness. Astro = Divo.
Astro is concerned that America won’t vote for hip hop. He doesn’t go into why he thinks this… but he probably hasn’t read the stats showing that most consumers of hip hop are white, suburban youth. So you never know what America will vote for. And as Simon points out, there’s never been an act like Astro on one of these shows.
Astro’s performance starts off with his version of “Hip Hop Hooray” while the Fly Girls dance behind him. He eventually pulls his “cut that!” trick, that he did during his first audition, and the track switches to “Get Your Freak On,” which is made more family friendly by changing the lyrics to “Get Your Beat On.” Which could actually be less family friendly, depending on how you look at it. During my next break up, those are going to be my parting words. Slightly less harsh than “go fuck yourself, asshole,” but still delightfully insulting!
So, Astro can definitely write some lyrics and he can definitely rap. He could use some work on his moves, but we know that will never happen. Also, he can retire the gold jeans. I can’t imagine who would look good in gold jeans.
Nicole says that 14-year-old Astro knows how to get the party started right, which is why I only party with 14-year-olds. Paula says she knows that Jay-Z has his eye on Astro. How does she know that? Is she friends with Jay-Z? Because that would be hilarious. I just sort of picture her calling his cell phone really late at night and having a slurred, incoherent one-way conversation. And Jay-Z struggles to determine if he’s having a dream or not. Also, in my little fantasy, he’s wearing a Louis Vuitton sleep mask and soft, lotion-filled gloves.
Anyway. Simon says Astro has confidence and swagger and is a “total little star.” LA thinks America loves him. While Steve gives out the numbers to call to vote for Astro, Astro stands quietly beside him, and like most children looks totally cute and angelic when he’s sitting still with his mouth shut.
Intensity. Who is Intensity? We’ll never know, because frankly, there are too damn many of them. We know that Ellona has been singing since before she could read. In fact, she was singing when she was in the womb. We also know that Arin is a trouble maker. He thinks that the song selected by Paula this week is cheesy and they don’t want to be seen as Disney kids. Paula understands that they don’t want to be viewed as kids, but she doesn’t care. Grown folks is making decisions now and if they want $5 million they’ll shut up and do what she says.
So Intensity does a mashup of “Kids in America” (which is a lame song) and “Party Rock Anthem” (which is a horrifying yet awesome song). They aren’t as good as their previous live performance both as a group and as soloists, but their performance is still impressive, especially with all the lights and flashing stars (subtle, Paula!) and the confetti.
LA thought it was fun. Nicole thought it was fun-tastic and fun-omenal. Simon thought it was terrific and likes that there’s a rebellion afoot. And then the entire group gets on my nerves by earnestly miming making phone calls and sending texts while Steve explains how to vote again.
Simon wants Drew to do something cooler and younger than what she’s been doing, which I agree with wholeheartedly. I believe that Drew is the same age as Rachel and Astro, but she seems about 10 years older. Part of that may be maturity, but part of it might also be that they’re styling her like Jodie Foster during her teen hooker days.
This week, Drew’s doing Nelly’s “Just a Dream,” which is the oddest song choice of the night so far. She starts off laying on a bed of flower petals, looking up at the camera in a scene that is uncomfortably close to American Beauty.
She starts the song of slow and ballady, but as she gets off the floor, the beat changes and gets funkier and she doesn’t skip a beat, launching into a kind of rap/sing-song type performance that’s actually pretty interesting. It kept my attention, even when I didn’t want to watch a teenager pretend to be some sort of woodland fairy.
LA says that Drew has the spirit of a superstar, but she’s unlucky because she got stuck with the wrong mentor. Nicole says that’s one of her favorite Nelly songs (is it really necessary to have more than one favorite Nelly song? That one may be one too many.) and Drew could be a guest on anyone’s album. Paula lives for the last note the Drew sings and Simon adds that he’s seeing a star emerge in front of him.
LA Reid thinks that Marcus Canty is already a star in the singing department, but if he wants to be the next Bobby Brown, he needs to learn how to dance, too. Simon doesn’t understand why the world needs another Bobby Brown. “Isn’t one enough?” he asks. Amen, brother. We do not need anymore crackheads running around tempting Whitney Houston into making more unwise decisions.
So during rehearsals, Marcus works on not getting winded while dancing and singing “Every Little Step I Take,” which was written for Bobby by LA, himself. For some reason, the song starts out with a verse from “Nothin’ on You,” before switching to “Every Little Step I Take.” I imagine that was to make it modern and relatable to kids today who don’t know who Bobby Brown is. But the styling was sort of throwback, with everyone in letter jackets and the backup dancers looking like they’d been bussed in from Brooklyn circa 1993.
Marcus sounds fine, but isn’t as good vocally as he’s been the past. It must be hard to sing and do lunges and squat thrusts at the same time. I will have to try it next time I’m at the gym and it’s booty/hammie day.
Nicole feels like she was watching a concert and Paula says that Marcus is the total package. The storm cloud that is Simon says that some might say it’s narcissistic to have your mentee sing your own song. LA says that they could have had Marcus sing one of Simon’s songs. Oh, wait. Simon doesn’t have any songs. Nicole and Paula act like a major burn just happened. I will refer back to LA’s earlier commentary: chee-chee-chee-chee-cheese.
Last week, Simon suggested that Stacy Francis embrace her church singer side and stick to that. Stacy says she found that comment offensive. Not sure why. You can go ahead and let go of your Beyonce dreams now, Stace.
Nicole has decided to compromise between the two and pick a spiritual song, going with “Up to the Mountain.” They kept the set pretty simple with this performance, using video of candles, which is only slightly less cheesy than the channel I have that shows a constantly roaring fire. There is also a lot fog. You have to feel for anyone in that audience who might be asthmatic. In one episode they’ve been exposed to smoke, fog, flames, confetti, and the odors coming from Nicole’s dressing room. Go with God, X Factor attendees.
So Stacy’s song has a pretty typical church-y arrangement and she’s able to stand still and sing slowly and really show off her voice, without going over the top. She keeps it reigned in and doesn’t even cry!
LA likes that she was able to hold it together and still give a stirring performance. Paula thought that Stacy was the shining moment of the night, both literally and figuratively. Simon wants credit for the performance and a kiss, but settles for a chilly hug. Nicole says that Stacy, like Navin R. Johnson, is fulfilling her special purpose.
So — those are the top 12! I’m still working out who my favorites are, but the young ‘uns are kind of winning me over! For those of you who voted — was it helpful to have Steve Jones explain how that worked over and over again? Could you have used more instruction in that arena? Also, can the writers on the show come up with better insults for the judges to hurl at one another? We need some yo’ mama jokes! What’s your best yo’ mama burn?