photo courtesy of FoxThursday night, in what was surely the biggest shocker of the "X Factor" season so far and possibly one of the most shocking reality TV results shows ever, rapper Astro--long considered a frontrunner in the competition--was in the bottom two, and he was almost sent home in 10th place. But that wasn't the shocking part. No, the real surprise was Astro's defiant reaction to the news of his near-elimination: When it came time for him to sing for the judges, he at first flat-out refused, saying he "didn't think it was necessary" and declaring, "No disrespect to you or this show, but I just feel like if you're gonna put me in the bottom two, I don't wanna perform for people who don't want me here, you know what I'm saying? That's it." Eventually, he went through the motions of an obviously half-hearted performance that his disgruntled mentor L.A. Reid said was the song of a "quitter." It was not a good look, and Astro's terrible attitude triggered an immediate public backlash, transforming him from the kid to beat to, well, the contestant to hate.
The sad thing is, Brian Bradley, aka Astro, aka the Astronomical Kid, is actually incredibly talented. Maybe even talented enough to be worthy of "The X Factor's" $5 million contract that until this week seemed realistically within his grasp. He's already gained huge respect in the hip-hop- world; even at age 14, he's practically a veteran of sorts. Astro has been rapping, recording, gigging, and releasing music since he was a little kid (check out his website, theastronomicalkid.com, and his MySpace, http://www.myspace.com/theastronomicalkid, to hear some of his original music). His independent video for his single "Stop Looking At My Mom" (which he later performed on "The X Factor" in one of the greatest auditions of the season) was a huge viral hit last year, and he has been performing on the East Coast radio and television circuit for the past couple of years now. Below are a few freestyles he did on the radio when he was around 12 or 13; the wild way the DJs are reacting as he spits indicates that they believe they're listening to a real future superstar.
Of course, being disrespectful and arrogant never hurt some rappers' careers. Kanye West, one of Astro's idols, is doing pretty well these days; not even the huge backlash stemming from his Taylor Swift bumrush at the 2009 VMAs totally derailed his career. But then again, Kanye never had to compete for mainstream America's votes on a show like "The X Factor"; if he had, he probably wouldn't have made past the first live voting round. Braggadocio and swag may be a big part of the hip-hop game, but "The X Factor" is a different game entirely, and America's reality TV voters like their contestants humble and sweet. Cocky does not play well on shows like these, no matter how talented the contestant.
Shortly after Thursday's results show broadcast, Astro took to his Twitter page to understandably do some damage control, but I'm not sure it did him any good--since instead of simply apologizing for his tantrum, he basically implied, in a series of eyebrow-raising tweets, that maybe he hadn't really received so few votes after all, and that producers had only put him in the bottom two with (the ultimately eliminated) Stacy Francis for dramatic effect. "Politics!! don't be fooled by what you don't know! Thank you AstroNauts for holding me down! Its funny how people are quick to judge not knowing whats going on behind the scenes. Maybe I should have given my Disney smile instead!" he first tweeted.
Then, responding to fans who took his initial refusal to perform for "people who don't want me here" personally, Astro replied: "I feel yall on that but I wasn't talking about viewers when I said I don't wanna perform....If you only knew what I know you'd say otherwise...you know what maybe I could have handled it better but I wasn't talking about viewers. I hear you doe!"
Replying to another fan who told Astro that he should have just sucked it up and played the game, the rebellious 14-year-old MC responded with, ""I'm sorry you feel that way but I will never be silent when I believe I have been done an injustice. Heart on my sleeve!" Astro also tellingly retweeted a message from a fan that read: "Pretty sure @AstronomicalKid was put in the bottom 2 purely for ratings..he has 63000 followers.theres no way they didnt vote #weknowitstrue"
In a way, it is kind of difficult to believe that Astro received fewer votes than, say, LeRoy Bell or Lakoda Rayne. He is an undeniable megastar in the making. But at the same time, even though we all know "reality TV" is not 100 percent reality, and that these shows are manipulated for ratings and drama all the time, it's even more difficult to believe that "X Factor" producers would so readily throw Astro or any popular contestant, especially one so young, under the bus like that. If they did, well then, that tactic certainly backfired, since Astro's unscripted reaction--what he called on Twitter his "fight the system moment"--unfortunately turned one of the show's standouts into its social pariah.
This is not the first time an "X Factor" contestant has made accusations of behind-the-scenes shenanigans, by the way. Only a few weeks ago, top 17 finalist Dexter Haygood claimed his elimination was rigged, and that he'd actually cut a deal with producers to leave the show voluntarily. Most "X Factor" fans assumed Dexter was just trying to save face, and that is most likely what Astro is doing here, as he backpedals from his bad behavior. I would like Astro to go farther on this show, based on his talent alone, so my advice to him is, if he wants to escape next week's double elimination, he better lay off the Twitter, put on a "Disney smile," and act like the respectful young man seen below: