Sophie Simmons with her famous parents at "The X Factor" [photo: Fox]The recently cancelled "Gene Simmons's Family Jewels" has barely been off the A&E airwaves long enough for fans to reset their DVRs' season passes, but already Gene-Gene-the-self-promoting-machine is back on the reality-TV circuit. This Wednesday, the KISS tongue-waggler made a "surprise" appearance on "The X Factor," supporting/upstaging his auditioning daughter, Sophie.
Nineteen-year-old Sophie Tweed-Simmons (who capably sang "At Last" at her parents' televised wedding on the sixth season of "Family Jewels," and was shown recording a pop song called "Take Me Away" on a 2009 episode of that series), actually auditioned in San Francisco this past Father's Day. And Gene reportedly chartered a private jet at the last minute to be there in person, refusing to spend the holiday without his precious child (or, perhaps, refusing to miss an opportunity to promote himself and his precious Simmons empire).
Gene arrives uninvitedSophie, in a déjà vu TV moment that brought to mind the audition by Jim Carrey's daughter on "American Idol" Season 11, insisted to the "X Factor" judges and producers: "I didn't want to sing before, because I didn't want my dad's help...My parents didn't know I was doing this until yesterday, and they're pretty upset with me...I really just want to step out from being in the shadows, of being 'the daughter of the guy from KISS.'" Of course, she was kind of ignoring the fact that, after starring on "Family Jewels" for seven seasons, such associations will be almost impossible for her to shake--especially if her famous father keeps bumrushing her auditions.
Shannon Tweed & Gene Simmons root for Sophie
So, the question of the night was...how did Sophie do? Was her audition hotter than hell, or was she just a hard luck woman? Was she good, or was this a performance only a rock 'n' roll father could love that couldn't even be enhanced by all the pyro, fake blood, and clawfoot platform boots in KISS's arsenal? Well, Sophie wasn't amazing doing Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love" (which she naively credited to Adele)...but there was something there.
photo: Fox"I think if you just got a little bit more control, you could be really, really great," said judge Demi Lovato, who voted yes for Sophie. "I think you have an amazing voice," said an equally (easily?) impressed Britney Spears, who also put Sophie through. (After that praise, Sophie thanked Britney and politely called her "ma'am." Ouch.) L.A. Reid voted no ("I didn't quite get the chill-bumps that I wanted to get from you," he lamented), and Simon Cowell seemed torn. But then Simon told Sophie, "I think you have a very interesting tone to your voice," and he cast the deciding vote in her favor, while Sophie's mother, Shannon Tweed, and Gene cheered in the wings...and at least one other auditioner, Tara Simon, rolled her eyes and accused the show, in loud stage whispers, of nepotism.
Oh, nepotism, schmepotism. Of course the fact that Sophie comes from rock 'n' roll royalty helped her chances--and it certainly helped that her dad was there to give Fox a big, buzzy television moment this Wednesday. But Sophie did seem to possess some raw talent, so maybe--if she practices, as Simon sternly advised her to do--she can survive on "The X Factor." Let's just hope for her sake, if she really means it when she says she wants do this all on her own, that Gene doesn't charter another private jet and show up unannounced at "X Factor" Boot Camp.
These were the other standout "X Factor" auditioners from San Francisco and Providence on Wednesday night:
Dinah Jane Hansen - I'm still trying to process the fact that this girl is FIFTEEN YEARS OLD. Fifteen! "You look older," Demi told her. "I get that a lot," Dinah said. Dinah sure sounded older, too, when she covered Beyonce's "If I Were A Boy." I thought she struggled a bit with her lower register--maybe the song should have started in another key--but there were moments of greatness here, and she certainly looked and sounded like a potential star. "You took that to places that even Beyonce didn't take it! And you didn't copy her...I predict that you will be one of our finalists!" raved a very excited L.A. "You made my day. I felt like I had a connection with you the minute you started singing," said Britney. "I got the chills, and that doesn't happen to me a lot," added Demi. "This is why we came to Providence, to find someone like you," summed up Simon. And so, with four enthusiastic yeses, Dinah was off to Bootcamp.
Arin Ray - Arin was on "The X Factor" last year, as a member of the unfortunately-named, slapped-together, Paula Abdul-mentored, quickly-eliminated kiddy group InTENsity. Remember them? No? Well anyway, something clearly changed for Arin in the past year--he basically went from boy to man. Demi was even flirting with him (as she does with any cute thing in pants on this show), before she found out he was only 16 and muttered, red-facedly, "Oops!" Arin took a risk by auditioning with an original song he wrote, "Count On Me," but it was a risk that paid off. This was fantastic and fresh. "I liked you last year, and I like you even more this year...You embody 'X Factor' all day and night. This year, you have to go all the way," said L.A. "You're a true star, and you're the reason why we're here right now," said Britney. "Your confidence is really, really hot," said a still-flirting Demi. And Simon said, "I don't know what's happened to you in the last 12 months, but you're a different person. It was a great audition." Now let's hope producers don't stick Arin in a prefab teen-pop group again. This guy is meant to ride solo.
Natalie Martin - This golden girl, who covered Sugarland's "Stay," didn't get much screentime, but she almost seemed like "The X Factor's" answer to "American Idol's" Carrie Underwood: sweet, blonde, as American as apple pie, and country. She could go far, but it's too soon to tell.
Nick Perrelli - After Demi leered at adorable Nick with her giant-pupil'd google-eyes (I swear, this girl is a bigger flirt than Cee Lo Green on "The Voice"), he surprised everyone by crooning the standard "Come Fly With Me"--even though he looked like he ought to be singing One Direction songs. With a combo like that, he could appeal to young and old viewers alike, especially female ones. (Just ask Demi!) "You are one to watch; I've got a good feeling about you," Simon mused.
Beatrice Miller - This precocious 13-year-old's a cappella rendition of the Dixie Chicks' "Cowboy Take Me Away" seemed so mature for such a little girl. (Unlike the above-mentioned Dinah Jane, Beatrice totally looked her age.) "You really are special," marveled L.A. So why didn't Fox show her entire song? Are they saving the best of Beatrice for Bootcamp?
ONE4FIVE - Well, these guys certainly were intriguing. One of them wore white-out zombie contacts that looked like they'd been borrowed from "RuPaul's Drag Race" allstar Raven, the other one sported a pair of Dwyane Wayne pop-up spectacles, and they both rapped an original song almost entirely to Demi (who, of course, instantly because their number-one fan). "I'm blown away. I'm completely sold. You guys are gonna be really huge one day!" Demi exclaimed. These guys truly did have swagger--they were like a duo of dueling grown-up Astros. I can't wait to see what they do next.
Austin Corini - Already being set up as the heartthrob of the competition (extensive backstage footage was shown of him honoring planted fangirls' requests for autographs, cameraphone pics, and hugs), this 16-year-old gave a solid (if not stellar) performance of Hunter Hayes's "Wanted." And he had Britney calling him "adorable" and "the whole package" and Demi, naturally, calling him "cute." But even Demi had to confess, "I don't know if I was jumping out of my seat," and Simon told him his audition was only at "80 percent...I kind of want a bit more. You have to be remembered for your voice, not your hair." Admit it, though: The kid does have good hair. And good hair did a lot for One Direction. And we all know Simon is going to find three more equally well-coiffed boys this season and force them to be in a prefab boy band with Austin. It's inevitable.
Nick Youngerman - A toilet cleaner by day (now there's a day job even worse than the one previously held by Season 1 trash-hauler Chris Rene!), Nick attempted to flush his competition down the drain with a high-energy cover of "Ice Ice Baby." (If you haven't gotten the memo yet, apparently Vanilla Ice is cool again, or maybe cool for the first time ever.) Britney, clearly a Vanilla Ice fan (she praised another contestant last week, Rizzloe Jones, with a Vanilla comparison), was up out of her seat and dancing to Nick's funky-fresh rhymes, and frankly, this was more dancing from Britney than we saw on her entire last concert tour. But Nick just seemed like a novelty act to me. We'll see if he's as cool as ice at Bootcamp.
David Correy - This Brazil native, who was adopted after his 14-year-old mother gave him up, said he wanted to use this show as a way to reconnect with his biological mom. I would like to see that happen, if only so I can find out if talent runs in his bloodline--because David's performance of Bruno Mars's "Just The Way You Are" was really great. It was a little soundalike in parts, but the vocal control and power were there, and he was interesting to watch. "You have the most amazing stage presence, and it was amazing," Britney said, somewhat redundantly. "You're so charming, and your upper register is so powerful," said L.A. I wonder if David's biological mother saw this. If she did, she must have been extremely proud.
Tara Simon - Sophie Tweed-Simmons's instant arch nemesis, the one who kept giving Sophie the side-eye, was really set up by Fox editors to look like this week's token villainess. But hey, Tara did it to herself. Her cattiness, constant bragging about her job as a vocal coach, stupid hat, and Type-A habit of doing pushups backstage...all of this worked my last nerve. She was just so unlikable. Then she started singing Usher & David Guetta's "Without You"...and I didn't like that either. She sounded kind of deranged, and almost like she had some phlegm lodged in her throat, and it was only when she started doing some Mariah-esque runs at the end that she showed any promise. But incredibly, the judges really loved Tara. "I don't think we've even tapped what you're capable of doing...You've got steel in your eye," said Simon. What is it with Simon always telling contestants they have steel in their eyes (and, since we're on the subject, Demi always saying they have sparkles in their eyes)? I didn't get this one, sorry.
Daryl Black - Daryl has all the makings of an "X Factor" champion. He's charismatic, he's original, he's a good guy (a married father of five!), and he can really, really sing. Somehow this 37-year-old crooner turned Gym Class Heroes' "Stereo Hearts" into a smooth-jazz/neo-soul ballad, and the result was so wonderful, Simon even compared Daryl to the legendary Nat King Cole. I could see a lot of people buying Daryl's records. And I could see him winning this thing.
So Wednesday's episode ended with a "cliffhanger" ripped (off) right out of "Idol's" Season 11 playbook, when a young contestant named Trevor Moran mysteriously passed out and had to be assisted by medics right before his audition. (Remember how this year on "American Idol," Hollywood Week was filled with footage of flu-stricken, exhausted contestants throwing up in trashbins, passing out in the aisles, and falling headfirst offstage? This was sort of like that.) I've put quote-marks around the word "cliffhanger" because, thanks to a poorly timed "X Factor" promo that Fox already ran last week, we all know that (spoiler alert!) Trevor did make it to his audition in time. To quote Demi Lovato...oops. Perhaps the real cliffhanger will be whether or not Trevor's somewhat age-inappropriate rendition of LMFAO's "Sexy And I Know It" was enough to get him through to Bootcamp. Tune in Thursday to find out!
- More Gene Simmons on Yahoo! Music
- VIDEO: Britney's classy "X Factor" look
- Steven Tyler reveals why he quit "Idol"