As evidenced by the recent season of "The Voice," which featured multiple contestants with professional pasts (including winner Javier Colon, a former Capitol Records artist), many singers who audition for TV talent competitions are not total newbies to the showbiz game. Many of them have tried other, more traditional avenues, with some degree of success, before going the reality route. They're all great talents who somehow slipped through the cracks; all of them had potential, but for sundry sad reasons, their careers were bungled by various powers-that-be or poor life decisions. Now they see shows like "The Voice," "American Idol," "America's Got Talent," and "The X Factor" as their one last hope.
Yes, "The X Factor" is no different: Several of the remaining 32 "X Factor" contestants have serious music business experience. Granted, it's always a problem when shows like these aren't upfront about their contestants' pasts, leaving some viewers feeling disgruntled and duped when they do quick Wikipedia or YouTube searches and discover that these singers are not straight-off-the-turnip-truck unknowns. (You may recall the scandals surrounding outed "Idol" contestants Carly Smithson and Joanna Pacitti, both former major-label artists.) This used to bother me too...but frankly, knowing how hard it is to get a break in this business, I no longer begrudge anyone trying to pursue, or re-pursue, their dreams any which way they can.
Among the "X Factor's" top 32 are some very impressive singers with very impressive résumés. Do they deserve a shot as much as, or more than, the less experienced contestants on the show? Will their professional pasts help them or hinder them? We shall soon find out, but I wish them well.
"Over-30s" contestant Christa has perhaps a sobbier sob story than single mom Stacy Francis, recovering addict Chris Rene, and homeless rock veteran Dexter Haygood combined--yet bizarrely, she has received very little screentime so far, and her incredible saga has not yet been told on the air. And it SHOULD be told. Christa, basically, was supposed to be the next Miley Cyrus, before there was such a thing as Hannah Montana, Hilary Duff, or any other Radio Disney tween starlet. Under the name Christa Larson, she was Disney Records' first child recording artist, and in 1990, at the age of 11, she released the kiddie album Minnie 'N' Me: Songs Just For Girls (hear one of the precious tracks below). A year later, she sang on the recording of Michael Jackson's "Heal The World." Christa was well on her way to child stardom...but then her mother, who was also her mentor and manager, was tragically killed in a hit-and-run car accident, and a despondent Christa subsequently withdrew from show business. As an adult, Christa returned to music, fronting a popular L.A. rock band called Woolly Bandits and even singing with Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan. But we can only imagine what might have been if she'd kept performing as a child. Hopefully "The X Factor" will give her a second chance. I'm sure her mom would be proud.
It turns out this bubbly blonde has met Simon before: In 2005, when she was 16 years old, she successfully auditioned for "American Idol," but she was disqualified only four days before she was supposed to fly out to Hollywood Week due to a "red flag" on her background check. However, neither Tora nor her mother had any idea what the issue was. "The producer was apologetic, but said he didn't know the reason for Tora's elimination. He referred me to Fremantle Media," Tora's mother told Tucson's KMSB Fox 11 at the time. "I asked [Fremantle] if it was something we had done wrong, and was told that it was a casting decision and she was welcome to audition again next season. Why would they say that if there had been a red flag?" The mystery was never solved--at least not publicly--and it's unclear if Simon remembers all this now. Poor Tora was forced to pick up the pieces of her young life, after she'd already taken her GED and quit her job so she could head to Hollywood. She did win a lesser competition called "Tucson Idol" that same year, and she was Miss Arizona Teen in 2004 (both under the name "Krystine Woloshin"), but "American Idol" would have been her real opportunity. Sadly, Tora's 2005 "AI" audition is nowhere to be found online (though that's purportedly a photo of her getting her golden ticket at right). But the amateur clip below of her belting out a Christina Aguilera song shows just what "Idol" missed out on. "American Idol's" loss is now clearly "The X Factor's" gain.
The ageless (59-year-old!) LeRoy is not a household name (yet), but he's had success behind the scenes, dating back to the 1970s when he worked as a staff writer for Mighty Three Music, a Philadelphia music publishing company run by his uncle, Thom Bell, with the famous songwriting team Gamble & Huff. The songs LeRoy penned while at Mighty Three Music were recorded by the likes of the Spinners, the O'Jays, and the Temptations; Elton John even recorded LeRoy's tunes, and one of them, "Mama Can't Buy You Love," earned Elton a Grammy nomination in 1979 (hear Elton's recording below). That song got a new lease on life when Fatboy Slim remixed it in 2003, which in turn rebooted LeRoy's career. LeRoy has since performed with B.B. King, Van Morrison, Sheryl Crow, Etta James, Al Green, Erykah Badu, LeAnn Rimes, Keb'Mo', and others, but widespread fame has eluded him. Now, as another standout "over-30s" contestant--and the oldest contestant in the entire "X Factor" top 32--LeRoy finally seems poised to take his place in the national spotlight.
This 42-year-old single mom was one of the early breakout stars of "The X Factor," captivating America with her stirring sob story of deferred showbiz dreams. Discussing her abusive ex-husband who'd discouraged her from pursuing music, she recalled sadly, "He kept telling me that I was too old, or that I wasn't talented enough, and I started believing...I just lost faith in myself." But it turns out that when Stacy was 25, before she fell in with the wrong man, she had a promising career ahead of her as a Broadway baby. She performed in the original Broadway cast of the Tony-nominated Footloose musical in 1998, and her Broadway performance of "Let's Hear It For The Boy" can be heard on the cast recording album. She was also in an early-'90s Reprise Records girl group called Ex-Girlfriend, whose video you can see below. Once Stacy married, her career sadly stalled, but "The X Factor" is now helping her get her back on track.
Also known as "Little Miss Muffin," this polarizing baby-diva was discovered at a much more under-the-radar local L.A. talent competition as a young girl, which led to parts in "Everybody Hates Chris" and "Zoey 101" and commercials for Target and Bratz Dolls. After interning at Grassroots Productions, home to the Black Eyed Peas, she ended up getting hired by will.i.am to sing backup on BEP's 2007 world tour. It's actually surprising that a girl with such experience even needed Simon Cowell's help at this point. Below is a video of her performing last year at KIIS FM's Wango Tango Breakout Artist Showcase, wearing what must be her favorite outfit: the same striped tee and red hotpants she rocked at her first "X Factor" audition. (Hey, it's a cute getup, so who can blame her?)
Dexter's professional past is perhaps the best-known among the top 32, since the 49-year-old funkateer showed up at his "X Factor" audition carrying a vinyl copy of his old '80s band Xavion's one album and boasting to anyone who'd listen that he'd once toured with Hall & Oates. (Something worth bragging about, for sure.) Xavion's album, Burnin' Hot, sadly did not burn up the charts upon its 1984 release, although some critics later heralded the group as the precursor to African-American soul-rock band Living Color. Dexter fell on extremely hard times after Xavion (who still gig around Memphis) were dropped, leading to him living on Skid Row or in his car. Judging by his tearful breakdown upon hearing the news that he'd made the top 32, clearly Dexter has been waiting for another big break for a long, long time.