Episode three of "The X Factor" was definitely an odd one. Maybe the wicked spell of teen ghosthunter Ashley Deckard or the full moon Marivana Viscuso spoke of last week finally took effect, as Simon Cowell and his cronies rode their giant "X Factor"-branded Mack trucks to Chicago and Seattle. For instance...
Cheryl Cole was back, without explanation, for a blip, and then poof!--she was banished back across the pond once again, in an instance of very dyslexic editing on Fox's part.
L.A. Reid was uncharacteristically warm and fuzzy, wearing a yellow Cosby sweater for much of the episode and uttering Paula-like positive affirmations like "I like your spirit" and "I believe in you." Hey, what happened to the meanie L.A. who was barking stuff like "You made me want to slit my wrists" last week?
Simon became so desperate trying to keep one of his favorites in the competition, he started begging--yes, BEGGING!--fellow judges Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger to change their votes. And he actually got agitated enough to mix up his verbs (see the title of this article, above), even though we all know it's his darn show and he doesn't need Paula or Nicole or anyone's
permission to orchestrate the outcome he desires.
And along the way, a gray-haired lady named Charlesia auditioned to be the new "X Factor" judge
(she must have had a premonition that Cheryl was about to get fired); Paula quite fruitlessly (pun intended) threw blueberries at Simon; and the witchy mother-daughter team of Darwin and Sherrie Reedy, who unsuccessfully tried out for "American Idol" in 2007
and even once wrote a novel about Simon, re-reared their two-toned heads on "X Factor," then got rejected once again while Daniel Powter's old "Idol" exit theme "Bad Day" strangely played in the background.
Yes, it was a weird episode. But it was an entertaining
one. And by the end of the night, the show had found three of my favorite contestants so far. There may be a method to Simon's madness after all--although, to be honest, I wasn't thrilled with all of the judges', for lack of a better and lesser-used adjective, WEIRD choices.
Here are the standout auditioners who made it through Wednesday night, for better or worse:
Brock & Makenna - This Springfield duo's saga of sad-sack unrequited love had me flashing back to ex-couple Rob Bolin and Chelsee Oaks from "American Idol" Season 10. But hey, at least Rob once got to date Chelsee; poor Brock was never so lucky. Although Brock and Makenna have been singing together for four years ("It's been the best thing I've ever done," sighed Brock, as a million tween girl viewers collectively swooned), Makenna has never been aware of his crush on her. Poor guy. "When I think of Makenna, my heart jumps out of my chest," Brock confessed backstage. "I love her, but she doesn't know it. I think one day she'll know." (Um, yeah...like TODAY, since I assume Makenna watched this broadcast.) Simon put the pair on the spot when they auditioned, flat-out grilling them with, "Are you dating?"--to which Makenna tossed off the old "just friends" line and hapless Brock looked like he'd been socked in the stomach (or at least that's what the Fox editors made it look like). "You're turning red!" exclaimed Paula, effectively outing him while Makenna played dumb. When the duo finally dueted on the Zac Brown Band's "Colder Weather," both got through, but it turned out Brock had the much better voice, as Simon noted. And sorry, but I think Brock is cuter, too--he honestly could do better than Makenna. I am kind of hoping he makes it through Boot Camp and Makenna doesn't, and then he goes solo and soon has a pile of worshipful "X Factor" groupies at his feet. I could totally see this happening.
Skyelor Anderson - Another country contender (again, I was having Season 10 "Idol" flashbacks), this 16-year-old Mississippi kid admitted that he'd never auditioned before, but when he suffered technical difficulties onstage, he reacted like an old pro. While performing Billy Currington's "Must Be Doing Something Right," something went very wrong--his track cut off--but he just kept on singing a cappella. His voice was not all that impressive, but his professionalism and can-do attitude were. ("I came too far to stop!" he explained, after driving nine-and-a-half hours to his nearly aborted audition.) It's quite likely that this "accident" was rigged to create some TV drama, perhaps trigger an onstage meltdown, but kudos to Skyelor for not taking the bait. Paula told him, "I believe in you...you have a commitment that is unparalleled," and Simon said, "The fact that the song cut off and without a blink you carried on, I was really impressed by that." How will Skyelor fare when he gets to sing an entire song properly? Of that, I am not so sure--even sweet Paula told him his voice needed work, and she was right. But I have a feeling America is going to fall in love with this easy-going small-town fellow.
J. Mark Inman - Okay, this is the part of the show when things started to get a little weeeeirrrd. Thirty-one-year-old philosophy student J-Mark kind of reminded me of Abed from "Community" meets Jack McBrayer from "30 rock," a sort of idiot savant prone to saying things like "I want to be at the helms of a renaissance" and "I see my life as an algorithm." I found him amusing and hoped he'd be fantastic, but deep down, I knew he wouldn't be. But hey, at least he picked a fitting song for his unique, um, talents: Radiohead's "Creep." Complete with his own recorded backing track, yet. As he warbled, "I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo" while busting some Thom Yorke moves straight out of Radiohead's "Lotus Flower" video, it was compelling, but also, well, creepy. "I wish I was special," he whined. Oh, he was special, all right. And when he sang, "I don't belong here," I expected all the judges to agree with him. Yet, defying all logic, everyone loved J-Mark. The crowd went nuts, and Paula declared, "You don't belong here, you are otherworldly! You are in a different jurisdiction for sure." Added Cheryl, "I want to visit this place! I want to know where it is!" (Simon called this magical mystical place "Planet Paula," and I admit, it'd be a fun place to visit...though I wouldn't want to live there!) Mused L.A. Reid, "It sounded so bad, but felt so good!" And then Simon sat there dumbstruck as his fellow judges inexplicably gave this guy three yesses. I think there's something very watchable and fascinating about J-Mark, and I wouldn't mind seeing him on "America's Got Talent" or whatever...but come on now, he's not worth $5 million. There's no way Simon will let this creep get past Boot Camp.
Josh Krajcik - I liked this 30-year-old burrito-slinger right away when he came onstage and asked, rhetorically, "Who doesn't like burritos? Burritos are good." (Side note: I actually happened to be eating a burrito when Josh was on TV, which I assumed was a very good omen. I was also hoping he'd audition with Pete Yorn's "Burrito." He didn't, sadly.) However, since auditioning for Simon Cowell seemed to be more his mother's dream than his own ("She's more excited than I am," Josh admitted sheepishly), I feared he was just some deluded and untalented mama's boy, doomed to spend the rest of his working days up to his elbows in rice and beans. Turns out this was so not the case; mother knew best here. Performing Etta James's "At Last," Josh proved to be a big bluesy belter a la Nakia from "The Voice," and oddly, he seemed suddenly sexy, like he was just one minor makeover away from hotness. L.A. practically accused Josh of cleverly coming onstage looking like a shlump in order to create an element of surprise and an underdog story: "This is your 'before,' right? You're way too good, you're not fooling me." But Simon at least feigned shock. "I always thought I wouldn't be surprised again, and then you started singing and it just blew me away," he said. I have to say, this was the first "X Factor" contestant of the season that I got truly excited about. And when he left the audition saying, "Where's the bar?"--well, that made me like him even more. A couple beers, a burrito, and some Josh Krajcik music...that sounds like a fine evening to me!
Drew Ryniewicz - This 14-year-old Justin Bieber freak annoyed me the minute she hit the screen, since basically all she did was spazz out, babbling about her stalker-like love for the Biebs. In some ways, she creeped me out more than J-Mark did, at first. When she announced that she was going to audition with Justin's "Baby," I braced myself for the worst. But then Drew sang...and I became a Belieber. I loved her unexpectedly sultry and sophisticated interpretation of the teeny-pop song--suddenly she seemed talented beyond her years, singing like a woman, not a girl--and even L.A. Reid, the man who signed Justin, was impressed. "That was so original. I love how you took it and really made it yours...you are special," said L.A. Nicole Scherzinger, who'd materialized out of nowhere to replace Cheryl Cole once again, said she preferred Drew's version of "Baby" to the original. Paula called Drew's performance "commendable, original, daring, and bold." And Simon wrapped it all up with: "This is exactly what I wanted a 14-year-old to do in this competition. Easiest yes so far today." Drew definitely has star potential, and at this rate, maybe one day she really will get her chance to fulfill her dream of dueting with Bieber. He just better have some security nearby.
4Shore - This Virginia Beach boy band took a huge risk by singing Boyz II Men's "End Of The Road," a song L.A. Reid co-wrote with Babyface. I don't think it was a risk that paid off; their vocals paled in comparison with Boyz II Men's, and their performance was bland and unoriginal. That's why I was so shocked when L.A. was thrilled with 4Shore's performance, and even gave them a standing ovation. Once again, I thought he was supposed to be the MEAN judge, and I'd fully expected him to be especially harsh on anyone mangling one of his own songs. But instead he raved, "Babyface would be proud, I'm proud, you should be proud." Fellow supposedly-mean judge Simon was even more effusive, proclaiming, "I've always wanted to find an artist to be successful all over the world and for America to be proud of. And I think Americans would be proud of you representing this country." Hey, don't speak for me, Simon! I didn't feel any swell of patriotic pride when I saw this crew, and I really didn't understand why the judges went so nuts for them. Like I said, this was a weird episode.
Tiger Budbill - This goofball would have been great on "Karaoke Superstar USA"--I'm sure his singing would have had Carnie Wilson pulling all sorts of ridiculous faces--but I certainly didn't think he was a $5 million act. L.A., in this case, agreed with me. But bizarrely, the other three judges put Tiger through. I just don't get it. Maybe it was his awesome name. I bet if this dude had been named John Smith, he wouldn't have made it.
Phillip Lomax - Phillip annoyed me the instant he smarmily described himself as "a bit of a hipster" and then announced that his circa-'04 wannabe-Timberlake fedora hat was "coming back in style." When he performed, doing a sort of updated-Sinatra shtick a la Michael Buble, I was mildly impressed--I admit the guy was a good performer and worked the crowd well--but come on, didn't Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. just win "America's Got Talent" like, two weeks ago? Do we really need another reality crooner? Apparently, according to Simon and company, the answer is yes. "Part of the thing about being a star is self-belief. You have that. You have great charisma. There is an issue with your voice when you push it, but you're interesting," said Simon. Oh, interesting, schminteresting. But Paula and L.A. also saw potential here. "You have the magical thing that happens onstage," Paula purred. "Is he a star? The answer is yes. Does he have the X factor? The answer is yes," L.A. said, acting out a one-man conversation with himself while I yelled "No!" twice at my TV screen. Oh well. We'll see if Phillip's voice improves in Boot Camp. Phillip may have self-belief, but so far, he doesn't have Lyndsey-belief.
Tiah Tolliver - Here was the big dramatic story arc of the night. I do not, for one iota of one minute, believe it was not totally staged. Of course it was. There was no way this 19-year-old baby diva, with her adorable Spector-girl beehive and plush scarlet pout and raw but powerful voice, wasn't going to make it through. But still, fake or not, this whole plotline made for great TV. Basically, Tiah came out and Simon fell instantly in love. "You look like a killer. I like that," he smirked. Simon adored her a cappella cover of Shontelle's "Impossible," and L.A. heard a lot of potential, but ice queens Paula and Nicole were not feeling it. (Tiah's audition, incidentally, followed a montage showing the two female judges dismissing any remotely sexy/pretty girl singer, prompting Simon to declare any attractive female auditioner "dead on arrival.") "I've got a real feeling about this girl, she's got something in her," Simon insisted, imploring Paula and Nicole to change their minds about Tiah. "If you can't see it, you're deaf!" he then howled, getting so desperate that he was beginning to sound more like the nonsensical Paula. (By the way, I bet right about now Simon was wishing he hadn't fired Cheryl Cole. Cheryl probably would have told Tiah yes.) With a deadlocked split vote, Tiah was on the brink of rejection, but then of course L.A. gave her a chance to do a second song, and after a cliff-hanging commercial break, Tiah's performance of "It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing"--along with a whole lot of screaming from "fifth judge" the audience--managed to change Nicole's mind. (Meanwhile, lone holdout Paula tossed a bowl of blueberries at Simon. Blueberries are the new Sharpie.)
Gee, I didn't see that coming. Ha, right. But, staged as this scenario might have been, at least in the end the right decision was made. I was totally Team Simon in this fight, and hope Paula and Nicole's prejudices don't hurt Tiah's chances at Boot Camp.
So there you have it. Looking over this list, I am getting pretty psyched over Josh, Drew, and Tiah...and, um, that's about it. That's only three real standouts, paired with just a scant handful of promising singers from last week...and Thursday night's New York/New Jersey show is the final audition episode of the season! Uh oh. I'm seriously hoping that Simon is saving the best contestants for last--or that he's refraining from showing too many of the really stellar singers and just sticking them in montages and medleys for now, so that they can come out of nowhere and surprise us all during the Boot Camp rounds next week. Like I said before, I suspect there's a method to Simon's madness.
Hopefully there are more great vocalists who haven't had their chance to shine onscreen yet. If not, then this show is in trouble--and if Simon can't see that, he's deaf.
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