Last week's pre-Thanksgiving "X Factor" episode was a heavy and heartfelt affair, packed with sob stories and dedications to dead relatives. But with this week's "Number One Hits" episode, it was back to "The X Factor's" regularly scheduled programming: i.e., troupes of hoochie dancers, banks of fog machines, countless uncomfortable minutes of Simon Cowell/Demi Lovato bickering, a couple of weird '80s references, and at least one contestant (read: Vino Alan) getting thrown under the proverbial bus. There was also a premiere of a will.i.am/Britney Spears music video that was so utterly underwhelming, if Demi had been allowed to critique it, she surely would have said, "I was bored."
But there was still some reason to give thanks, because there were a few great performances along the way. Here's how everyone did...
Diamond White - After Britney screwed over her promising teen contestants Arin Ray and Beatrice Miller by giving them age-inappropriate, dreary ballads week after week (and then Arin and Beatrice were double-eliminated last week, sadly), she wised up and decided to give Diamond something fun and uptempo this Wednesday. Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" was a great song pick for Diamond, since I've always gotten a mini-Whitney vibe from this girl, and I loved seeing her get her spunk back. (I was a big fan of Diamond's upbeat "Hey Soul Sister" performance from the top 16 week.) "You always seem to start slow, and then you get there. I give you an A for effort, a B for execution," said L.A. Reid, clearly not giving Diamond proper credit. Demi also had an oddly mixed reaction, saying, "This is something I've been waiting the entire competition to hear from you...but I'd like to see you work more on your performance." To that, an incredulous Simon retorted, "I don't know what else this girl could have just brought! This was a really, really important, good performance from you. You are gunning for number one, not just trying to stay in the competition." I agreed with Simon, and I think wherever Diamond places this week, she's definitely staying.
Vino Alan - One contestant who may not be staying this week is Vino, however. Last week he was one of the shining stars of the "What I'm Thankful For" holiday episode, with many people predicting that his patriotic "God Bless The USA" performance would put him atop the leaderboard. And while that didn't happen, he did hold onto his third-place spot for the third week in a row, his momentum not slowed one bit. But now the conspiracy theorist in me wonders if the show's powers-that-be just want him to drop right off the leaderboard entirely. First of all, he got the Lyric 145 snowjob, with the song he was supposed to do ("If You Don't Know Me By Now") getting changed at the last minute (and we all know what happened to Lyric 145 when they got an 11th-hour song switch). Then his request to sing Alex Clare's "Too Close" was totally shut down by his bossy mentor, L.A., who instead ordered him to do "You've Lost That Loving Feeling." Vino was shown reacting to this news by tossing a tantrum and cussing up a storm. I couldn't really blame him for being so upset, but with his scary, face-tattooed image, this was not a good look for him; this edit job sort of undid all of the show's previous efforts to make him seem like a cuddly military hero. Vino's performance wasn't so great, either; it was manic, messy, and by end of it, I seriously wanted to grab his right arm and duct-tape it to his side. He was waving that hand around like he was going to punch someone! (And maybe he was!) None of the judges were impressed. "It's the same each week with you. There's something that needs to be freshened up," said Britney. "I wasn't totally entertained," shrugged Demi. "There are many songs you can sing, and this isn't one of them. Halfway through this song, I wanted it to end--and then you went into this weird reggae version. L.A., you took a risk, and it didn't work. That was not a $5 million performance," ranted Simon. Vino, perhaps trying to control the damage caused by his earlier expletive-riddled video package, smiled meekly and asserted, "I trust my mentor with all my heart." But really, he shouldn't have. L.A. simply does not know what to do with Vino. Vino should NOT be singing old soul songs. He should be doing songs like "Too Close." L.A. should have trusted Vino, not the other way around.
Paige Thomas - Paige has spent much of this season wearing Gaga leotards and Kentucky-Derby-on-acid hats, flying through the air on wires, and imitating Rihanna--and her mentor, Demi, has gotten a lot of flak for creating such zany productions. But this week, Demi claimed that all that stuff was Paige's bright idea, and that she'd wanted Paige to be stripped-back and vulnerable all along. Hmmm. I don't know about all that. Anyway, Demi was shown in rehearsal arguing with Paige over whether to incorporate dancers/fire/smoke/mirrors/bells/whistles/kitchen sinks/etc. into this week's number, and understandably, considering how badly last week's teary "Everytime" performance derailed, Paige wasn't into it. Paige wanted the bells and whistles. Luckily, the two seemed to reach a compromise, and surprisingly, the result was Paige's best performance of the season so far. The unexpected song choice, Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up," was fun and even kind of cool (the show got Rickrolled!), and I dug the whole late '80s/early '90s/Club MTV vibe of the performance: the ripped Brenda Walsh jeans, the big Jody Watley hoop earrings, the "When I Think Of You" Janet Jackson tenement backdrop, etc. It's too bad Paula Abdul isn't still on this show, because Paula would have loved this. Paige's voice even sounded pretty decent, at least until the very end when she got a little winded. Overall, I liked this, and so did the judges. "That was by far your very best performance. You found your voice, you found your movement, and you seemed at home. This time, you got it right," said L.A. "This was a legitimate risk at this point in the competition, but I think it worked," said Britney. "This is the first time you have looked and sounded like a legitimate pop star," said Simon. I don't think the "X Factor" voters are gonna give Paige up this week.
Fifth Harmony - As I mentioned earlier, this Wednesday was much more lighthearted than last Wednesday...until Fifth Harmony got ready to perform, and the group's Ally Brooke revealed that her grandfather had died this week. And then she started crying, as her bandmates huddled around her supportively. Aw. Poor Ally. But she commendably pulled it together for a performance of Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger," dedicated to her grandpa, and I was actually happy to see these young girls finally doing something uptempo and poppy. "I thought the song really worked for a group. You can tell you worked hard," said Britney. "Your grandfather would be incredibly proud of you tonight," Simon told Ally. The other two judges had mixed reactions, though. The always-easily-bored Demi didn't think the girls moved around enough and said they seemed "awkward," and L.A. griped, "I thought it was good, but I didn't hear harmony. I heard a unison all the way through. I didn't hear an original arrangement." L.A. did sort of have a point--for a group called Fifth Harmony, they don't really harmonize all that much--but I actually appreciated this performance, and I thought all of the girls, especially Ally, showed they are true show-must-go-on professionals.
Carly Rose Sonenclar - Every time I hear a talent show contestant sing an Adele song, I hope it'll be the last time I hear a talent show contestant sing an Adele song. These shows have been rolling deep in the Adele catalog for way too long, and most contestants always pale in comparison to the great Miss Adkins. But I have to say, Carly's "Rolling In The Deep" was one of the better Adele covers I'd heard in a long time. And that was especially surprising, since it's such a vitriolic breakup song--a real woman's song--that most 13-year-olds would never be able to relate to. But man, Carly sold it. L.A. didn't think it was her best effort, but stressed, "Even your second-best is better than everybody else's first-best." Said Demi, "I'm not even your mentor, and I feel proud of you." And Simon said, "The first half was good, the second half was sensational. I believe outside of this show that you, as a 13-year-old, can sell records." I am still not sure what kind of records Carly would make after "The X Factor"--would she go the Jackie Evancho route? I suppose if she did, that'd be okay. Jackie Evancho did sell a LOT of records, after all.
Tate Stevens - Tate may have dropped from the first to second spot on the leaderboard last week, but he's still a force to be reckoned with in this competition. So I suppose he could afford to take a risk by doing something a little different this week, veering away from his usual balladry to strum guitar during the peppy Keith Urban hit "Somebody Like You." It wasn't as emotional or anthemic as some of his past performances, and I was (to use a common Demi Lovato phrase) bored...but it was professional and it felt like a legit concert, and it didn't venture too far outside Tate's box to alienate his fanbase. I doubt he'll reclaim his number-one spot after this, but he'll probably maintain a solid cowboy-booted footing in the top three. "I'm sure we'll be seeing you accept a Country Music Award one day; you're brilliant," said Britney. "The bad news is, you shouldn't dance, but the good news is, you're back with passion," said Simon. (As if Tate was ever really gone. Come on, he was still second out of 10 last week!) Then Simon and Demi got into some icky infighting when Demi stated that she hoped to one day find a husband as loving as family man Tate, and Simon quipped, "I think that might be a bit of a tall order." Not nice. Demi got in the last word/laugh by retorting, "Well, at least I am going to get married one day!" (oh snap), but I still got a bad feeling from this nasty exchange. There have been way too many negative vibes on this show already, and seeing a 20-year-old former bully victim get picked on by a 53-year-old grouch was not feelgood TV.
CeCe Frey - It seems no matter what CeCe does, she cannot win. Literally. When she dressed like Ke$ha and spackled her face with leopard spots...she was in the bottom. When she put on a ballroom gown and dedicated a weepy "Wind Beneath My Wings" to her dead sister...she was in the bottom. I honestly don't know if there's anything this girl could do to get to the finale on this show, or to even avoid having to sing for survival every week. But I at least have to give her props for trying. She's a "trier," according to Simon. (Is that even a word?) It was obvious that her fire had been dimmed during the past few weeks of setbacks, but this week CeCe tried to light it up again with a flashy cover of "Lady Marmalade" that was pretty much the polar opposite of last week's heavy, sobby Bette Midler cover. Unfortunately, CeCe's vocals in no way approximated the greatness of Patti LaBelle (or Christina Aguilera, or Pink, et al), but I have to say, I still enjoyed this confetti-flecked spectacle. I simply prefer sassy CeCe over sappy CeCe. There were shades of Madonna's 1990 VMAs "Vogue" performance, Katy Perry's candy-coated revue, Moulin Rouge...it was theater, it was fluff, and it was fun. "You are definitely a fighter. You're going down, but you're going down fighting," L.A. rudely told CeCe, although he did grudgingly admit, "I hate that I'm gonna say this, but I actually enjoyed that circus." Britney agreed: "I feel like you've definitely stepped it up a notch." But Simon agreed with L.A.'s prediction that CeCe is going down this week. "The problem with that performance was I felt like I'd eaten 62 portions of chocolate cake; I wanted a little slice, and you gave me too much," groaned Simon. "I don't think that is going to endear you to the public at home. My advice tonight is pack a suitcase." Simon and L.A. were probably right, but you never know. CeCe is basically the Nikki McKibbin of "The X Factor," the girl who takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin', and though she'll probably have to sing a "save me" song again this Thursday, she may survive. She's a trier, after all.
Emblem3 - When Emblem3 first auditioned for this show, they claimed they were NOT A BOY BAND OKAY? And even this week, they kept boasting about how they actually play musical instruments and write their own songs. But Simon is determined to package and sell them as a boy band, whether they like it or not. Their pre-performance video showed them being chased through the streets by screaming girlies, and then Simon had them cover "I'm A Believer," by the original manufactured TV boy band, the Monkees. Don't get me wrong, I love me some Monkees--but I was not a believer in this performance. Simon simply does not know what to do with these kids, any more than L.A. knows what to do with Vino Alan. They came to the show with a bit of an edge, and Simon is turning them into the type of band that would have starred in "Camp Rock" with Demi back in the day. (And he kind of did the same thing to Lyric 145, really.) "I just don't understand what Simon is doing with you guys. I don't think this is genuine at all," Demi sighed. "You criticizing me for doing a bad job is ironic," Simon barked back. "I'm a 20-year-old girl, and I say these guys have lost their spark," Demi countered. "And I've sold 300 million records, sweetheart," Simon replied, condescendingly. I think Demi was right this time. If Simon wants to market Emblem3 to fans who are 20 years old and younger, then maybe he should listen to what Demi is saying. But who cares? Clearly the boys are going to get a record deal anyway, since L.A. told them: "If I were the chairman of major record label--which I am--and you were a new band looking to break into the business--which you are--I would sign you." Let's just hope L.A. eventually lets them play their own instruments and play their own songs. At least Chris Rene got to do that last season, but I don't think Emblem3 are going to get that chance as long as Simon is around.
So now it is prediction time. And I think it's fairly obvious who will be in the bottom two this week: CeCe Frey and Vino Alan. Any other outcome would be a major shocker. But major shockers are as common on "The X Factor" as dancers in short-shorts and bad audio mixes, and since this is yet another double-elimination week, there's a chance that a third contestant will end up on the chopping block that truly does not deserve to be there. Who knows? Anything could happen. So come back Thursday to find out what does.
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