Reality Rocks

‘The X Factor’ Top 16 Recap: Seeing ‘Red’

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

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James Kenney's "Red" loses out to Jeff Gutt's Pink

This Tuesday, the "X Factor" top 16 performed live for the first time this season, and let's just say things didn't turn out quite the way I'd hoped. My favorite contestants in the Girls and Over 25's categories went home, and as the night wore on, the temptation to switch over to "The Voice" mid-show grew stronger and stronger.

Who, or what, was to blame? The misguided coaches? Silly old social media, aka the supposed "fifth judge"? If it was the latter, then that was particularly unfair, since the show started tallying tweets from fans at noon on Tuesday, hours before any of these contestants had performed — thus turning the show into even more of a popularity contest that it already was.

I have a feeling some of the judges' decisions won't be so popular with the viewers who were robbed of their chances to vote for certain contestants, however. Here's what happened, and who went home:

THE GIRLS (mentored by Demi Lovato)

Ellona Santiago - Singing "Till the World Ends," Ellona sounded a whole lot better than ex-"X Factor" judge Britney Spears ever did — and she handled some choreography while singing live, too! Let's see Brit Brit do that. Ellona's performance rushed by in what felt like 30 seconds, which was a good sign: That meant I wanted more. Kelly Rowland called her "one to watch." Paulina Rubino said this was a "great opening." Simon Cowell said, "I believed in you, and I was right. You're here to win it." Demi Lovato told Ellona she "worked it," and gave her a Z-formation snap. Ellona definitely had the X-factor tonight.

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Danie Geimer – Danie the nerdy girl did "Wrecking Ball" in the least Miley-ish way possible: no nekkidness, no gross hammer-licking, no tighty whiteys. This was a classy, nicely understated performance...but it had its pitch problems. However, I liked Danie's raw, tender emotiveness. Simon said she had "real moments there," but asked (probably rhetorically), "How do we make you not boring? I'm not sure you have the X-factor." Even Danie's own coach Demi said the performance "lacked energy." Paulina said, well, nothing. With Khaya Cohen and Rion Paige still yet to perform, I started to worry for my Danie girl.

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Rion Paige – Rion emoted like crazy on Demi's own "Skyscraper," and her performance was believable and relatable, with a lot of heart. How could anyone not root for this girl? She pretty much embodied what this anthem is about. Paulina praised Rion's courage. Simon loved the "brilliant" song choice, which Rion pointed out was her own. Demi was beaming proudly. There was no way Rion would be going home after this. Once again, I worried for Danie.

Khaya Cohen – Danie's only hope, really, was that Khaya would mess up. But Khaya did not mess up. Khaya's song, Duffy's "Mercy," was perfect for her sassy-soul style, and her voice sounded superb on this track. Even her styling and cutesy Motown moves were on point. However, for a moment it seemed like Khaya was at risk. Kelly thought Khaya seemed "uncomfortable at times," Simon questioned Khaya's likability factor, and Demi actually agreed with Kelly and Simon.

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But in the end, it was indeed Danie who went home. It was unclear how much the "fifth judge," aka social media, had to do with this outcome, since Khaya was polling the highest on Twitter Tuesday evening, but Rion had been in last place. I thought all four girls did well, but I wish Danie could have gotten a shot. I think she would have brought a bit of edge and quirk that "The X Factor" dearly needs to compete with the arguably cooler "The Voice." Oh well.

THE BOYS (mentored by Paulina Rubio)

Josh Levi – I would have given this teen extra credit for singing, "I want you to make ME feel like I'm the only girl in the world" with a straight face, without fear of being bullied at school later. But of course, he gender-flipped the lyric. That's OK. Josh's vocal wasn't perfect, but he mastered the choreography, and the potential for pop stardom was clearly there. Even Demi saw that, even if she didn't dig the song choice. Simon said Josh needed a "helluva lot of work" on his vocals. Paulina, his own coach, mispronounced his name. That was not a good sign.

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Carlos Guevara – Carlos had already proven himself to be one of this season's finest and most distinctive vocalists, and I loved the his gritty, gruff take on Swedish House Mafia's "Don't You Worry Child." His performance skills needed some fine-tuning, but the voice was there. Something special was definitely there. Kelly "adored" this "spiritual" performance, despite some pitch issues. Simon admitted that he was surprised by how good Carlos was. Demi complained that she couldn't hear Carlos's vocals all that well (the "X Factor" band is REALLY LOUD), but she applauded his likability. All this praise, combined with Carlos's top position on the Boys' social media leaderboard, solidified his place in the top 12.

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Carlito Olivero – The ex-Menudo member stuck to his Latin roots by doing Santana's "Maria Maria." The performance felt a little dated, but he definitely sold the song — all that time in the rebooted Menudo had clearly trained him well for the stage. Demi told him he had a "spot in the market." Simon actually said he'd sign Carlito based on this "fantastic" performance and said, "The chicks are gonna love you!" Carlito's coach Paulina said she was "sweating" and called him her "Latin lover," which was a bit icky…but it was high praise coming from the least-likely-to-make-sense judge on the panel. And hey, she got his name right.

Tim Olstad – Carlos and Carlito had pretty much secured their positions, which meant that last spot in the top 12 was either going to Josh or Tom. Tim definitely seemed at risk; remember, he'd almost gone home once before, until Paulina had a last-minute change of heart during the Four-Chair Challenge. But then he sang Bon Jovi's "Always" this evening. Whoa. Who was this guy? Where did he come from? This was a stellar vocal. I had no idea that shy, awkward Tim had it in him. Oddly, Paulina's fellow judges weren't feeing this — Demi said Tim dragged the show's energy down, and Simon compared Tim to a funeral director — but for me, this was the first time Tim hadn't bored me.

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In the end, Paulina chose to send home Josh — the contestant on her team with the most pop-star potential, but with the weakest vocal of the night. Poor kid. It's too bad he hadn't had more time to grow. But hey, that's what happens when you cut out the Boot Camp and the Judges' Houses rounds…

THE OVER 25'S (mentored by Kelly Rowland)

Lillie McCloud – Just give the Syco record contract to Lillie already and save us all a few weeks, OK? There was no contest here. Tonight, Lillie was in a whole other league. Her "When a Man Loves a Woman" was the performance of a true star — amazing look, impeccable vocal, stunning stage presence, great hair. To be fair, the woman has decades of professional experience, so of course she was going to outshine the Girls and Boys who are less than a third her age. But she truly was incredible. How was she never a huge star before this? Kelly called her "the best vocalist here." Paulina called her a "goddess." Simon criticized Lillie's "dated" and "Broadway"-style theatrics, but called her "one heckuva singer." Lillie went into some grand speech, begging Kelly to let her stay. But such soapboxing was unnecessary. Come on, Lillie wasn't going anywhere.

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Jeff Gutt – Of course I appreciated Jeff bringing the rock to a largely rock-free show, even when doing a song by Pink. But I couldn't help wishing that he would just front a band. He was giving me some Stephen Jenkins '90s realness here. He didn't seem like a solo artist to me. I think after "The X Factor," he should pull a Chris Daughtry and start a band called GUTT, with a logo in some sort of Gaelic, pointy font. Anyway, all that being said, Jeff did command the stage on "Try." He rocked it. Demi said she loved what Jeff brought to the competition. Simon called the performance "raw, honest, and bloody brilliant!" This is when I started to worry for Jeff's biggest rival — and one of my favorite contestants this season — James Kenney.

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Rachel Potter – Rachel the ex-Broadway star once again tried to convince America that she's a country singer. This time, however, I think she succeeded. Her "I Hope You Dance" performance was really strong, and it was actually believably country. There was even a hint of twang! Paulina loved Rachel's tone. Simon said, "The last time we heard you sing, you were horrible…I have to give you credit, and Kelly credit to bringing you back into the competition. That song was perfect for you." Simon even said Rachel was better than Lillie this evening. Well, I don’t know about that…but this was good. Whatever happened next, Rachel already had the redemption she wanted.

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James Kenney – James's rich, soulful, buttery voice sounded magnificent on Daniel Merriweather's "Red" an interesting song choice for sure (not Taylor Swift's "Red," as some fans had guessed from clues he posted on Twitter, though that would have been interesting too). The blue-eyed soul ballad was great for his voice, and he sounded like an updated version of Simply Red, Paul Young, or George Michael. I was feeling it. So were Demi and Paulina. Simon unfavorably compared James to Jeff, as if the show couldn't make room for the both of them, which ticked me off. I'd totally co-sign a Jeff/James Season 3 finale!

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But apparently Kelly got Simon's memo that there could only be one handsome thirtysomething dad on the show this season, so she cut….James. Ugh. And Mario Lopez didn't even let James say goodbye. Why, Kelly, why? This one hurt me more than Danie's elimination. The pain I felt when James went home during the top 32 stage of Season 1 came rushing back anew, like a ripped-open psychic wound. Kelly made a really foolish decision here. I think if James had gotten the opportunity to perform for public votes, he would have gone far. (Yes, he was in last place in social media, but check out this "X Factor" tweet and let the conspiracy-theorizing commence.)

Was Simon serious when he was talking all that jazz about bringing back a wild card this season? If so, the wild card needs to be James. For real.

THE GROUPS (mentored by Simon Cowell)

Roxxy Montana – Lorde's "Royals" was an unexpected song choice for these Motor City divas, but I thought they were total queen bees here. This was their best vocal to date, and they looked like stars, like destiny's children. Kelly said, "I'm excited for you guys." Paulina told the sisters, "You guys are like the next supergroup." Simon praised them for how far they'd come. Would they rule, rule, rule "The X Factor"? They were dead last in the social media polling, but then again, Rion had been last in her category, so the sisters still had a shot, after a royal performance like this.

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Sweet Suspense – I still haven’t figured out the appeal of this manufactured trio. I was surprised that they survived the Four-Chair Challenge over groups like Yellow House Canyon, Wild Thingz, even Girls United. Their cover of Icona Pop's "I Don't Care" didn't impress me much this week. I didn't care for it (heh). The girls certainly looked the part, and they exuded a lot of energy, but their vocals were not amazing and their harmonies were non-existent. Remember that time when L.A. Reid called Fifth Harmony "Fifth Unison"? Well, these three girls were like Third Unison. But the judges loved this performance, oddly. Demi called them "stars," and Simon proudly raved, "That's what I call a pop group. It was magic." All-righty, then.

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Alex & Sierra – Miley Cyrus should watch Alex & Sierra to get an idea of how to do a truly sexy version of "Blurred Lines." Kelly thought this performance wasn't sexy enough, but I adored this. Their chemistry was off the charts (like "Bono and Cher," as Paulina would say), and I once again appreciated how Alex & Sierra made the song their own — it was like if David Cook and Kris Allen were a couple, and one of them was a chick, and they went on "The X Factor"! Or something like that. My point is, this was the performance of the night for me. I know I wanted it.

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Restless Road – I'm not sure if Restless Road were as successful at making Katy Perry's "Roar" their own. This number lacked the oomph of their game-changing Four-Chair Challenge performance. They did not have the eye of the tiger, and I did not hear them roar. The performance only got decent once the backing band and backup singers kicked in and drowned them out. But I knew they'd be safe. Kelly vowed to buy every Restless Road record, Paulina raved about their chemistry, and Simon gave them a standing ovation. There was no way that Restless Road would be hitting the road.

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In the end, and in another shocker, Simon cut…Roxxy Montana. Whaaaa? I would have cut Sweet Suspense. Guess I should have tweeted more...

So there you have it. Danie, Josh, James, and Roxxy Montana are gone. And maybe a large chunk of "The X Factor's" audience will go with them. We shall see next Wednesday, when the top 12 compete for public votes for the first time — something Danie, Josh, James, and Roxxy sadly never got the chance to do.

Will there will be a wild card in that top 12 mix? Well, Simon did tweet "one big fat oops" towards the end of the show, implying that he thought a mistake had been made, so it's possible. I'll leave you with that cliffhanger, then, and see you next week.

Related links:
"The X Factor's" G+ Hangout with Danie, Khaya, Ellona, Josh, and Tim
Simon invites Sinead O'Connor to guest-judge "The X Factor"
More about "The X Factor"
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