Amid all the crazy pomp and breathless circumstance pounding out of last night’s first live episode of The X Factor, it can be a bit easy to forget that the show does boast an impressive roster of talent. EW caught up with the show’s Top 12 contestants as they spoke with press after the show, and asked them about how much they collaborate with their respective mentors, what songs they’re most keen to sing in the weeks ahead, and how their lives have most changed from their first audition to now. Some of their answers may surprise you:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How much involvement have you had in your song choices and overall performance on the show?
ASTRO: I think I was very involved with it. Me and L.A., we decided the song. L.A. watched me rehearse the performance. He thought it was great. [X Factor choreographer] Brian [Friedman] told me where to move at certain spots. My step-pops helped me a lot. But I think I was very involved in the whole performance. I told them, you know, I don’t want too much dancing going on.
CHRIS RENE: I get a fair amount of input into the song. We throw ideas back and forth, and see what sticks, what emotions we’re trying to get over here. Tonight was a sad emotion. It was losing love, and a lot of people have been through that. As far as my performance, it felt like a good time, but I thought I could’ve done a little more, you know?
MARCUS CANTY: You know, something that I loved about the whole X Factor is that they allow me to remain who I am, the person that everyone fell in love with from the first audition. Even with choreography — Brian [Friedman]’s great, man. He just showed me some staging things that I didn’t know at first to make the show look good. As I got to it, he allowed me to be me. At first [L.A. Reid] just gave me the song. Of course, it’s Boy George, so I’m kind of like, “Ehhhh, I don’t know, L.A.” But as the song came around and developed, I had to take myself outside of Boy George and make it me.
THE STEREO HOGZZ:
KG: Working with Paula Abdul, she knows that we have our own style. What she allows us to do is portray ourselves the way we want to. She’ll allow us to make up the routines, which we’ve been doing, but then she’s that new eye. She sees it and she knows how to clean it up because of her experience in performing and singing and going on tours and working with people like Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson. She gives her input and we put it to action.
Emily Wilson: We get a good amount of input. The first day that we got here, we sat down with Paula and some producers and vocal coaches and we sat there literally the whole day just looking for song choices. So they really do let us voice our opinion in there.
Arin Ray: They want to see what they have for us [for choreography]. They want to see their vision of us doing what they want on the stage.
LAKODA RAYNE (Dani Knight): It took us 13 hours to find the perfect song. The girls ended up picking that song. Hayley [Orrantia] and Paige [Elizabeth] had sent in the song previously via email to Paula. We practiced it, we loved it, all us girls decided on the song together. We had 100 percent of that input, and with Paula’s blessing we ended up doing that song. [NOTE: Due to child labor laws restricting how long minors can work in a single day, Knight ended up speaking for the rest of her group for the entire interview.]
LEROY BELL: I didn’t come up with the song initially. I hadn’t actually heard the song before. I’m familiar with some of Pink’s stuff, but not that much. I didn’t quite get it right off, but when I started listening to the lyrics, I thought, well, the lyrics I relate to. So we worked the arrangement, so then I kind of forgot about the way she did it, and make it my own.
STACY FRANCIS: Nicole picked the song. We’re trying to find songs that are not so predictable. I did “Purple Rain” [for the Judges’ houses round], and that was a Prince song. And now we just did a George Michael song and flipped it. So it’s not like so predictable, to do Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, or Mariah. I kinda want to do one of those [Laughs], but I’m willing to be creative. So that’s where we are with it.
JOSH KRAJCIK: Well, there’s a lot of collaboration between [Nicole] and I. She made the choice in the song, and it was the right choice. The song’s great. It’s a powerful message I think the song has, and it’s a beautifully written song. I just kind of cleared my head and just did it. Didn’t think about it. For me, if I don’t think about it, I usually feel a little bit better.
RACHEL CROW: I have let’s say 95 percent of the input on my songs. I really love that. I feel like the song when I have input on it, it’s more me. Actually, I would say more 75 percent I have, and the 25 percent is, like, Simon. Because I really want his opinion. If he doesn’t like something and I look at it back, I know, ooo, that was not good, why did I do that? Now I feel really good about all my songs, with Simon’s opinion, and I’m just great.
DREW: The mentors give us song selections that maybe we would want to do, but overall, Simon told me he wants me to feel comfortable with the song that I do. And so if I don’t feel comfortable, don’t do it, even if everyone likes it. He said that I should feel comfortable first.
MELANIE AMARO: I had lots of input in choosing my song. I think that when I chose the song, I think that Simon approved of it. I was working with the choreographer, Brian Friedman, and getting some direction as well from Simon as what to do during my song.