Break out the scary lasers! The Top 16 acts take the live stage for the first time

By Annie Barrett
November 01, 2012 at 03:52 AM EDT
FOX
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Welcome to the live laser shows, y’all! The production is as ridiculous as ever and the staging just as laughable. To spice up the status quo, Britney Spears said the word “amazing” three billion times. Don’t trust those faces she makes. Our girl is having fun!

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s two-hour live show was the debut of new season 2 hosts Khloe Kardashian and Mario Lopez. I’m not sure we even need any sort of host for The X Factor, let alone two. Just a crew member to tell people where to stand, via their earpieces, would be juuuuuust fine. Or maybe some sparkly bookends that could threateningly close in on the contestants after each song. But no, instead we have KK and MarLo. They’re just sort of nonentities, really! And that’s fine with me. Any more of them would be overkill.

Let’s move onto the performances, keeping in mind to beware of Simon Cowell’s peaceful fangs.

Not to mention….

BRITNEY’S BANGS.

Happy Halloweeeeeeeeeeeeen, suckas! Love you like a sister! I love you, too.

YOUNG ADULTS

“It would be amazing if we could shave your head,” Demi Lovato informed Paige Thomas. Done! Now she has zero to very little hair and will just be wearing crazy and hilarious headpieces from now on. That is completely and uttah-ly cool with me. I feel like if you’re gonna commit to watching The X Factor, why not hope that it’s as over-the-top as possible? And Paige’s performance of “What Is Love” was just that. Paige was flanked by many backup dancers wearing these weird bodysuits that suggested “skeletons” but instead of bones it was, like, wheels and gears. Because they’re all tools! And she sported an odd porcupine helmet on her head. Her voice sounded weak to me, but maybe I was overwhelmed by all the “glamour.”

Silly L.A. Reid claimed that “What Is Love” was never a hit in the U.S. Ummmmm has he never seen the World Happiness Dance episode of My So-Called Life or Will Ferrell’s finest film? Sir, please.

NEXT: Aggggggggh! Shiny jeans!

Jennel Garcia totally dazzled with her powerhouse rendition of “Home Sweet Home” — a performance heavy on vocals with not terribly much going on in the background to distract us. It was almost Idol-like, with her all alone on that elevated disc. (Or like one of Derek Hough’s routines on Dancing With the Stars, if that’s your thing. It’s probably not.) No one expected such a confident, slithering-down-the-mic-stand romp from Jennel after her lackluster Judges’ Homes performance. “You just defined the theme ‘Made in America’,” Simon cooed to Jennel, who by the way became a real rock star this week by having her hair slightly darkened. Simon accused Demi of trying to turn Jennel into a clone of her. “That is complete narcissism,” he faux-complained. He would know!

CeCe Frey has abandoned her former “I’m better than all y’all bitches” attitude in favor of a wide-eyed ingenue (act) who can’t believe she “kind of feels like a pop star.” Whatever, Leopard Face! You’re not fooling anyone. But I absolutely don’t care because CeCe — now a blonde Muppet (I’m sure Demi was going for Gaga, but it came out Ke$ha) — was very entertaining on “Because the Night.” Sure her vocal kind of sucked, but she’s “fearless and interesting and that’s what I like about pop stars,” Simon said. Who cares if she can sing? Don’t you know which show you’re watching? God. Don’t be weird. Really, though, for some reason I am finding this contestant amusing as hell.

Whaaaaat was Willie Jones thinking with a matte blue jacket over SHINY JEANS? Those pants may haunt me forever. Willie went with “Here for the Party” and stood high atop a pyramid of bar flies in Daisy Dukes to prove what a leading ladies man he is. He’s really not, though, huh? His vocal did nothing for me (the super-low ending was pretty cringe-y) and I found myself concentrating on his backup dancers’ wildly whipping hair. Simon thought it all felt a bit cheap and he and Demi engaged in a tiff about how old and irrelevant Simon is now so why doesn’t he just shut up? Then Khloe Kardashian demanded that Simon name the song he would have chosen for Willie instead. Simon refused. Good one, Khlomeister!

TEENS

Demi complained that the screaming girls in the crowd made it impossible to hear Arin Ray‘s vocals on “You Keep Me Hanging On,” but I was more thrown off by the faulty smokestacks that kept leaking, as if they were legitimate backup singers screeching the wrong lines in the wrong key. Go home, smokestacks! Those things were obnoxious and totally pointless, of course, but they might have actually made me like Arin’s vocal more because I was so relieved when I could actually focus on it. He’s much more commanding and has a better stage presence than I’d assumed he could be/have as a solo artist. Good for him.

I thought Diamond White stood out in that she looked very at ease and natural interacting mid-song with her backup dancers on a teen-ified, revved up rendition of “Hey Soul Sister.” This was fun! I mean, it was totally ridiculous and a perfect example of what to expect from The X Factor, but whatever! Fun. L.A. thought Diamond seemed mechanical “until you went in the cage and started to own the song.” Isn’t that always the case? A cage can change everything.

NEXT: Promise me you will never crimp that hair again, young lady I know this will sound mean, but with her pile of crazy crimped hair and puffy, colorful, collage-style jacket, from far away I thought Beatrice Miller was a pile of garbage on the stage. That’s terrible! I’m sorry. I was just confused, and there was so much smoke. She’s seriously adorable and I love her. But oof, the whole “squatting in a cloud” motif during “I Won’t Give Up On Us” — featuring shooting star graphics all around her and an enormous image of Beatrice herself wearing a bow tie as a standalone necklace? — all of this seemed like brutal staging to me. Her voice is so delish! No more Garbage Pail Kid costuming for this one, please. Britney called Beatrice “the best,” twice. Could be, could be.

Carly Rose Sonenclar had my favorite vocal of the night, though, with “Something’s Got a Hold On Me.” The judges were right that she looked uncomfortable with the outlandish staging, schoolgirl theme, and general imperative to COMMAND ALL THE COOL KIDS AND HAVE A BLAST. That is definitely not Carly’s thing. That’s Britney’s thing, fresh from the late ’90s. I almost wish I hadn’t seen this performance at all. But if you just select the pure vocal from the whole experience, she’s just so undeniably good. Demi was pretty harsh with this little one: “It’s not your time right now, but no doubt you will have a future in the music industry.” Huh? Just because she didn’t think copying the “Baby One More Time” video was “fun”? Let’s not get it twisted.

THE OLDS

L.A. Reid had to take an extra swig of Pepsi after David Correy‘s “My Love Is Your Love” — that’s how jazzed he was about his sparkly-hearted, rapidly aging team member. (L.A. said he’d made peace with having to deal with the decrepit over-25 monsters, but the disgust was still there.) I actually didn’t see what Simon accused David of — desperately begging the audience to like him — but maybe I was just focused on the way his voice sounded. I’m so stupid sometimes. I ended up digging his vocal. “I felt you a lot,” chimed in Britney. “It was amazing.” This time David gave a shout-out to his mom and dad. Which long-lost relative is next?

Vino Alan got to use the mic stand that was just ONE GIANT HARDCORE CHAIN, so we’d know we were in for a real gnarly hard-rocking performance. His “Gotta Be Somebody” wasn’t my favorite, especially at the beginning when I could barely hear him due to low tones — but he kicked it into gear near the middle, and the “exploding disco ball” visuals surrounding his rough ‘n’ tough tattooed noggin definitely upped the experience for me. “I have to say I was a little bored,” said Demi, who was extremely frank and fearless in her criticism the whole night. (Not all of what she said made total sense, but when Simon and L.A. spend the whole time lying about each other’s contestants anyway, why shouldn’t Demi jump in the ring and have some fun?) Demi did see the passion in Vino’s eyes, though.

Simon was upset that the song’s arrangement turned Vino into “some horrible cover singer.” He’d like him to try a soul song next. “You completely and uttah-ly c— blocked him,” Simon bitched to L.A. Heyyyyy, five-second-delay bleepage! Good of you to join us.

Tate Stevens was like Jennel Garcia for me — really strong vocal on “I Thought I Was Tough,” with no crazy accoutrements on the stage to complain about, really. For me (for you?) he doesn’t have the XXX factor Jennel has, though. Will X Factor voters care about a traditional country singer? We haven’t seen it yet, but who knows? Tate is not allowed to go back home until he’s won five million dollars (on direct orders from his daughter at the dinner table), so he betta werk.

NEXT: Simon disapproves of the ultimate gay parade Simon was super harsh on Jason Brock after his ridiculously over-the-top “Dance Again” circus show, but come on, Simon! This is your show. You created this monster. You approved green glowsticks in the audience. Just deal with a little gayness once and a while. I thought this performance was not only well-sung but hilarious. Most of the annoyingly flashy X Factor routines are things I would never share with friends because they’re so bad they’re terrible, but I don’t know — this one delighted me! I’m such a loser, really, but I didn’t mind it. I liked the haunting organ background at the beginning (Halloween!) and the stuff on the giant screens, which as far as I could tell featured a combination of a heart rate monitor and a Lite-Brite board containing sequins instead of the traditional light pegs. Sure, it was a s—show. But it didn’t mean Jason wasn’t talented. Keep him in!

Oh, but Jason’ll probably be out after he inappropriately asked if he could pinch Mario Lopez’s butt. This aggression will not stand, man.

THE GROUPS

“You’ve got to like these girls, because they really are nice people,” Simon implored the audience before Sister C took the stage. Wow, way to make them sound as boring as possible, Coach! Thanks for doing your part. “Hell On Heels” was vocally excellent at times, but I felt like they barely engaged with the crowd and didn’t quite fit into this arena-type setting. I picture them in a recording studio putting down tracks for other, flashier stars to record in the future. Is that mean? They have terrific voices. I’m just not so into the presentation.

The X Factor is clearly stuck in the ’90s and despite a rousing rendition of “Gangnam Style,” Lyric 145 didn’t do much to stray from that theme. They’re fun, though. The long-haired guy was screeching in parts and the whole thing was more of an all-out COLORS AND GRAPHICS assault than a performance intended to showcase talent. I’d love to see what they could do without so much crap accompanying them onstage. L.A. called out Simon’s song choice — “it sounded like somebody put you in a washer, dumped in bleach, and took all the soul out of you.” But Simon protested: “To make rappers work in a competition like this, it has to be commercial.” Hopefully they can settle on an appropriate middle ground. “I was genuinely entertained,” offered Britney. “That’s it.”

1432 (formerly LYLAS) had an off night with what L.A. called “a talent show version of the greatest song in the world.” The song in question? “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” by Taylor Swift. Yeah. Okay, L.A. The girls’ performance was hokey, but I can’t forget their beautiful collaboration on “Impossible” at Simon’s “home,” so I’m gunning for a big comeback night from these five girls should they have to sing for their lives tonight. Khloe made Demi name the group member she thought stood out — it was Camila. “I thought the others should know,” insisted Khloe. The producer screaming into her earpiece is really making her work hard for that overinflated salary!

Finally, Emblem3 shocked everyone with a non-douchey, well-blended cover of “One Day,” featuring a particularly strong solo performance by Mr. Tank Top’s armpit hair. Perhaps our sneering surfer bros are longer for this competition than I’d assumed. Oh, and Demi has (or has been instructed to act like she has) a crush on them and won’t be able to make eye contact with them when they sing directly to the judges. Suuuuuuuuuure. “For anyone watching this band for the first time,” trilled Simon, “remember this night, because you are seeing a future superstar here.”

On tonight (Thursday)’s show, eight of the top 16 acts will sing for survival and four will head home. Who’s it gonna be? And who were your favorites from Wednesday? Discuss!

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Video reply time! Ask Annie anything about ‘The X Factor’ — or whatever — below.

Simon Cowell, Demi Lovato, Kelly Rowland, and Paulina Rubio judge Season 3.
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