The faux-bickering judges decide on the top 12 acts in the first live show

By Annie Barrett
Updated October 26, 2011 at 10:55 AM EDT
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The X Factor

S1 E10
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BOOM! WHOOSH! I have started associating The X Factor with its dramatic sound effects in my mind — the BOOM! of the red ‘X’ logo that always manages to seem like it’s brutally cutting the segment off, and the WHOOSH! of the spotlights lowering to the floor so that the contestant at hand can face judgment. If those spotlights could talk they’d be saying “Time to face the music, bitches.” Even though the music just ended. Well, it’s time to face the bitches, in any case.

As a recapper faced with a daunting 2.5-hour roid-raging laser light show, I loved how quickly the episode was paced. There was no time for it to get too sentimental — despite Paula and Nicole’s tears — because Steve Jones was running out of time and needed a name, damnit! Oh, Steve Jones. His left pointer finger was out of control during that opening bit. I’ll need to keep an eye on that. It should probably have its own camera. The man is oh so attractive and oh so stiff, much like my next drink.

It’s all such a farce. Simon’s “mean” critiques are over-the-top — Nicole and Paula are “spiteful little cats”? Really? — and a well-timed “#SimonvsLA” onscreen let us know that s— was about to get real between the two male judges before they had even exchanged words. But so far all of this is lively and harmless and the sheer stupidity of it makes me feel less dead inside than the most contrived, slow-burning non-feuds on American Idol. So as long as this show keeps taking itself not seriously AT ALL, I’m into it. (It’s a bit like Dancing With the Stars in this way. But let’s not get too deep.)

Here are your Top 17 Acts, whittled down to the Top 12 on Tuesday night’s first live show….

THE BOYS: Astro, Marcus Canty, and Chris Rene

15-year-old Astro — whom Steve Jones hilariously called “this delightful man Astro” — kicked things off with the longest commercial for The X Factor we’ve seen yet via Kris Kross’ “Jump.” X Factor will make ya…jump! jump! Uh huh. He’s good. He’s so obnoxious, but that tends to work in hip hop. I wish I found his constant interjections to the judges — or anything else about him — endearing, but I don’t yet. Don’t worry, I’ll figure out something. The season is almost as young as he is. Bonus points: Paula used the word “nepotism,” and Simon channeled Parks and Recreation‘s Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe) when he told the boys’ judge L.A. Reid, “If this kid doesn’t make it through to the finals, you are lit-ruh-ly insane.”

NEXT: No one’s a believer in Phillip Lomax Chris Rene, bathed in light, sang a very shaky and often off-key version of Rose Royce’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” while L.A. Reid provided emphatic fist pumps from his chair. This guy can’t really sing, huh? It’s all about his backstory. The judges raved about his authenticity — and I guess that would be a big plus but not without actual vocal talent to back it up. He seemed nervous and out of his element and I was just kind of confused. Maybe I’m Dexter Haygood!

Phillip Lomax has his own two-bedroom apartment? Are we sure he needs $5 million? Huge red flag. There was so much going on during his Smashmouth-y yet cruise-shippy rendition of “I’m a Believer” that I barely paid attention to Phillip. How did L.A. Reid expect me to focus when the backup dancers were wearing red plaid cookie tin hats? Aw, the love child of Tony Danza and Donny Osmond never really stood a chance. ELIMINATED.

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I love that “Hide” is an option.

I thought Marcus Canty connected with the audience and delivered a good performance of Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” but it seemed like he was concentrating harder on his “bicycling in place” choreography than staying on pitch. I still like his voice, though. Simon randomly decided that this was the contestant he’d use as a gateway to mention the $5 million contract and Pepsi commercial again. “The Pepsi commercial. I like you.” That’s what it’s all about.

Oh good! Steve Jones will be pronouncing it Twittah. Y’all can vote via Twitter starting next week.

GROUPS: InTENsity, Lakoda Rayne and The Stereo Hogzz

The lead singer of Stereo Hogzz was the only one with ZERO SLEEVES as part of his cheesy black leather outfit, so you knew right away he was special. I liked the way their version Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” started out slow, followed by a rap section and an uptempo ending. The variation was key because otherwise their carefully orchestrated choreography might have become annoying. “There is nothing right now in the charts like you,” said Simon. “There should be.” He would later say the same thing to Lakoda Rayne. Simon loves these groups almost as much as he (begrudgingly) loves Paula.

NEXT: The Brewer Boys get sacked by “throwaway” hoedown choreography

The Brewer Boys struggled to deliver on a mashup of Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl” and George Michael’s “Faith” — I’m pretty sure it was fine vocally, but the brothers were seated on stacked cubes the whole time while two clumps of sometimes-lively “dancers” played the role of “just hangin’ out” underneath them. So awkward! These teenagers can rest assured that if Nicole Scherzinger was a teenager again, they’d be “all over her walls” (ew?) — but the answer is no. Sorry cuties. You seem very talented and polite. ELIMINATED.

“Last week, I was at college, taking up nursing,” glowered a former student. A career! How awful. A career! I can already tell I will not be able to deal with InTENsity, the 10-teen group thrown together by producers at the end of the audition rounds. They sang a medley of Cupid’s “369” and Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose” and there was just so much going on. That first blonde girl was terrible. Ha, I sound like Simon. “You in the red jacket. You have a good voice,” he said to a girl who turned out to be Ellona Santiago. She is one yummy pumpkin to watch.

“Guys, you’re gonna wanna date ’em,” said Paula, the groups’ pimp, while introducing girl group Lakoda Rayne. I really liked their version of Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ “Come on Eileen.” What could be better than four chicks singing about their thoughts, which are dirty, in front of stock footage of the desert? I kept flashing back to Madonna’s video for “Don’t Tell Me,” which actually served in the girls’ favor because I was like ooh, they’re not all riding a mechanical bull here, that’s so classy.

OVER-30s: LeRoy Bell, Stacy Francis, Josh Krajcik

Dexter Haygood brought his particular brand of crazy to an equally crazy mashup of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” and Britney Spears’ “Womanizer.” You would never see this on American Idol. Because it’s crazy. It felt so wrong that it felt right, said Simon. “It’s like the weirdest milkshake in the world, but I kind of like the taste of it.” Perhaps he can ask his personal chef to throw a little Dex factor into his next scientifically engineered smoothie. The guy could certainly use the cash in exchange for his deposit. ELIMINATED. And Steve Jones totally cut Nicole off as she did it!

I believe Paula was trying to tell LeRoy Bell he sounded like Michael Bolton on Pink’s “Nobody Knows,” but what she said was this: “I’ve known someone since seven years old, it’s Michael Bolton, I love his voice and I love your voice.” Ooh, I love puzzles. LeRoy’s vocal was strong and simple here, and I didn’t think he was as nervous and awkward as Simon apparently did. In fact according to EW’s on-the-scene report, LeRoy was a massive hit with the ladies in the audience. But will his performances need to be more exciting for him to stand a chance against the more elaborate productions? Ooh, I just became depressed.

NEXT: Is Stacy Francis a church singer or a pop star? Simon says….

Stacy Francis‘ rendition of George Michael’s “One More Try” wasn’t as mind-blowing as her other performances have been, but maybe that’s because the mascara monsters who live in her eyes weren’t released by the usual gush of tears. The misunderstanding between Stacy and Simon about what kind of artist she should be was a little jarring. “You’re a church singer.” “Simon, I want to be a pop star.” Uh oh.

I kept waiting for Josh Krajcik‘s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” to really kick in and it never did, but I guess that was the point of it. His voice is beautiful — it “just roars,” according to Coach Nicole — but I found the interpretive dancers distracting. Really, really funny, but distracting. I wish they had just stuck with the total blackness featuring two blue beams that looked like they were about to swallow Josh right up into the shimmery abyss where, possibly, his jacket had come from. “It was understated. You made a point. It was a really big deal,” said Simon. “You are the artist I fear.” What’s to fear, dear? This artist still has a last name!

THE GIRLS: Melanie Amaro, Rachel Crow, and Drew

Simone Battle was a total trainwreck on “Dub Be Good to Me,” featuring sooooo many backup dancers in ’80s exercise wear. She knew she wasn’t selling it and seemed a little surprised that oops, maybe she couldn’t actually pull off a live dance number. I’m convinced Simon just threw Simone and Tiah into the mix so that there could be at least two bona fide WTF Productions with a capital P during the first live show. Tiah’s in particular was so ridiculous that I’m pretty okay with that.

I’m obsessed with Simone’s video for “He Likes Boys.” It’s kitschy. It’s funny. Hey, if the Real Housewives can do it, why can’t she? At least she sounds pretty good.

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We’ve all been there!

I like Rachel Crow‘s Janelle Monae makeover, but found the pop/retro combo of Justin Bieber’s “Baby” and the Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go” a little too in-your-face for her first performance. It’ll have to be all about spectacle and stage production with her because her vocals are about 50 percent terrible. Sometimes she does hit a good run of notes — well, notes is the wrong word. I think she’s most effective when she’s sort of “acting out” the lyrics without much of a melody. Actually, Rachel’s presence in the top three girls gives new meaning to the idea of all the contestants on this show as “acts.” It’s not my cup of spiked tea just yet, but I get what they’re going for. Maybe it’ll work. Paula has already encouraged the 13-year-old to run for president, so it sounds like we’re definitely on the right track.

NEXT: Drew who? Don’t call her ‘Ryniewicz’Drew (she’s only known as one name now; thank god I don’t have to keep trying to spell the other one) was channeling a particularly strung-out Rosanna Arquette in the ’80s with her messy up-do and emotional delivery of Irene Cara’s “Flashdance…What a Feeling.” I love her voice. I do wonder if I’ll get tired of the constant lilting on every note. But then again, I wore out my Sarah McLachlan CDs in the late ’90s, so the answer is probably no. “Drew, I would go to your concert,” said Nicole. “You’re classic and you took my breath away.” And Drew would be the one…to hold her down…kiss her so hard…she’d take her breath away…. Sorry, guys. It just became a “Possession” kind of paragraph. It’s also three in the morning.

I kind of liked Tiah Tolliver in the end. I mean, she can’t sing at all, but she’s a spirited little weirdo and was refreshingly unrehearsed during the candid moments — the opposite of fame robot Simone. I thought her over-produced stage show loosely based on the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams” was hilarious. I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to drop acid and tiptoe through a haunted forest presided over by the sistah version of a mashup between The Craft and the promos for ABC’s Once Upon a Time. Now I know. ELIMINATED.

I was a little disappointed with Simon’s song choice for Melanie Amaro, Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” We all knew she could pull it off. Where do you even go from there? I was very glad, though, that Melanie delivered the best “natural cry” of the night. I even teared up along with her during her shared sob with Nicole, even though Nicole was involved. Anyway, Melanie is still fabulous and I hope she doesn’t get the “boring” edit too soon.

Next Wednesday the Top 12 will perform for your Twittah votes. Did you enjoy this two and a half hour laser show? Who are you dying to hear sing again? Don’t die!

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