So here's the deal, I'm warming up to this X Factor thing.
It's like any competition show: you can have good judges, high production values, a pleasant host, but it's the talent that keeps you coming back week after week. And some of what I saw in the Newark auditions definitely got my interest up.
The most engaging person I've seen so far is Tora Woloshin. Everything about her was a breath of fresh air, from her two-tone hair, tattoos, flowy patterned dress and hot pink boots, to the fact she wants to build race cars, to her atypical song choice, the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back."
At only 21, she already knows how to command a stage and had the crowd up dancing. She just needs to be careful as she's moving around that she saves enough breath to sustain her notes, but there's no question the girl can sing.
"There's something about you the minute you walk out," Simon Cowell told her on Thursday's episode. "That's why this show is called The X Factor. It's more than just the voice, it's something else, and I think you could be special, I really do."
Of course, some of the auditioners were special in a bad way. For a while, it seemed like the poor viewers were being punished as one bad contestant after another took the stage.
I asked myself the same thing I do when I hear the caterwauling during Idol auditions: do these people genuinely have no idea what they sound like? It's one thing to stand there and bomb in front of a handful of judges, and maybe a few camera persons and producers, but in front of an auditorium of almost 5,000 people? That takes a special kind of delusion.
It's always the same story: their friends and family tell them they can sing. Psssst, that's because they're lying. Take Clarissa Cheatham, a.k.a. Cashmere, who said people scream her name when she sings karaoke, which had Simon almost doubled up with laughter. "When you said people scream afer karaoke, I don't think that was a compliment," Simon told Clarissa after she'd massacred Mariah Carey's "Always Be My Baby."
The judges were kinder to Andy Silikovitz. At first I thought this might be a Susan Boyle situation: unattractive person opens their mouth and out comes a great voice. It seemed especially apt when Andy told host Steve Jones, "I don't think I've ever kissed a girl before." I'm not sure if Andy has any cats, like Susan, but the 43-year-old showed up with his mother.
Alas, there was no greatness in his rendition of Mariah's "Hero"; in fact, Andy was completely tone deaf, but the judges let him carry on a little while and then let him down gently.
"Andy, I'm afraid it's four nos, but I think you're gonna find it much easier with the chicks after this," lied Simon. He even let Andy climb down from the stage so Paula could give him a hug.
Cari Fletcher: This 17-year-old is stunning looks-wise and has a powerful voice, but Simon was right in noting she didn't do anything special with Heart's "Alone." She still got four yeses, with an extremely lucid-sounding Paula Abdul telling her, "You will get eaten alive if you don't come back with all the belief we have in you. You've got to come back, be relevant, pick songs that are gonna knock it out of the ball park." We'll find out soon enough if she listens or if she falters.
Brennin Hunt: This 26-year-old is lovely to look at and has a voice to match. He made the risky choice to sing an original song and made it work with his beautiful tone and commanding stage presence. "You've got a brilliant voice, you have, and you've got great charisma about you," Simon said. "I can understand why you haven't had a deal yet, because I don't think you've had the right advice, but I could work with you and I think I could make you into a great artist."
Paige Elizabeth Ogle: This 18-year-old did a killer verison of Lady Gaga's "You and I." I also liked her chutzpah. When L.A. Reid asked her whom in the music business she'd be willing to take out to take their place, she said Justin Bieber, who was one of L.A.'s acts when he was at Island Def Jam.
Jazzlyn Little: It was hard to tell how Jazzlyn would do, particularly when you saw her hands shaking and heard her tell Simon that her one YouTube video had only about 500 hits. There was also a hint that maybe life is not always kind to this 16-year-old when she described singing as an escape from reality and a chance to be someone besides yourself. When she started to sing, she did indeed become a different person. The shy teen was replaced by a confident performer who prowled the stage and had the crowd eating out of her hand. And her voice on Mary J. Blige's "I'm Goin' Down" was among the most flawless I've heard in these auditions. "Jazzlyn, I'd love to see what you're like when you've got confidence," Simon said. "That's why we've made this show, Jazzlyn, to find people like you. You, I believe, could be a world star."
"For the first time in my life, being on that stage and having everyone clap for me, I really did feel truly accepted," Jazzlyn said.
She was most impressed that Simon had clapped for her, which was just one of several reminders throughout the evening that no matter what we media types may say about Cowell, his word still carries a lot of weight with the talent.
It was also a night to be reminded of Nicole Scherzinger's shortcomings as a judge. The worst example was during the vote for Ausem, a duo made up of 16-year-old best friends Austin and Emily. I wasn't blown away by their verison of "Jar of Hearts," but Simon was on board and so was L.A., albeit more for Austin than Emily. Nicole took a ridiculously long time to give a yes or no answer, saying crap like "It's hard because I totally get you and I feel you ..." Simon walked away from the table in exasperation and even then Nicole hemmed and hawed a little longer. Eventually, the teens got four yeses.
Other teens who made the cut included 14-year-old heartthrob in the making Nick Dean, and another 14-year-old, rapper Brian Bradley. I'm with Simon, the kid is arrogant and obnoxious, but his rap, "Stop lookin' at my ma," had the crowd completely on board. It was refreshing when it was all over to see the cocky young Brian talk about going home and jumping up and down on his bed, like a regular kid.
We also saw one of the oldest competitors I can recall getting through, Leroy Bell, who's 59 but looks at least 20 years younger.
Next week is boot camp and it looks tough. I'm not certain how many contestants in total made it through the auditions, but Steve tells us they'll be whittled down to 32 acts, before being divided into categories of boys, girls, groups and over-30s, with each subset mentored by one of the judges.
It starts Wednesday at 8 p.m. on CTV and you'll find the recap right here.
(The photo of Cari Fletcher is by Ray Mickshaw for Fox.)