The X Factor: Hope springs in Chicago and Seattle
If there was a theme on Wednesday's episode of The X Factor, I'd say it was surprises.
In fact, the show seemed to take fooling the viewer to a new level. Luckily, the tricks were mostly treats.
Not all the surprises were good ones, though. I'm still trying to figure out what Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid saw in shouty, off-key Tia Tolliver with her pneumatic lips and her inappropriate post-audition PDA with her fiance. They see potential greatness. I see boot camp roadkill. Too bad Nicole Scherzinger changed her vote and put her through.
There were also outcomes you could see from a mile away. Mother and daughter duo the Good Girls, heavy women in garish wigs and makeup and dark glasses with flat midwestern accents, were obviously put on TV for schadenfreude. As mom Sherry talked about wanting to be stars and daughter Darwin showed off the Mandarin she learned so she could sing in China, you just knew no good was going to come of the audition. "Was that serious?" Simon asked after they warbled a few lines of "What's Going On." Nicole took another kick for good measure, telling them, "I like my music with life and that felt kind of lifeless."
Here's how the other notable auditions went down as the show visited Chicago and Seattle:
Brock and Makenna: Say, didn't we already have a case of unrequited love among contestants on American Idol? These blond cuties are high school friends who've been singing together for four years and Brock just happens to be secretly in love with Makenna (well, it was a secret unti Wednesday). Their harmonies on "Colder Weather" by the Zac Brown Band won the judges over. Simon singled out Makenna for praise, but I liked Brock's voice better.
Skyelor Anderson: This 16-year-old from a small town in Mississippi, auditioning for his first time ever, wowed the judges and the crowd when the backing track cut out on "Must Be Doin' Somethin' Right" and he kept on singing. In fact, he sounded better without the backup. His voice needs work, but he's got potential.
J. Mark Inman: Don't take this the wrong way, but this 31-year-old graduate student in philosophy is a freak. He sang Radiohead's "Creep" with his own synthesizer-heavy, 1980s-style backing track and robotic dance moves, and he was babbling about algorithms and Pythagorean theorem on the way into his audition. Despite his thin, breathy singing voice he made it through to boot camp. "You are otherworldly. You are definitely in a different jurisdiction for sure. I think I visited there once or twice in my life," said Paula Abdul. That set off a whole segment about "Planet Paula" with clips of contestants talking about aliens and such, and citing Paula as inspiration. So is J. Mark supposed to be the Norman Gentle of X Factor? The thing is Norman could kinda sing.
Josh Krajcik: Here's one of the surprises I was talking about. This burly 30-year-old mama's boy showed up complaining of smelling like burritos from his restaurant job while his mom raved about how "gifted and talented and cute and cool" he was. Granted, Josh was kind of cute and did have a twinkle in his eye. But then he said he was singing "At Last" and Simon said, "Really? Okay" and we settled in to wait for the disaster. And instead, we got this raspy, bluesy, Joe Cocker-type voice that had Simon smiling and the audience clapping and L.A. doing his weird little side-to-side head dance. "I always thought after all the auditions over the years that I wouldn't be surprised again and then you started singing and it blew me away," Simon said. What impressed me almost as much as Josh's voice was his focus. He was already thinking ahead to the next performance. "I have to focus and continue to show what it is I can do," said Josh. "Winning this competition, that will change my life."
Drew Ryniewicz: Tell the truth, when you saw 14-year-old Drew rolling around on her bed, squealing, "I love Justin Bieber, I love him," did you think she'd be able to sing? I didn't. Especially when she chose Bieber's "Baby" as her audition song. But not only did Drew have a great voice, she slowed and bent the melody to make it sound original. And she had the guts to do that in front of L.A., the man who signed Bieber to a record deal. "This is exactly what I wanted a 14-year-old to do on this competition, exactly what you did," Simon said. "It was soulful and it was believable and you are special," added L.A.
Peet Montzingo: This 21-year-old's claim to fame was being the 6-foot-1-inch son of dwarf parents (his word and probably not the politically correct term). At first I thought there was a chance he'd be able to sing, but he could not. However, he charmed the judges, telling them he didn't like to admit he was 21 because "I've kind of always wanted to be a teen heartthrob" and they let him down gently. "I'm not sure the singing measures up (but) I think you might be famous one day," L.A. told him.
4Shore: These four friends from Virginia Beach, Va., also took the chance of tackling a song that L.A. was connected with, Boyz II Men's "End of the Road." I didn't think every note was a gem, but the harmonies were good and that's what the judges focused on.
Elaine Gibbs: This 53-year-old wedding singer didn't have quite the impact of Stacy Francis from last week, but she had sort of an Aretha thing going on and got four yeses.
Phillip Lomax: I hate to be shallow, but you can understand the judges putting this guy through just on his smile alone. The self-described hipster waiter did "Fly Me to the Moon" with an interesting tone and some unusual phrasing. Simon noted the strain in his voice when Phillip pushed it but found him interesting enough to put him through.
The final audition show is Thursday night. I'll be watching at 8 p.m. on CTV Two and recapping it here.
(The photos of Drew and Josh are by Ray Mickshaw for Fox.)