The X Factor: The top 12 revealed (spoiler alert)
Watching Tuesday night's X Factor reminded me of the scene in The Wizard of Oz where Toto pulls back the curtain to reveal that the great and powerful Oz is just a doddery old man.
Simon Cowell, your feet of clay are showing.
Not only did the multi-millionaire record producer and TV mogul continue to insist that Simone Battle and Tiah Tolliver were deserving of their spots in his top five girls -- despite ample evidence to the contrary -- he attacked Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul for their lack of enthusiasm about the pair. But anyone with ears and eyes could see that these young ladies' talents are best left to YouTube and their local karaoke bars.
As L.A. Reid said about Simone, "I don't get it, I just don't get it, I still don't get it." But at least Simon didn't call him names when L.A. disagreed with Simon's choices. Paula and Nicole were referred to as "squiddly and diddly," "Cruella and De Vil" and "two spiteful little cats."
Meow, Simon, meow.
At least he salvaged some of his credibility when push came to shove by giving Simone and Tiah the heave ho. But the inter-judge sniping took attention away from the contestants at times and forced host Steve Jones to act as referee, having to yank things back on track when the tight schedule was threatened.
It's curious that in a show as overblown as this one production-wise (dramatic lighting, judges and contestants emerging from behind a giant blue X, arty-looking photo and video montages to introduce each act, backup dancers overwhelming the singers), the decisions about which contestants to save weren't revealed with a big build-up at the end of the show.
Instead, each judge had to decide almost instantaneously, after all their acts had performed, which three to put through to next week. And then, each wannabe got very little time to savour their victory or lament their defeat before the cut to commercial.
But enough of all that. Performance-wise, Josh Krajcik and Drew (Ryniewicz, but she's going by one name now) were the stars for me, proving that you don't need all the bells and whistles when you can sing so beautifully and with such palpable emotion.
Here's my rundown of how each category went, with the names of the acts who made it to next week.
Astro (a.k.a. Brian Bradley) started things off and I have to admit the kid's got game. I'm no rap expert, but this 15-year-old was laying down rhymes like a pro as far as I could tell. It was all raves from the judges. "L.A., if this kid doesn't make it through to the finals you are literally insane," Simon said.
Next up was Chris Rene, the ex-drug addict whose back story must have made producers pinch themselves. Only thing is, this is the second or third time we've seen Chris give a shaky performance. Nothing, including Tuesday's rendition of "Love Don't Live Here Anymore," has yet lived up to his first audition. The other judges didn't criticize Chris, just L.A.'s song choice, but L.A. told Chris, "We like the unpredictable, unlike these guys; they like the predictable."
Chris had nothing to worry about compared to poor Phillip Lomax. L.A. took the jazz crooner, put him in a corny crushed velvet suit with a carnation and had him do a karaoke version of "I'm a Believer," complete with cheesy 1960s instrumentation drowning him out and cheeky dancing girls engulfing him (one pinched Phillip's butt). I agree 100 per cent on Simon with this one. He told Phillip, "Tonight, you were like a racing driver and L.A. put you into a tractor ... the song is too cheap, it's too throwaway, it's too cabaret and L.A., on this guy, you 100 per cent failed." L.A. retorted that Phillip had stepped outside his comfort zone and was no longer imitating Frank Sinatra. Yeah, he stepped out of it and right off the show. Why couldn't L.A. have let him stay a crooner?
Last up, Marcus Canty and another win for L.A. His performance of Culture Club's "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" was unexpected without being outre and, other than overdoing the runs a tad near the end, the vocals were solid and he worked the stage well. Simon told Marcus "you're the one who throughout this, you understood there's a $5 million deal here, a Pepsi commercial. You gave it everything I would have wanted if I were your mentor."
Who made it through: Astro, Chris and Marcus
Hey, if a pro like L.A. Reid can't find anything to criticize about Stereo Hogzz, who am I to disagree? The vocals were excellent, especially the harmonies; the choreography was sharp; and they mixed it up in the Otis Redding chestnut "Try a Little Tenderness" by throwing in some rapping and even some Auto-Tuning. And Simon had to swallow his pride and tell Paula she'd done a really good job. "There's nothing right now in the charts like you. There should be a band like you in the charts right now," he told he guys.
Being cute enough for girls to put your posters on their walls will only get you so far in a vocal competition. Unfortunately, the Brewer Boys, adorable as they are, were just okay on a mashup of Hall and Oates' "Rich Girl" and George Michael's "Faith." They were pleasant but forgettable. The other judges were clearly unimpressed.
Truth be told, I was underwhelmed by inTENsity, too. The only thing that elevated it above a sort of high school talent version of "Footloose" was Ellona Santiago's solos (and if she's that good, why the heck didn't the judges put her through as a solo artist in the first place?). I was trying to put my finger on what the spectacle reminded me of and then Simon said it, "the new young Glee." But does the world really need another version of Glee? Also, what was up with Nicole calling the kids "my little pumpkin patch of yummy pumpkins"? Pressure of thinking on your feet on a live show getting to you already, Nicole?
Last up was Lakoda Rayne, the other insta-group created by the judges. These four girls can sing and they look great. Their version of "Come on Eileen" wasn't revolutionary, but I enjoyed it. "If the four of you walked into my office right now and you did what you just did, you'd be signed to a worldwide recording contract," L.A. told them.
The Over 30s
I would have said that Nicole had the toughest cut to make out of this bunch before Dexter Haygood performed. On a human level, it must be devastating for a guy who was homeless until The X Factor plucked him from obscurity to have the rug pulled out from under him after getting this far. But performance-wise, how could Nicole have promoted him ahead of Josh, Stacy Francis and LeRoy Bell? Dexter might have done better with a different song choice, but the mashup of Britney Spears' "Womanizer" and Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" did nothing for him, other than giving him a chance to show he could remember lyrics. Dexter screamed through most it and seemed disconnected from the audience atop a platform in a long black and yellow coat. Simon praised Dexter for being interesting and unpredictable, but also described the combo of Dexter, Britney and Katy as "the weirdest milkshake in the world."
We should probably all stop marvelling at the fact that LeRoy Bell is 60 years old and just appreciate the fact that he sings really well. The judges were complimentary of LeRoy's version of Pink's "Nobody Knows," although Simon said LeRoy seemed to lack confidence. He also criticized Nicole for spending too much time on "silly choreography" during rehearsals. (Simon and Nicole were more adversarial than Simon and L.A. throughout the episode. At one point, when Nicole missed her cue to announce her next act and Simon said something to her off-camera, she retorted sarcastically, "Thanks a lot, Simon, for the support right now. It's the first live show. Awesome.")
As L.A. noted, Stacy Francis has improved in at least one respect: she got through a performance without crying. Her pitch failed her at one point in "One More Try," but otherwise it was a respectable enough showcase of her powerhouse vocals (although I couldn't help but wonder what Elaine Gibbs might have done with the song). Simon didn't like her look (sparkly skinny pants, fur jacket and high-heeled boots) or the song choice, telling Stacy she's "a church singer" and "you can't sell records like that." That didn't sit well with either Nicole or Stacy. Nicole said the performance gave Stacy wings, while Stacy protested, "It's my dream to be a pop star."
Nicole saved the best for last. Josh Krajnik took the stage alone, with two simple blue spotlights, no dancers (just a projection of a couple dancing in the background), discreet instrumentals and sang the hell out of "Forever Young." From the sounds of it, Nicole had wanted to tart the performance up with choreography and other distractions, but Josh "threw it all away," so we know he's got talent and smarts. "Josh, you are the artist I fear because you've got it all going on ... you are the real deal," Simon said.
Who made it through: Stacy, Josh, LeRoy
This category should have been a no-brainer. Simon had five girls to choose from instead of four, after he belatedly realized his mistake and added the snubbed Melanie Amaro to the live shows, but how could he have maintained even a shred of credibility and promoted Tiah or Simone ahead of Drew, Melanie and Rachel Crow? Still, we had to go through the charade of pretending that either of those two had a chance. Simone was first up in what looked like a sort of tie-dyed Wonder Woman outfit with a fringed vest. Her performance of Mariah Carey's "Just Be Good to Me" consisted of mediocre vocals, lots of posing and suggestive dance moves, done with a stageful of backup dancers. I think L.A. summed it up best when he asked, "$5 million, Simon? $5 million?" referring to the size of the X Factor winner's contract. It's not that there aren't other pop tarts already out there just as untalented as Simone, but why on earth would we need another one? Nicole and Paula were actually quite kind to Simone, praising her beauty and diva looks while ignoring the singing altogether.
Rachel Crow was up next. Wish I could say I loved this performance, a mashup of "Where Did Our Love Go?" and "Baby," but Rachel's vocals were a little wobbly and her outfit, a tartan jacket with a big sparkly brooch, jeans, white shirt and string tie, was not flattering. Still, I'd take Rachel on a bad day over Simone at her peak any time. Nicole and Paula both dissed Simon's song choice, saying it didn't show off Rachel's vocal range (I concur), but Simon retorted that it demonstrated Rachel as a retro artist and a pop artist.
What can I say about Drew and her slow, emotive version of "What a Feeling" (yes, the Flashdance song) except brilliant? Just as with Josh's performance, Drew's voice was allowed to be the main event. In this case, Nicole and L.A. were the ones who had to swallow their pride and praise Simon for letting Drew shine. "This is why I wanted to be back on American TV, to find someone like you," Simon told Drew, but then he had the nerve to pretend there was some doubt she'd make the final three girls. As if.
You'd think after all the auditions, all the feedback, all the weeks she must have spent with vocal coaches on the show that Tiah Tolliver would have figured out how to stay in pitch all the way through a song, but you would think wrong. The spectacle of her version of "Sweet Dreams," complete with Tiah in a leather jumpsuit, dramatic instrumentation, red stage lighting and dancers writhing around in red sacks, might have distracted from the bad vocals but didn't. The song sounded like an out-of-tune dirge. "Well, uh, if that was a sweet dream I'd hate to see what one of the scary ones are like," said Nicole aptly. She did, however, praise Tiah for looking fierce, as did Paula. That left Simon ranting that Paula and Nicole had never liked Tiah. "She's just literally worked her nuts off there to prove a point and all you two are just like two spiteful little cats who will never recognize that she's got potential," he huffed.
Finally, it was time for a real singer, Melanie Amaro. I agree with L.A. that Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing" was a predictable song choice for her. And I wasn't feeling the emotional connection strongly until later in the song, but you can't fault the quality of Melanie's voice. The studio audience went nuts for her, egged on by Simon, and I think they might have dragged him from his seat had he not put her through to the final three. Still, he made everyone wait until the last moment for one of the evening's most predictable decisions, leaving her to await the final spot with Tiah and Simone while the crowd chanted, "Melanie! Melanie!"
Who made it through: Drew, Rachel, Melanie
So that's what I thought of Tuesday's show. What did you think? Did your favourites get through? As always, I welcome your comments here, on Twitter @realityeo or on my Facebook page. But here's a tip: if you're going to call me an idiot, the nice people who moderate the comments on this blog probably won't post yours, so let's all play nice, okay?
The next episode is Wednesday at 8 p.m. on CTV. I'll be off vacation by then and recapping it in a more timely manner.
(The photos of Drew, Stacy and Simone are by Frank Micelotta for Fox.)