The X Factor: Burning out, fading away
"It's Rock Week. It will either be fantastic or a train wreck. I'm going with train wreck," Simon Cowell said at the beginning of Wednesday's show.
How right he was for one particular contestant. I believe we are seeing the unravelling of Stacy Francis's pop star dream. Better stock up on the waterproof mascara.
Overall, it was another uneven night. Front-runners stayed front-runners and at least one contestant redeemed himself, but others struggled under the weight of bad song choices or bad staging.
Host Steve Jones needs to be outfitted with a whistle next week, or maybe a paddle, since the job of reining in squabbling judges is getting more onerous. The criticisms were more pointed on Wednesday and the disputes more heated. Simon was more like the Simon we all remember than he has been all season, which helped him claim the title of most popular judge on Twitter.
But it wasn't just judges who were combative as contestants started talking back. Drew, in particular, seems to have adopted some of her mentor's arrogance.
Here's how I ranked the contestants Wednesday.
Josh Krajcik: As L.A. Reid rightfully pointed out, Josh was the only contestant who actually "rocked the house" on Wednesday, with Foo Fighters' "The Pretender." I thought the instruments overpowered the vocal a little in the beginning, but then Josh turned it up to 11. We could have done with less of Nicole Scherzinger's hair-flipping throughout the performance, but it brought all of the judges to their feet. Simon declared it "bloody fantastic" and Paula Abdul said it was the best performance of the night.
Astro: I could quibble and say that Puff Daddy's "I'll Be Missing You" isn't a rock song, although it does sample Sting's "Every Breath You Take," but all I know is that Astro turned it into a heartfelt tribute to his mother and gave one of the best performances of the night. As Paula put it, "Oh Astro, Astro, Astro, can you just suck for once? I don't think you can."
Melanie Amaro: It was the way Melanie got gospel on the final chorus that elevated this performance of R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts" for me. But Nicole is right, we haven't seen Melanie let go and get raw, and I think she needs to do that. L.A. and Simon spent most of their time arguing over whether "Everybody Hurts" is a rock song, prompting Steve to comment, "They're ruthless here tonight, aren't they?"
Rachel Crow: I'm not sure what possessed Simon to give a 13-year-old girl a song as laden with sexual innuendo as "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." Even if you strip the lyrics of all references to "girly action," we all know what Mick Jagger was singing about. And all the dancers onstage were overkill. That being said, I still love Rachel's retro, wise-beyond-her-years voice. "It wasn't some karaoke rendition; you really gave it; you brought energy to the room," L.A. told her.
Chris Rene: I'm with Simon, I don't care what Rolling Stone said, Bob Marley didn't sing rock songs. But the important point is that Chris delivered "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" and "No Woman No Cry" with more conviction than I've heard in weeks. And as his mentor, L.A., pointed out, he stayed in key all the way through, so this was a definite improvement on last week. We were reminded in Chris's pre-performance video pack that this is a young man struggling with more than competing on a reality show; he has a daily struggle to stay clean and sober.
Drew: This is the contestant who inspired the most sparring between Simon and L.A. L.A. says that Drew sounds the same every week and Simon says that L.A. is just trying to mess with Drew's head. She does have a lovely voice, but I have to say that her version of U2's "With or Without You" did sound a bit dirge-like to me. Drew interrupted L.A.'s critique to say "I'm trying to keep my base on the genre that I want to be," but I think someone like L.A. deserves to be heeded. Paula also made a lot of sense when she noted that having a big fan base means Drew can experiment with the weekly genres "and diversity leads to long, long success." But Simon told Drew to pay no attention "to the three witches on my right-hand side, particularly Cruella (Nicole) in the middle, who thought doing a Meat Loaf song tonight with tempo was original."
LeRoy Bell: LeRoy is nice to look at and has a very nice voice, but there was nothing gripping about his cover of Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight." L.A. and Simon were both blunt. "Listen, you look great, you sound great, but you're still not working it like a rock star," said L.A. "We have heard the same kind of songs now four weeks in a row," said Simon. "Rock Week, you should have been a shark, you acted like a goldfish." Cornered by Simon as to whether she thinks LeRoy can win, Nicole said "I'm going to hold that possibility he can win," which sounded like "not really." Time to step it up LeRoy or get eaten by the bigger fish.
Marcus Canty: I just don't think Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart" was a good fit for Marcus's R&B voice. Furthermore the staging was hokey (flames on the background screen, L.A.? again?) and good Christian boy Marcus's discomfort with interacting with the sexed-up background dancers muted the performance. I'm not sure what Paula was on about when she said she was exhausted from watching Marcus. I found it underwhelming.
Lakoda Rayne: Close but no cigar, girls. Their mashup of "I Don't Want to Lose Your Love" and "Go Your Own Way" started promising. The leads were sounding good, the harmonies were holding together but, as Simon noted, it fell apart when they stepped down from their blocks and started moving around the stage. Simon called the performance a complete mess and the choreography stupid and gimmicky. But Paula argued the group can fill a void in the marketplace left by the Dixie Chicks. Perhaps, perhaps not, but I think they'll be leaving a void in the competition come Tuesday night.
Stacy Francis: There are probably enough people out there enamoured of Stacy's "single mom makes good" story to get her through another week, but let's be clear, she's not winning the $5 million recording contract. She was so out of tune I couldn't make out what she was singing (apparently it was Meat Loaf's "It's All Coming Back to Me Now"), the screamy attempts at glory notes were horrible and the feather mic looked ridiculous. "I wanted rock, that was a pebble," said Simon. "It was the sort of thing I would expect someone to sing at the Hilton Hotel with people turning their backs, eating peanuts." Stacy said she picked the song because her fans, the Franatics, wanted her to do "something that's real to me." Honey, you're not a star yet, so don't worry about the fans.
We'll find out Tuesday at 8 p.m. on CTV Two who made the cut.
(The photos of Josh, Drew and Stacy are by Ray Mickshaw for Fox.)