Last week on the X Factor, thirteen-year-old Carly Rose Sonenclar’s star was born. Somewhere over that rainbow of “alien” talent and remarkable performer poise, Simon’s sing to win competition show got a little of her groove back (continual production hiccups aside). This week, you could feel this momentum shift (even Britney looked amazing both nights and managed a minor increase in verbal coherence) overtake the show. Fewer remaining contestants means longer forms of songs and a better barometer of an artist’s full potential (I agree with Simon, I couldn’t wait for Vino to end), more engaging intros (Vino’s was my favorite. LA stepping in at the last minute to change songs is non-fabricated drama that this show needs), and judge/mentor comments that have more time to breathe. The good news is that many of the key players including the judge/mentor panel (LA Reid – it is so good to have the season 1 version of you back!) and several contestants rode Carly’s pathway to brilliance and made the show come alive anew. My X Factor loyalist and aficionado friend, Daniel, has been contending for several weeks that there is marked distinction among the contestant battles for the top and the bottom of the rankings (the haves and the never will haves, so to speak). For the first time this week, I thought this setup changed to a battle between Carly and then everyone else who was gunning for her top spot (albeit with some variation in success). As the pre-performance videos suggested, Carly Rose is the one to beat and the other acts are aware. By having this frontrunner in place (and admittedly, America is placing Tate right on her tail), the competition part of The X Factor finally found some footing and likely will continue to do so in coming weeks as we strive to find out if anyone can beat Miss Carly Rose.
Unfortunately, there are a few remaining points of trouble, trouble, trouble (bring it home, Vino) left to suss out that seem to be even further illuminated now that some other show elements are humming. They include:
The Hosts – Poor Mario and Khloe do not seem to be improving. Mario had a particularly difficult week (“Will.I.An”, a strange discussion with Diamond White about her year of birth) and his off the cuff reactions are the opposite of organic. Khloe’s flirty interactions with Simon reached their shelf-life weeks ago and now come across as uninteresting as brother Rob Kardashian’s new line of dress socks and as ineffective as spouse Lamar’s NBA play in the years 2011 and 2012. The incessant “how do you feel?” questions when a contestant has been eliminated need a major overhaul. The only time when Khloe’s humanity (and based on my past experience with her, she actually has it in droves, Kardashian haters take a step back) is in her interactions with Carly Rose and Diamond (Beatrice, too, previously) when she snaps into big sister mode (Kendall and Kylie know it well) and provides TLC and cuddly support. More of this Khloe, please. Unless something drastically changes, I think both Khloe and Mario can take the same advice Simon gave to CeCe this week – after this season, pack your bags.
The theme – Or should I say, what theme? Apparently (I had to look this up), the theme this week was “number ones.” Listen X Factor brain trust – if you are going to have a theme, have a theme, but this in-between, inconsistent (I am still stuck on Al Green as a diva), “maybe we won’t mention it at all” mentality has got to go. Pick a theme and make it an artistic challenge of the night or just let the artists pick a song of their choosing.
Drew Chadwick of Emblem3 – Someone has got to let Drew Chadwick know that he is not required to take off his sleeved shirt to expose his burgeoning arm cannons during or after every performance. Drew, you may not have received the memo, but this is not required of you to be a contestant. You can cover your arms, bro.
On to the top 6, two surprising eliminations, and the odyssey of CeCe Fry:
The Top 6 (as ranked by America)
1 (1) Carly Rose Sonenclar (should be 1)
Is this the right ranking? Obviously. Although LA Reid was right when he called her “Rolling in the Deep” a “second best” performance, he was also right when he said that “even her second best is better than everyone else’s first best.” Preach, LA. I have gone back and watched this performance a few times and my only objections with it are in the arrangement (the attempt to differentiate from Adele went too far) and production (Carly Rose does not need a wind machine blowing in her face, people). Notwithstanding, she is an incredible artist. I remember eagerly anticipating the wow factor each week of the Adam Lambert experience back in Idol season 8 and Carly Rose has tapped into this higher ground. She is unreal. Simon’s “the first half was good, the second half was sensational” comment gave me goose pumps. To witness this birth of a star continues to be a privilege. Her only problem, according to Simon, is that her suspected alien status (as in humans should not be capable of what she can do as a singer) could disqualify her from the competition. Carly Rose’s response? “Darn it.” America, you have to love this girl.
What needs to happen going forward? To Britney and Carly Rose’s credit, I loved the song choice this week (just not the execution). I encourage them to continue to pick not good but great songs that are going allow Carly Rose’s artistry to have a chance to fly.
2 (2) Tate Stevens (should be 2)
Is this the right ranking? Country is not my jam (especially upbeat country), but Britney was right to predict a CMA award in Tate’s future. His aw-shucks uptempo “Somebody Like You” was wonderfully (and unexpectedly) enjoyable. He looked cool with the guitar (although, did he even play it?), the banjo player interactions were nothing short of joyous, and his dance attempts (Simon told him not to ever again) made Tate really likable. I also appreciate that Tate knows how good Carly Rose is (he admitted she was better last week) and that mixing it up this week was a conscious choice to reclaim number 1 (based on the percentage difference that Mario told us, he was very close).
What needs to happen going forward? Last week I wrote: I think Tate needs to have a performance that stretches his artistry within his genre. Think David Cook’s brilliant “Always Be My Baby” from several Idol seasons ago. The good news is that his uptempo switch this week did just that. Now he has to countrify a pop/soul tune outside of his genre. Now LA’s sole focus (bye Vino), Tate will find a way to compete.
3 (4) Emblem3 (should be 5)
Is this the right ranking? I don’t know. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Emblem3 went home this week. Demi blames it all on Simon, but I think there is something more to it in the artists themselves. Yeah, we get that you play instruments and that you write your own music, but are you that good? Although they often don’t bring all they can, Fifth Harmony gives me a more emotional connect and presents the possibility of a higher ceiling. Emblem3 seem to have plateaued, and although “I’m a Believer” was fun and energized, their musicality is worse than any other artist left in the competition (CeCe included). Great, you are a boy band that causes riots at outdoor malls in LA. Yes, Drew, we see your arm muscles all the time. I am just not sure if there is really that much there up on stage underneath the thick layer of smoke and LED moving lights.
What needs to happen going forward? Last week I wrote: I am starting to realize that their musical scope may be more limited than I thought. Simon needs to find them a song that does their thing better than they have ever done it before. This remains Mr. Cowell’s quest.
4 (7) Fifth Harmony (should be 4)
Is this the right ranking? Of who is left, probably. Their stationary rendition (they took hitting your spots a little too far) of Kelly Clarkson’s “(Stronger) What Doesn’t Kill You” suffered under the longer song format (musical monotony ensued). I did appreciate Lauren’s lead throughout the song, but their lack of body movement (those arms were rocking) choreo and scary fire soaked projections yielded a tinge of boredom. Down to the final 6, I still think that Fifth Harmony at least has shot at third place (they are never going to overtake Tate or Carly Rose) and for recent group construction, this is saying something.
What needs to happen going forward? I would love to see less of their personal interactions backstage (I get how much they care about each other, but I find myself increasingly tuning out) and more of their musical interactions. What is it like in the room when harmonies are being discussed? Do music mentors try to teach them and then give up because they are too hard for these young women to handle (it is my only reasonable explanation for the propensity of unison)? I want to connect more to them as a musical artist and less as a sweet, “so happy to be here” teenybopper story.
5 (8) CeCe Frey (should be 6)
Is this the right ranking? “Lady Marmalade” (and its visual medium incarnations) has always been a bit of a hot mess for me and CeCe Fry’s insertion into this lineage seemed to work very well. Simon’s “chocolate cake” analogy was totally relatable. With the new song length, this was all too much. Simon (“pack your bags”) and (I thought all of) America assumed CeCe would be journeying on this week, but this resilient fighter is not done yet! The old CeCe is back – a wild and unruly performer, an unlikeable personality (Demi’s house-visit words), but someone who will stop at nothing on her path to the top. She won’t win, but her continued participation in this competition makes it all the more enjoyable to watch.
What needs to happen going forward? Keep fighting, girl. Be the old CeCe and you may stick around again next week.
6 (5) Diamond White (should be 3)
Is this the right ranking? Definitely not. Diamond is a precious jewel of a talent. Her “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” channeled some young Whitney (owe the beautiful spark and promise she had at the beginning of her career), and, although the production was a bit over everyone’s head (too much Britney, too much), she did so well with it. Over the last two weeks, Diamond has performed Celine, Whitney, and Beyonce (her awesome save-me rendition of “I Was Here”) and she was at least auditioning for their minor league. Diamond’s ceiling is second only to Carly Rose and she should be here close to the end.
What needs to happen going forward? I think it is time for something more contemporary. A Katy Perry or Jesse J could do the trick.
Vino Alan – last week 3
Poor Vino had a tough week (“You’ve Lost that Lovin Feelin’” struggled), and despite an AWESOME save-me rendition of his first audition song, “Trouble,” I can understand why Simon and Demi did what they did. Although LA pushed the idea that Vino was a really chill guy underneath his scary-looking exterior, I am not sure he was ever going to be accessible outside of a dark and dreary pub. He is a soul singer who excels in darker, more somber environments. The flash and gleam of the X Factor stage was just too much for Mr. Alan. I hate to admit it, but we will miss his non-singing time at the mic – a rare mix of unintentional comedy and his creepy musings.
Paige Thomas – last week 6
I didn’t really like Paige’s Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give Up” (I think the song suffers), but I thought it was definitely her best performance and earned her a chance to stay. Her look (more relatable), her vibe (a natural sexy), and her command of a very naked stage (I agree with Simon that she would have benefited from more back-up dancer time) was a bit of a revelation. Sadly, America feels the same way about Rick Astley as I do.
- Carly Rose Sonenclar
- Tate Stevens
- Diamond White
- Fifth Harmony
- Emblem 3
- CeCe Frey
What do you think? Will Britney continue to wear a cool stetson? Can Carly Rose maintain her top spot? Do Drew’s arms from Emblem3 get hot easily?
David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company. His weekly THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASON Power Rankings appears weekly on Derrick Kosinski’s ultimatechallengeradio.com.