The X Factor Top 6 – The Fight to Dethrone Carly Rose

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.

My rankings:

  1. Carly Rose Sonenclar
  2. Tate Stevens
  3. Diamond White
  4. Fifth Harmony
  5. Emblem 3
  6. 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

Rondo: A Loyal Defender


With under a minute left in last night’s Celtics/Nets game at the Garden, an unnecessary (but not egregious) extracurricular push by Kris “challenging public persona” Humphries to Kevin Garnett’s airborne shot continuation body provoked a Rajon Rondo reaction that ultimately results in the question of “how many games?” rather than “will he be suspended?” The tweetbookosphere has erupted with varying opinions of whether Rondo’s audience set (a NBA no no) scrum was justified as sticking up for his big brother teammate KG or a completely superfluous overreaction that will only cost the Celtics further harm (especially if Rondo is missing multiple games – a strong likelihood). As a viewer watching live at home, my initial reaction was an adrenaline burst (honestly, when was the last time the Celtics had this kind of altercation, Ralph Sampson’s bullying of Jerry Sichting in ’86?) and a desire to understand the flurry of activity that all happened so fast. In this understanding lies my ultimate take: when a player excessively goes after a Celtic, Rondo will react (I have seen him do this push thing before). I can see both sides of why this is acceptable, but most of the time, the result may be at worse a harmless technical while openly acknowledging that Rondo has his teammates back. After the dozens of replays, I think Rondo had a normal Rondo reaction. KG was on the floor. Kris Humphries was the reason, and Rondo was going to let him know about it. It would have all been over, but unfortunately, the former Ms. Kardashian (what a bizarre chapter looking back) tried to grab the Celtics floor leader in a push lock, fought back, and finally maintained a strong hold for way too long and in the wrong location (into the audience). It was an overreaction to a reasonable reaction that in some cases (as was the case last night) could have dire consequences for Rondo and the Celtics. Rondo took this risk (as he often does) to defend KG and last night things just got out of hand. If the NBA comes down with a 3 or 5 game mandatory rest, it is what it is. Rondo took a hard foul to the audience, but my hope is that they review his track record of reasonable teammate defender (Tommy Heinsohn rightfully applauded this, sorry Ric Bucher, I don’t agree with you) and give him a little leeway. At 8-7 and with a defense that seems to be all out of sorts when KG is on the bench, this is a critical time for Celtics Nation. Let us hope that Rondo’s absence is as short-lived as possible…

The X Factor Top 8 – A Star Is Born

The X Factor decision to air the live results elimination (and don’t forget a rousing performance by Cher Lloyd!) on Thanksgiving night is a consistent reminder of this season’s production team brain trust failure.  As the NFL preemption yielded an 8:15 EST start, I still had an inkling of hope that maybe they would save the elimination for next week.  Unfortunately, my wishes were not their command, and on a night when America sits together in connected harmony, X Factor presented the disharmony of (not one but) two eliminations.  This decision all but eradicated the small amount of goodwill brought on by Wednesday night’s “I am thankful for you” (frequently over the top emotional) tear festival.  The good news in all of this (and maybe Mario could refrain from butchering her last name pronunciation as Sonenblerg as he did Thursday night, just embarrassing), Carly Rose Sonenclar had an X Factor moment, a two and a half minute journey “somewhere over the rainbow” that makes sticking around for the many pitfalls along the way (Khloe had a particularly challenging time this week) well worth it.  On Wednesday night’s X Factor, America saw the birth of a star.

Here is my take on the top 8 as voted by America, beginning with Miss Carly Rose “don’t you dare forget this name” Sonenclar taking her rightful place at number 1:

The Top 8 (as ranked by America)

1 (2) Carly Rose Sonenclar (should be 1)

She is thankful for: Her older brother Russ, who, according to an inside source who attends college with him, is a really sweet guy.

Is this the right ranking? YES!  YES!  YES!!!!  Carly Rose Sonenclar is the one beat and this week, according to Simon (even in perhaps an understatement), she “blew away the competition.”  Her “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (the Eva Cassidy-like arrangement) was breathtaking, transformative, and finally (Carly Rose’s only real obstacle to winning) felt accessible.  As the wave of Carly Rose admiration begins to build even more height and depth over the remaining week’s of X Factor’s second US season, it will be her viable recording artist ascension that we tune in for.  We are all witnesses.

What needs to happen going forward?  This week’s stunning performance was as close to flawless (song selection, arrangement, execution) as you can get live.  I think it is important that every song that Carly Rose delivers in the future is of her caliber, quality, and ability.  Stay away from throwaway and transient pop tunes and embrace the material from the great American or Popular Music Songbook.

2 (1) Tate Stevens (should be 4)

He is thankful for: His dad, who sacrificed his own musical career aspirations as a drummer to be able to support his family.

Is this the right ranking? It is not that Tate had an off week, it just wasn’t his week (and somewhat surprisingly, he managed to hold off Vino Alan, who, by all accounts, was the runner-up to Carly on Wednesday’s nights show).  I think Tate is a warm and cuddly story, but his viability beyond this show (and certainly as deserving a 5 million dollar talent competition) remains a question.  Now that Carly Rose is placed where she belongs, if some of his upper tier competitors have transcendent performances, I could foresee Tate falling down even more.

What needs to happen going forward?  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.  He did an off-type Mariah Carey song in his own and it was very successful.  Run of the mill country ballads (albeit well executed) may not bring him back to the top.

3 (3) Vino Alan (should be 3)

He is thankful for: The troops (there had to be one) due in part to his experience singing for them on a base near his house (they wouldn’t allow him to serve because his head tattoos were not going to work in the military).

Is this the right ranking?  Vino Alan knows how to deliver a patriotic ballad the night before Thanksgiving (and I do agree with Simon that “God Bless the USA” has a pleasing melodic line).  This was his best performance to date (by a long shot) and came across as sincere when singing (as discussed previously, when Vino’s mic is turned on after the performance, unexpected and peculiars things seem to happen).  Vino at number 3 (he could have even been second) seems about right.

What needs to happen going forward?  We are often told how much Vino has gone through in life, but have yet to see a song selection effectively connect to his backstory.  I want LA to find material that will give Vino a bit more authenticity because the “gooey on the inside” common allusion is not what he projects on the outside (let’s just say that a dark alley may not be the place that I want to meet Vino for the first time).

4 (4) Emblem3 (should be 5)

They are thankful for: Their spiritual leaders who have housed them, clothed them, and taken them on outdoor journeys filled with martial arts and survival skills (the moral of this story is to find me my own spiritual leader).

Is this the right ranking? Yeah, it just about right.  Their cover of “Secrets” by OneRepublic was a little boring.  On a positive note, Emblem3 seem to be maturing as people (not enough to avoid obnoxious “Hi Mom, I am on camera” walk byes backstage) and have clearly bonded with Simon.  The spark of creation that we witnessed a few weeks ago (X Factor able) seems like a long time ago at this point and I am just not sure they have the talent to compete with Carly Rose.  When they were next to Beatrice and CeCe as the only non-safe act remaining, I was not surprised and this is not a good thing (even if their inclusion was just to create more drama).

What needs to happen going forward? I am starting to realize that their musical scope may be more limited than I thought.  Their reggaed emo-pop m.o. has been done and done, but I am just not sure what else is there for them.  Simon needs to find them a song that does their thing better than they have ever done it before.  I would not be surprised to see them hover close to elimination next week (if some of the acts under them on the leader board step to the plate).

5 (7)  Diamond White (should be 2)

She is thankful for: Her mom, in what might of have been the most heartfelt thank you of the evening.

Is this the right ranking?  No, I think Diamond could and should be even higher.  Her “Because You Love Me” nailed the theme and evidently nailed her beautiful mother/daughter connection.  I believed every word and so did Diamond.  In a Carly Rose-less competition, Diamond would be the girl of the moment, but she is sadly compared to Carly Rose’s crazy (alien dare the judges say) talent and professionalism.  Regardless, Diamond is wonderful singer and a special young person.

What needs to happen going forward?  The last two weeks I wrote this: Diamond must find song content that allows her voice to soar while acknowledging that she is very much a girl, not yet (even close to being) a woman.  This week, she nailed this.  More of the same for Diamond will continue her rise in the rankings.

6 (10) Paige Thomas (should be 8)

She is thankful for: Colleen, a beautiful surrogate mom (Paige’s tragically passed away when she was six), who took Paige in when she was a young teenager and has been there for her ever since.

Is this the right ranking? No, this is one of the biggest surprises of the week.  I love Colleen and Paige’s story, but unfortunately, her performance of Britney’s “Everytime” was one of the worst performances of the live shows, filled with unexpected and inexcusable pitch problems and overdramatic shaky voice syndrome.  I may have even preferred Britney’s vocal rendition (at least auto-tuned is tuned).  Based on her performance (and past performances), Paige should have gone home.

What needs to happen going forward?  I think Paige’s journey to be an over-the-top costumed, stage production heavy, but vocally average performer may be irreversible.  Her last chance may be to strip everything back and just sing again on a topic that does espouse tears (one of Paige’s perennial struggles).

7 (6)  Fifth Harmony (should be 6)

They are thankful for: God.

Is this the right ranking?  Let’s start with their thankfulness.  I take all pre-performance videos for what they are: melodramatic, but at times touching.  Fifth Harmony’s love fest did not hit the right notes with me and felt too fabricated and impersonal.  This led to a performance of “I’ll Stand By You” that the judges seemed to love, but I had trouble connecting with.  I look at this week as a bit of a mulligan for this fabulous five.  Look for a little comeback next week.

What needs to happen going forward? I will back off my assertion last week that they are a dark horse to win this thing (there is no way that Carly Rose will lose to this group), but I think they still have a runner-up ceiling.  Next order of business for Fifth Harmony is to define their sound (to their credit, I think they have found and discovered – albeit packaged – a group identity offstage).

8 (5)  CeCe Frey (should be 7)

She is thankful for: Her late sister Kelsey, who tragically passed away when CeCe was very little due to complications related to CP.

Is this the right ranking?  It is close to correct, although I would definitely have her above Paige.  Her performance of “The Wind Beneath My Wings” was delivered honestly and beautifully to Kelsey.  Besides Diamond, I thought this was the best execution of the “I am thankful for…” theme of the week.  I give her credit for doing what she did after watching her pre-song video, but after weeks of tears from both her and Paige, it is hard to discern how much of it is real and how much is theatrics.  Sorry.

What needs to happen going forward? I am still not sure.  Her “it” or “X” as always been a factor with CeCe, so I would play more into that next week.  If there is another double elimination, I would expect her to go home.

EliminatedArin Ray (last week in 9th place)

Arin Rsy should be proud of how far he went in this competition.  From the beginning, I think he was always little overmatched and this week’s reaction to judge critique displayed just how hard this type of show is for a person of his age (see: Beatrice’s reaction to being eliminated).  I wish the best and hope that he and Normani can continue to kind of be something more than friends.

EliminatedBeatrice Miller (laat week in 8th place)

Beatrice did an admirable job of singing through week after week of Britney’s drab modern/alternative rock song selections (as a huge Snow Patrol fan, I struggled through “Chasing Cars” this week).  Her ode to her two twin sisters was really sweet (Did you catch the moment when the surprise visit almost was “derailed” when twin number 2 tripped on the stairs en route to her Beatrice reunion hug?  The producers tried to edit it out, but twins number 1’s point of contact would have been missed, so leave it in the background did they.  Tough moment).  Again, especially after answering “no” to Khloe’s irresponsible “Are you ok?” question after having been eliminated (Beatrice was sobbing at the time, so she is obviously not, Miss “struggled mightily this week” Kardashian Odom), this is a tough road for a thirteen-year-old, and Beatrice should hang her head high.

My rankings:

  1. Carly Rose Sonenclar
  2. Diamond White
  3. Vino Alan
  4. Tate Stevens
  5. Emblem 3
  6. Fifth Harmony
  7. CeCe Frey
  8. Paige Thomas

What do you think?  Will Arin and Normani stay close?  Did Carly Rose correct Mario’s pronunciation of her name?  Do Khloe and Mario rehearse any of this?

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


I was going to save my first The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons running diary for a season finale recap (epic, groundbreaking, and one of a kind athletic competitions demand such attention), but this week’s episode arena battle between Team Cancun’s CJ and Team San Diego’s Zach (both one-time NFL aspiring uber-athletes) was so phenomenal (and according Sarah on twitter: “that elimination between @ZachMTV & @CJKoegelMTV was a MILLION times more intense in real life vs how it looked on TV”) that a running retro diary is the only way to appropriately depict the glory in prose.  If you re-watch or have not watched yet, I am indicating the time on the EST telecast that each moment went down if you want to follow along.

Let the games begin!

10:00 – The opening recap reminds us of Jonna’s season premiere phone dumping of her GBH (Guy Back Home).  GBH – in case you wanted to be reminded of this humiliation on national television again, MTV has got you covered.

10:00 – Reminders of last week’s Frank and Zach team implosion feel even more uncomfortable in retrospect.

10:01 – What is Lacey doing in the opening credits?  I think she was asked to raise her hand and make a “come and get it gesture.”  It looks more like she is giving the finger with four fingers.  Poor Lacey may not have been right for the Challenge.

10:02 – Zach informs us that his “only goal here is to make Frank’s life miserable.”  Trishelle “swears to God” that she thinks Frank and Zach need therapy.  I swear to God, this is a great idea.

10:02 – Jonna: “With Zach I think it is like a weird situation.  It’s fantasyland.  It’s Challengeland.  This is The Challenge world.  This isn’t real life.”  Can this quotation be reinforced daily for Challenge competitors who take the interpersonal interplay on a Challenge a little too seriously.  Who can we get on this?

10:03 – It seems like Jonna needs to be on the Challenge more than anyone else because she was blackmailed by an ex-boyfriend two years ago (who even stole her dog!).  She does not want to be homeless ever again.  This is a reasonable desire.

10:04 – Welcome to the “Hunger Games,” a “70s game show gone bad” according to Dustin.  Things are not looking good (puke buckets?) until TJ enters in a vintage suit, sans cap, with slicked back hair and a Bob Barker micropohone.  Killing it just found a entirely new level of excellence.

10:05 – TJ: “You guys are going to be having a good, old-fashioned eating contest!”  Chet’s expression says, “I would rather stab myself in the eye with a machete.”

10:05 – The rules are a wee-bit complicated and teams seem as perplexed and bewildered as viewers when Shauvon popped an implant on The Ruins.

10:06 – Team San Diego cannot even help themselves.  We are about to eat disgusting food, so let’s have another embarrassing talk about how much we don’t get along.  Trishelle: “I love to sit back and watch San Diego sometimes.  They just never ever stop fighting, these people.  It is sort of like a television show, it’s great.”  Preach, Trishelle.  Zach does a spot-on impression of Frank.

10:06 – TJ’s assistant “Bunny” brings out the first item.  In a comical turn from either TJ or some hysterical producer, “Bunny” will be called the following names over the course of the “Hunger Games” (I kid you not): Bambi, Diamond, Candy, Daisy, Chastity, Passion, Sapphire, Mercedes, Diamond, Cinnamon, Raquel

10:07 – TJ lets everyone know that when making a prediction of how many items a team can eat, we only round up.  Thank you, he appreciates it, though.

10:08 – Team Cancun is challenged to eat fifty-one baklava (a palette cleanser according to Alton) in four minutes.  MTV plays the song “Moderation” to underscore the moment.

10:09 – The horn sounds (literally freaking out Sarah and Chet) and Diamond determines that Team Cancun ate…Let’s go to a commercial.

10:11 – I am not going to lie.  When a dude from Halo tells me to drink the Dew, I am going to drink the Dew.

10:13 – Back to the show, Team Cancun misses out on the fifty-one baklava threshold by two and has a one-way ticket to the loser’s round.  Jonna is concerned that Jasmine didn’t “eat her share” and that it is a good thing that CJ and Derek are seated between them.  Jonna – have you seen Jasmine?  Her share may be a little smaller than yours.

10:13 – Marie crosses her fingers in hope of cheeseburgers.  Girl, you are in the wrong reality inspiration (i.e. this is not Surivivor and very much Fear Factor) eating contest, although I love your innocent earnestness.

10:14  – Team Brooklyn must eat thirty-five grape leaves.  Sarah (“I love grape leaves” and “don’t get scared about the amount that is on the plate”) is in “pump up her team” mode as always.

10:14 – Zach is turned on by the way Devyn is eating the strangely phallic grape leaves.  He can’t even describe and we can’t even understand it.

10:14 – According to Sarah, Chet looks like he is “being polite at his grandmother’s kitchen table.”  Sarah is in the zone.  Nany gives her props, even if watching Sarah makes Nany want to vomit.

10:15 – Chet winks at Daisy and tells her she looks beautiful.  JD almost loses his leaves, but holds strong.  A Chastity announcement later, Brooklyn’s total grape leave consumption is at forty-seven.  Sorry, Team San Diego – Loser’s round destination chosen.

10:16 – Team Las Vegas rocks some strategy and bets low on the hot chili plate, forcing Team St. Thomas to eat eighteen.  TJ appreciates Sapphire’s plate delivery.  Dustin appreciates Mr. Lavin (seriously killing it like no time before).

10:18 – Marie eats hot peppers in her sleep and pulls her Robb twosome to the winner’s round, eliminating Team Las Vegas (they are thrilled to have missed out on the Turkish cuisine) from the winner’s round.

10:18 – Diamond, without further ado, what do Brooklyn and St. Thomas have to eat as much of as they can in two minutes?  Cow liver!  TJ: “Just think of it as steak.”

10:19 – Marie, after her pepper eating clinic, cannot hold down the cow liver (really though, who can?) and for the first time in TV history, is “disqualified for vomiting.”  Listen, in the scheme of disqualification reasons, vomiting is far superior to Big Easy’s way of “can’t climb the ladder.”  Poor Marie does not get along with cow liver (JD seems to dig it).

10:20 – For the loser’s round, San Diego and Cancun must compete in a cow intestine/testicle eating battle.  Ashley and Frank have a sexual innuendoed inside joke about going for the testicles.  Stay classy, San Diego.

10:21 – During the commercial break, I like how Trojan Charged: Orgasmic Pleasure sponsors The Challenge: “charged moment of the week.”  The selected moment was from last week’s episode in which Frank and Zach orally obliterate Sam as she struggles up the log jam hill.  This bit of linkage to “orgasmic pleasure” is a bit of a stretch.

10:26 – Beyond Ashley, who seems primed to eat cow testicles all day, both San Diego and Cancun are STRUGGLING.  Poetic justice for alliance bullying earlier in the game?  The ravishing Raquel reveals that San Diego is the big loser (beyond the cow innards consumption) and has an arena date.

10:28 – A San Diego team pow-wow does not go so well.  Zach walks off in disgust and Frank blows low with the “I fucking hate all three of you” routine.  To their credit, Ashley and Sam are calm, seem sane, and, like the rest of us, don’t really know what to do with San Diego’s men.

10:28 – Back in the bedroom, Frank releases his frustration to Marie and Robb (credit to Team St. Thomas survivors for riding the Frank superstorm).  In a fit that contradicts his words, Frank is “not going to be made to look like a fucking crazy person.”

10:29 – Devyn made a bet with her team that if they won two challenges in a row, she would take off her wig(s) and “rock an afro.”  As TJ says, “Looking good.”

10:33 – Team Brooklyn sends Team Cancun in to the arena so they can experience “the love of” it.  Devyn is brilliant.

10:34 – CJ holds a Team San Diego meeting and is ready to go in to the arena, but wants to go with Jonna, the strongest female player.  Jonna reminds everyone that she may be homeless and storms out of the room.  CJ’s endearing reaction: “Character is first and money should be second in this game.”

10:35 – Zach and Jonna have an emotional moment together about the realization that one of them could be going home.  The song underscoring this moment? “Glorious” by Stephanie Mabey.  Download it to have a good cry.

10:36 – On to the main arena event (earlier in the episode than ever before)!  This is what we have been waiting for.

10:37 – Sam goes into the arena because Ashley may not be mean enough from this.  If Sam comes back, she will get a rankings bump for winning her second straight arena, but Ashley may as well for characterizing “not being mean enough” as an asset in this competition.

10:40 – Jasmine steps up for Cancun, acknowledging her protective role as Jonna’s sister.  No one has grown more than Jasmine on this challenge.  Her days of wine glass toss with Tyrie and Johnny Bananas seem like decades ago.

10:40 – Frank, Professor of Hypocrisy 101: “Sam and Zach going in is the best thing for San Diego and I am just so happy that Zach knows how to man up when he has to.”

10:40 – In the understatement of the season, when learning of CJ’s arena involvement, TJ says, “Oh, this is going to be a good match.”  You have no idea.

10:41 – For the first time since the season premiere when the Big Easy Stampede ran over Wes, the arena event is “Hall Brawl.”

10:41 – The audience chatter is all about Jonna.  Sarah: “If Jonna sneaks by without ever having to see one of these Arenas…”  Trishelle: “She’s the trashiest person I’ve ever met.”  Devyn: “She’s homeless because she’s hoetic.” (whatever that means)  Trishelle: “Jonna is a greedy bitch.  She wanted to manipulate Jasmine into going in so that she can stay and get a piece of the pie.”  The verdict is that Jonna should have stepped up and that poor, little Jasmine doesn’t have a chance.

10:42 – Girl’s heat 2 of Sam v. Jasmine begins with a Sam tackle in the tunnel and an easy stroll to the ring the bell.  San Diego 1.  Cancun 0.  Girls’s Heat 2 is more of the same.  Jasmine manages to stay standing this time, but Sam’s strength is too much for the petite Jasmine.  San Diego 2.  Cancun 0.  Frank, in an unexpected move, is supportive on the sidelines.  It is now all up to CJ to keep Cancun in this thing.  Meanwhile, poor Jasmine can’t breath and feels like she has completely let her team down.  Jasmine, if you heard the girl chatter before the arena, you may realize how far this is from the truth.

10:43 – Sarah’s pre-game analysis is not about whether Zach will win, but rather how many CJ bones he will break.  This should be interesting.

10:44 – Boy’s Heat 1 of Zach v. CJ: After a mid-tunnel stalemate that lasts for an eternity, Zach starts to walk his way to the end of the tunnel.  Suddenly, in a moment of athletic and adrenaline perseverance, CJ doubles back and drags Zach’s legs toward CJ’s side just long enough to trip Zach up for an instance, allowing CJ’s sprint to the bell to barely beat Zach’s diving jump.  Team Cancun 1.  Team San Diego 0.  A stunned, but exuberant audience shot must mean a momentum building commercial break.

10:48 – Back to the action, Zach is not too pressed about his initial loss.  CJ is an MMA fighter, four years older, and smart, by the way.

10:49 – Boy’s Heat 2 of Zach vs. CJ: This time the two competitors approach each other at full speed, largely avoid each other, and sprint/dive to the bell.  CJ’s quickness outpaces Zach’s bigger frame to their respective bells.  Team Cancun 2.  Team San Diego 0.  CJ wins the boys heat and the mighty Zach has fallen, for now.

10:49 – The tiebreaker coin toss selects the boys to compete to break the tie.  Considering the results of the Boy’s Heat, advantage Team Cancun.  Jasmine can be seen taking a major sigh.  The best of three now wins.  The loser of three goes home.

10:50 – Boy’s Heat 1: CJ goes low again and literally flips Zach over.  Zach recovers and grabs ahold of CJ’s crawling feet.  The audience goes wild.  CJ drags Zach to the edge of the tunnel (closest to his bell), manages to free himself, and has an easy trot to the bell.  CJ 1 (and three in a row!).  Zach 0.  Meanwhile, Jonna is torn because she wants to root for her team, but Zach is her man.  Devyn amazing take: “Zach’s got to be pretty embarrassed.  I mean, you are seven foot thirteen and you just got your ass beat by the same dude chasing your ex-girlfriend?  You cannot be happy.”

10:51 – Boy’s Heat 2: In a move reminiscent of the leap/trot from Madden video games,  Zach, in full stride, steps over CJ and easily reaches the bell before his opponent, evening the score.  CJ 1.  Zach 1.  The crowd has a eerie silence.  Sam, simply: “Do it again.”  It’s time for another commercial break…

10:55 -TJ sets the scene as only he can: “Alright guys.  The score is 1-1.  This is the final round – the final heat.  Whoever wins this round, stays in the game.  Whoever loses goes home.  You guys ready?  Go!”

10:55 Boy’s Heat 3:Like the first heat in the initial round, there is a collision mid-tunnel, but this time, Zach just keeps moving forward, pushing CJ out the other side of the tunnel.  CJ tries to find a way to wrestle his opponent back, but Zach’s (“seven foot thirteen” according to Devyn) frame is just too big and strong.  Zach wins (and has an unintentionally comedic celebration burst) one of the best Challenge battles of all-time and the most entertaining since surprise guest CT’s demolition of Johnny Bananas in the Gulag on CutthroatSan Diego remains intact.  CJ and Jasmine, two of the finest competitors this season, are going home.  On that note, CJ carved out some Landon/Derrick territory on this challenge.  He is a great competitor, a superior athlete, and good dude.  He could definitely win one of these in the future.

10:58 – CJ and Jasmine leave like winners, praising the team success of Cancun.  The irony of the episode is that it is Jonna’s self-centered move (and I am not qualifying this as a negative thing – her situation back home seems to be universally accepted as not too good) may have been the downfall of her team.

10:59 – Zach and Frank bond again over the win and slightly at the expense of Sam (they may not have ever expected her to do so well).  Frank: “Let’s move on.  It’s over now.”  We will see, Mr. Sweeney.  Retro-diary out.

After this epic battle, we are down to 3 teams of 4, two teams of 2, and 16 people left in this game.  The rankings are getting even tighter as the power balance has officially shifted…here we go…


NOTE: the rankings will be based on an un-Hollinger/sabermetrics method known as “My experience and observations” (See: Marc Stein’s great NBA weekly power rankings).  Weight will be given to how well teams and individuals do on competitions, in the social game, and whether he or she is a “good competitor.”


1 (1) Dustin (Team Las Vegas) – Dustin’s team strategy in The Hunger Games was flawless and another week out of the spotlight maintains his positioning.

2 (2) Chet (Team Brooklyn) – Despite his meal at grandma’s house, Chet’s team keeps winning and the viewer keeps benefiting from his verbal wit.

3 (8) Zach (Team San Diego) – He gains major points by overcoming CJ’s incredible arena assault and by differentiating himself from Frank’s “I’m not a crazy person” rant.  Don’t mess with Zach athletically or he will crush you.

4 (5) Alton (Team Las Vegas) – Alton seemed to play a key role in Vegas’ great challenge strategy and what is more important, he seemed to have a good time doing it.

5 (6) Robb (Team St. Thomas) – Robb cracks the top 5 for the first time with some quality eating during The Hunger Games and a deserved acknowledgment for his longevity as the rookiest of rookies.

6 (7) JD (Team Brooklyn) – JD’s team keeps winning and this week, his eating skills played a key role (“Hold it down, JD!”).

7 (9) Frank (Team San Diego) – The end of the episode reconciliation with Zach avoided the bottom spot in the rankings, but going forward, Frank has got to keep his stuff to together.

8 (4) Derek (Team Cancun) – Although CJ and Jasmine went out as unified pair, Derek is right to worry about how he and Jasmine will fair alone.

ELIMINATED: CJ (Team Cancun) – CJ gave everything he had and then some this Challenge.  I give him complete respect.

Biggest Rise: Zach (Team San Diego)

Biggest Fall: Derek (Team Cancun)


1 (1) Sarah (Team Brooklyn) – Once again, Sarah was instrumental in the Team Brooklyn win, going at those grape leaves and cow liver with an incredible confidence.

2 (2) Nany (Team Las Vegas) – Team Vegas played the Hunger Games just right and Nany is building her strength each week.

3 (4) Trishelle (Team Las Vegas) – Trishelle’s analysis of the both challenge and arena events was spot on.

4 (5) Marie (Team St. Thomas) – Marie may have been disqualified for vomiting, but her pepper domination, Frank listening performance, and St. Thomas survival skills move her to a fourth place ranking (her highest yet!).

5 (7) Devyn (Team Brooklyn) – Devyn justly deserves a spot in the top 5 for going along with the wig removal bet and for her continued sound bite excellence.

6 (8) Ashley (Team San Diego) – Ashley seemed to be the only eater performing in the challenge and has managed to stay out of much of the Team San Diego drama.

7 (9) Sam (Team San Diego) – Sam won her second straight arena and this time dominated her opponent.  Frank and Zach have begun to believe in her.

8 (3) Jonna (Team Cancun) – Now vulnerable as a twosome, at this point in the game losing quality teammates is going to cause a rankings dip, but with as bad as Jonna needs to win the money, I would not be surprised if she can rise again.

ELIMINATED: Jasmine (Team Cancun) – Jasmine 2.0 is a mellow, loyal, and enjoyable individual who will be missed.

Biggest Rise: Sam (Team San Diego), Ashley (Team San Diego), Devyn (Team Brooklyn)

Biggest Fall: Jonna (Team Cancun)


Note:  Team rankings are compiled by adding up the individual rankings and dividing by number of players remaining.  Teams with the lowest total average ranking are ranked better than the highest (i.e. you want as few points as possible)

1 (1) TEAM LAS VEGAS Average: 2.5, last week: 3

Alton (4), Dustin (1), Trishelle (3), Nany (2)

Can they win as foursome? Yes, this remains the strongest, top to bottom 4 in The Challenge.  Another week of no drama is only a good thing for this group.  As previewed for next week, it will be interesting to see if Alton and Trishelle can support Nany and Dustin through the house drama.

What pairings can win?  At this point, any pairing combination has a chance, though both ladies are likely to work better with Dustin.

2 (3) TEAM BROOKLYN Average: 3.5, last week: 5.25

Sarah (1), Chet (2), JD (6), Devyn (5)

Can they win as foursome? Devyn’s endurance is still going to be a question mark, but I am starting to believe in Team Brooklyn as a foursome.  Their team camaraderie is unmatched and if their ability to work together plays a part in the final challenge, they may have a shot.

What pairings can win?  Sarah and Chet can still win The Challenge.  Sarah could probably get JD to the finish line as well.  I am not sure Devyn would be able to finish with either Chet or Sarah and will be better within a foursome.

3 (4) TEAM ST. THOMAS Average: 4.5, last week: 5.5

Robb (5), Marie (4), Eliminated: Laura, Trey

Can they win as a pair?  Wow.  To even be here at this point in the game is a major accomplishment.  They are enough below the radar (and have been all game) where I could foresee a series of events in a final challenge leading them to have a chance.  We are at a place where it has to be considered.

4 (5) TEAM SAN DIEGO Average: 6.75, last week: 8.5

Zach (3), Sam (7), Ashley (6), Frank (7)

Can they win as foursome? Who knows.  Sam’s endurance liability remains an issue and despite the brief détente at the end of the episode, they are a Frank breath away from a team implosion.  I still think that Frank is better without Zach and Zach is better when he has something to prove to Frank.

What pairings can win?  Both guys could compete with Ashley against the other strong teams (Vegas, Sarah/Chet), but the Zach/Sam pairing seems to have a dynamic, winning quality (at least in arenas).

5 (2) TEAM CANCUN Average: 8, last week: 4

Jonna (8), Derek (8), Eliminated: CJ, Jasmine

Can they win as a pair? Jonna is tough and Derek has proven himself to be a strong competitor, but without CJ, a heady and instrumental leader, I am not sure that this pairing has alone to be successful.  Jonna’s drive to have a place to live must not be underestimated.

And finally, during the “NEXT ON THE CHALLENGE” preview, this is what I saw:

  • Robb struggles to “make it” in a water challenge.
  • Chet: “There is a fight in every corner of the house.”  We see at least Nany, Marie, Frank, Dustin, Derek, Zach, and Robb involved (pretty much everyone).
  • Marie pushes Derek over into Sam and into some plant pots.  Frank checks on Sam.  This just appears to be the toughest of moments.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!  There is no episode this week, so tune in on Wednesday, November 28 at 10 PM on MTV for the next episode of The Challenge: Battle of the Seasons.

David Bloom can be reached on twitter at @davidbloom7.  His weekly CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS come out weekly on Derek Kosinski’s (listen to the incredible podcast featuring CJ and Zach this week).  The Week 10 power rankings will be available sometime after November 29.

The X Factor Top 10 – A Diva Night Stumble

There was a moment in Wednesday night’s live, “diva” (liberally enforced) themed show of The X Factor in which co-host Khloe Kardashian Odom (so earnest to succeed) had a bit of a cue-card reading mishap and admitted “I just stumbled.” Khloe, don’t you fret, because the same can be said for the entire Season 2 X Factor live experience until this point and this has less to do with the quality of the contestants (there is a major difference between the top tier and the bottom wrung) and more to do with the X Factor judges panel and production brain trust. There are too many unrehearsed moments (the process of setting up the contestant’s for Thursday night’s save me song is inexcusable), too many unpolished judges (the train wreck that is Britney’s verbal expression has been discussed in previous weeks, Demi has been an awful mentor), too few brilliant musical moments (thank goodness for Simon’s mentoring and everything about Carly Rose Sonenclar), and too many moments where the producers seem to have no idea what they are doing. One such instance occurred when Mario Lopez went to Simon first for his vote to send either Paige or Jennel home. Simon refused to go before Demi (a right he and his audience have earned). Mario fought him for a moment and then (undoubtedly after someone in his ear told him so) instructed Demi to go before “Mr. Cowell.” Demi stalled and told Simon to go first. Mario officiated and told Demi she was still up and how hard it was for Jennel and Paige to wait any longer. This embarrassing exchange begs the question what type of rehearsal is taking place and whether the producers are in control of this show. Either way, team X Factor has to get their stuff together. America is watching, but, in the world of reality competition singing show options that we now live in, they won’t be for long.

After two eliminations this week, we are down to our top 10. Here is my take on all the festivities:

The Top 10 (as ranked by America)

1 (1) Tate Stevens (should be 3)

Is this the right ranking? For the first time in this competition, I am starting to understand the appeal of Mr. Tate Stevens. His rendition of Shania Twain’s “From this Moment” was one of the few performances that seemed to correctly connect song choice to artist. He has a beautiful and pleasing tone and I appreciated how well he handled some of the higher register notes (although X Factor, can we please lower the backing vocals in the mix! I want to hear the competitor, good or not so good). Underrated moment of the results show: how little Tate and Carly Rose have in common. When awaiting the top positioning in the rankings, I was not sure they had ever met before.

What needs to happen going forward? LA knows what he has here and he is right to keep riding the middle America/cowboy motif. Keep country until America tells you differently, and, with the liberal interpretation of the week’s theme (Al Green does not equal diva), he should continue to have complete flexibility.

2 (2) Carly Rose Sonenclar (should be 1)

Is this the right ranking? LA rightfully jumped on the Carly Rose train this week. She is a superstar and clearly (by a wider and wider margin) the most talented person in the competition. Her age continues to be an asset (Simon questioned if it was even possible that she is human!), but 13, 30, or 50, Carly Rose is special. Yes, I have heard “My Heart Will Go On” 70 times more than I have ever desired, but Britney had some actual sense when she contended that Carly Rose more than filled Celine’s shoes. Think about that for a moment: comparing Carly Rose’s voice (she has a long way to go in unintentional comedy excellence) to Celine Dion is not unreasonable.

What needs to happen going forward? I am at a point where I am ready to hear Carly Rose sing a longer set (her voice is just that good). How Britney (and her army of handlers) will mentor Carly Rose going forward remains enigmatic, so my hope is that she continues to find material that will allow her brilliant talent a complete showcase.

3 (3) Vino Alan (should be 6)

Is this the right ranking? As I wrote last week, The X Factor producers may want to remove the microphone from Vino Alan after he sings. His weird and wild shout outs (mentioning Huey Lewis on national television is never a great look) after his performance need to go. Notwithstanding, his Al Green impression was fine (although not even in the same league as President Obama’s) and certainly stretched the accuracy of the diva theme, but as the week’s go by, I am just not sure about Vino’s longevity in this competition and in a performing artist career. I know he has been through a lot (as we are often told) and I know he has several tattoos on his head, but I am learning less about him as an artist the more he sings. He is a soul singer, but I am struggling to understand his musical connection.

What needs to happen going forward? He did the Al Green and it worked. I would love to see him tackle somebody like Otis who’s less silk smooth and more rough around the edges. America seems to dig him, so more of the same is a sound strategy for Mr. Reid.

4 (6) Emblem3 (should be 2)

Is this the right ranking? Last week, Emblem3 was the definitive best act and a sixth place ranking seemed out of sync. After this week’s ode to Alicia Keys, I am more comfortable with a fourth place standing. From the beginning, I have had serious questions about Emblem3’s musicality viability and I thought this week’s performance revealed these concerns anew (especially with the backing vocal mix of the professional background vocalists considerably louder than Emblem3 – sound engineer, we need to fix this). I get that they are about an idea and a feeling more than a overwhelming storm of talent, but it is quite a burden to have to always bring this to the table.

What needs to happen going forward? Simon needs to find that spark again in the song selection. I like when their mashups of current pop hits and a similar route next week could further this week’s rise in the rankings trend.

5 (12) CeCe Frey (should be 9)

Is this the right ranking? Obviously not and this ranking was likely propelled again by enduring the brunt of the judges communal wrath (Britney simply [is there any other way for her?] stated, “I just don’t get it.”) and America’s sympathy. Simon understood that her “All By Myself” should have sung to a room of just that. Unfortunately, Demi doesn’t get CeCe and CeCe doesn’t get CeCe. She is an artist that fell through the cracks to the live shows and is now in a position in front of millions that feels uncomfortable and cruel.

What needs to happen going forward? I wish I knew. I think, at a minimum, she may do better all by herself on stage. Another full out makeover can’t hurt. I don’t know.

6 (5) Fifth Harmony (should be 4)

Is this the right ranking? This is just about right. Simon is right to think that a diva themed week must feature Mariah, but “Hero” is a such a solo artists vehicle and for me, the song got lost in the five girl collaboration (especially when the Camila riffing began – it just wasn’t working). Notwithstanding, I am starting to believe their harmonious backstage presentation (and mutual love of puppies) is the real deal. They are likable and I have found myself the last few weeks looking forward to their performances.

What needs to happen going forward? Like Simon, I think they are a potential dark horse to win this competition. What is most important going forward is to start to find what makes Fifth Harmony relevant in the current music charts. If anyone can make this discovery (they are so lucky not be linked to the lady judges), it is Simon Cowell.

7 (4) Diamond White (should be 5)

Is this the right ranking? Yes, Diamond slight drop made sense, but it is really Britney’s doing (she blew Beatrice this week too, more on that shortly). I adore “Halo” and I adore Beyoncé’s original record, but Diamond is not ready to fill this song’s emotional understanding requirements. Rachel Crow’s version at Simon’s house had a Carly Rose-like maturity that felt honest and real. Diamond, who can sing with the best of them (and as well as any 13 year-old that has ever auditioned for me), is a much younger 13 than Carly Rose and needs to be working with material that fits this reality.

What needs to happen going forward? This is what I wrote last week: Diamond must find song content that allows her voice to soar while acknowledging that she is very much a girl, not yet (even close to being) a woman. The same is true. I would have loved for Diamond to tackle Christina’s “Reflection,” but I am not sure Britney would have gone for that (#rivalrieslastforever).

8 (10) Beatrice Miller (should be 8)

Is this the right ranking? Sorry, Beatrice, but it is too high. Her boring and awful song selection (“Time After Time” is such a hit or miss) had nothing to do with Beatrice as a person or an artist (and honestly, the hourglass projections behind her were off-putting). I am not sure what Britney thinks she has in Beatrice (beyond a model for her old Punky Brewster imitation outfits) and the audience is picking up on this, Ms. Spears.

What needs to happen going forward? Beatrice needs to have fun again on stage with material that allows her to open up and express some of her youthful vitality. This week was painful to endure.

9 (11) Arin Ray (should be 7)

Is this the right ranking? America got it right with Arin. I did enjoy his solo (background singers withstanding) Madonna balladic work on stage, but when teenybopper peer Demi is losing interest (“You don’t have soul” were the harshest and most unnecessary words spoken on Wednesday night) something is drastically wrong. Arin is in over his head in the competition (but does seem like a really sweet guy!)

What needs to happen going forward? More singing to Normani (his Fifth Harmony crush)?

10 (8) Paige Thomas (should be 10)

Is this the right ranking? Yes. Paige’s journey is close to an end (even Demi voted for her to go home this week!). Her save me song (a wrong, wrong Coldplay’s “Paradise”) and Donna Summer rehash Wednesday night highlight her fundamental problems: her talent is nondescript, her genre is unspecific, and her costumes are awful. What makes her interesting is a fabrication, either created around her or put on her body in hair, makeup, and wardrobe. I do think she has something to say inside, but Demi is the wrong mentor to find it.

What needs to happen going forward? Motherhood seems to be a theme of her story. I would find material that highlights this idea.

Eliminated – Lyric 145 (ranked last this week, last week 9)

On the scale of “devastated” to “bu-bye”, how do I feel about their departure? It was their time. They were at a disadvantage all competition for being the only hip-hop artist. I will miss Simon’s mad scientist song formulas, Lyric’s unexplained eye patch (I am still not sure if she can see), and their crazy stage antics.

Eliminated – Jennel Garcia

On the scale of “devastated” to “bu-bye”, how do I feel about his departure? I am closer to devastated. I had Jennel ranked fourth last week and I still believe in her “X Factor.” Sadly, I think Demi did (and so not intentionally) everything to push Jennel away from who she really was and the confidence that comes with it. Look at Simon’s groups. The fact that he believes in them and defends them and supports them to be the best they can be goes such a long way. Simon would have known how to bring Jennel to that place, and unfortunately, Demi did not. We will miss you, Jennel.

My rankings:

  1. Carly Rose Sonenclar
  2. Emblem 3
  3. Tate Stevens
  4. Fifth Harmony
  5. Diamond White
  6. Vino Alan
  7. Arin Ray
  8. Beatrice Miller
  9. CeCe Frey
  10. Paige Thomas

What do you think? Will you miss Jennel? Will Demi’s losing streak continue? Does Britney know what “heartfelt” means?

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

5 Things You Need to Know: LINCOLN

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 


1. Steven Spielberg’s transformative and triumphant Lincoln is a film that depicts the innermost inner workings of our nation’s government at perhaps the foremost of historical crossroads.  The question of slavery abolition legislation in January of 1865 (as proposed through the 13th Amendment) is the two hours and twenty nine minutes traffic of our stage.  Despite its essential historical record and human condition exploration, the traffic is slow-moving, dense, and not ready-made for the average filmgoer, but like the challenges faced by President Lincoln and the great legislative and citizen abolitionist pioneers, Lincoln could not be more well worth the struggle.

2. Daniel Day-Lewis’s portrayal of the sixteenth United States President is simply the best performance in the career of the world’s best living film actor.  His full immersion commitment (staying in character throughout filming – on and off set, signing things “A” for Abraham) yields a revelatory cinematic experience.  From his first scene on a Virginia battlefield to his last moments at the White House before his fateful trip to the Ford’s theater on an April night in 1865, Day-Lewis is so believably this behemoth of a man and American icon that he creates the most personal relationship I have ever had with a real-life person on screen.  In one of the surest predictions I have ever had to make, Daniel Day-Lewis will win his third Best Actor Oscar at the 2013 Academy Awards.

3. In a brilliant career that has no equal in the medium, Steven Spielberg has never made a picture like Lincoln before.  Its subtlety, its delicacy, its courageous devotion to the processes that surround its subject as much as the subject itself, its commitment to the human detail in a mosaic of recognizable actors portraying historical figures and legislative players, and its ability to rely on words more than images stand out amongst his pantheon of great works.  This is the achievement of a director who has nothing left to prove, yet Mr. Spielberg has created another incredible journey to assert why he is the greatest living storyteller.

4. Tommy Lee Jones, triumphantly playing abolitionist congressmen Thaddeus Stevens of Pennsylvania, is at the centre of the most moving and inspiring moment of the picture (you will know it when you see it).  It reaffirms how big picture monumental changes and concepts (like the 13th Amendment) yield the most personal of consequences.

5. Lincoln is a motion picture (Spielberg’s first since Saving Private Ryan) that, like its subject matter, will be remembered as an all-time great.

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company.  His weekly X Factor column appears on and his weekly THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS Power Rankings can be read on Derek Kosinski’s

5 Things You Need to Know: SKYFALL

When I see a movie in theaters, I will write the five things you need to know about it.

5 Things You Need to Know About… 


1. Skyfall is an 143 minute long movie that feels like an 143 minutes long movie.  There are eye-candied sequences of classic action cinema mastery whose shot by shot intricacy, visually stunning stunts, and pulsating pacing are compelling and brilliant, but inevitably exhausting.  There are also too many story elements, unnecessary villain plan complexity (although much of Javier Bardem’s sinister and campy performance is a joy to witness), and questionable character inclusions (let’s just say that Skyfall was not a good platform for the Bond girl) that could have been easily omitted.

2. Metaphorically and often in actuality, Skyfall is set at dusk on a gloomy and raw late November day.  Daniel Craig’s hair color is consistently the brightest thing on screen (the innumerable explosions notwithstanding).  His icy, flatlined, psychologically troubled and sharpshooting deficient, and cold-hearted James Bond isn’t having too much fun here (even his near death inspired beach vacation is curtailed by his devotion to and love of country).  It is quite possible that the events in The Dark Knight Rises, when Gotham City is under Bane’s wintry, bridge destruction filled occupation, occurred concurrently with much of Skyfall‘s third, fourth, fifth, and sixth acts (and yes, it felt like there were that many).  Be sure to pack your scarf and mittens or you may catch a cold.

3. Bond movies are often enhanced by their exotic locales and location shoots.  Beyond a classic, multiple vehicular chase sequence extraordinaire in Turkey to open the picture, Skyfall is all about London (again filled with sunless, cloudy skies) and its United Kingdom environs.  The traditional propensity of foreign locales will often provide a Bond movie distant and less consequential stakes (we are watching the train derailment but we are not wholly experiencing it because it is somewhere far away).  Skyfall takes the opposite approach and intentionally (and in some ways not, some MGM budget issues forced the scrapping of some additional foreign shoots) brings the consequences closer to the pond.

4. Judi Dench, for the sixth time portraying MI6 leader M, earns her Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire title in this movie.  At the remarkable age of 0077, she is very much a sight to behold.  In so many ways, Skyfall is Dame Judi’s picture.

5. Skyfall is a movie (a good James Bond movie at that), but not a transcendent cinematic force as some critics have suggested.  I was stirred, but not shaken.

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company.  His weekly X Factor column appears on and his weekly THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASONS Power Rankings can be read on Derek Kosinski’s