There is really no way around this: Wednesday night’s first X Factor live show of the season was an unmitigated disaster. The sixteen final acts (four from each mentor’s category) performed a hodgepodge of nondescript, throwaway songs mostly overblown with unnecessary and painfully distracting dancers and stage production that would lead a first time viewer (“Auditions aren’t for me, but let me check out the first live show!”) to question the overall talent and struggle to find more than a few favorite performers to root for. Many acts (especially the mentees of Demi and Britney) were given hideous and peculiar makeovers that looked like they were either put through a 1985 VMA Awards time capsule (in Demi’s case), Britney Spears’ 1999 closet (what she did to “Hit Me Baby One More Time-ify” Carly Rose was unconscionable), or “Yo MTV Raps” wardrobe room (Lyric 145, who LA reasonably questioned for selling out). Loyal viewers from the beginning of this season wanted to know what had happened to their favorite acts (What was Jason Brock doing? Why is Demi pigeonholing Jennel as a rocker chick?) and were further confused by others (the constructed rivalry between CeCe and Paige became a competition of who could look the least human). This was just a mess.
In fairness to the X Factor brass (and furthering the theme of last week’s column), the abrupt Giants sweep of the Tiger in the World Series moved the X Factor airing up one day, so maybe they weren’t ready. Maybe the format of this week (no public vote, judges select the final twelve) led Simon and friends to make the first live show an audition for next week and thereby wanted to hold back any semblance of quality. Who knows? What is clear is that the final twelve (and the mentors in their song selection and overall guidance) have their work cut out for them next week to reattempt to engage the American public in these aspiring to stardom musical acts.
Since this was the first live show, I must note how both the live debuts of new hosts Mario “having a strong career second act” Lopez and Khloe “daughter of Attorney Robert” Kardashian Odom and first-time judge/mentor Britney “tightly handled” Spears faired (Yes, this is Demi’s first live show as well, but she is honest, natural, not always affective, but refreshingly unrehearsed).
THE NEW HOSTS
Mario Lopez, channeling Idol season 3 Ryan Seacrest, is a hosting/entertainment show professional. He reads the teleprompter with the best of them, knows how to handle producer instruction in his ears, and is not easily rattled when live problems arise. He will never take Steve Jones-like risks (most of the time a great thing, although I do miss the limitless unintentional comedy of a Steve Jones hosting experience), yielding a smooth execution that will never excessively standout or dramatically underperform.
Khloe Kardashian Odom, who is really diving into the hosting deep end here without knowing how to swim, had a respectable debut and will only grow into the role (wardrobe body part accentuation notwithstanding). When teleprompter reading, she is a work in progress, often struggling with word emphasis, cadences, and timing. This will improve and it will certainly help to have Super Mario by her side. Khloe is at her best when she is let loose to improvise (multiple times referring to “sexy Simon”) and hold judge comments accountable. In this exchange with Demi (maybe the most real moment of the episode) after 1432’s (what is up with this name?) performance, Khloe channeled her late father’s courtroom skills:
Khloe: “Demi, who was the one that clicked for you, Demi?”
Demi: (not hearing or ignoring the question) “Next up, we have my final contestant from my group…”
Khloe: “Demi, Demi, who was the one that clicked for you?”
Demi: “Oh, I am…they should figure it out on their own? I am not going to say it right here…”
Khloe: “I want to know and I think they should know so they know how to work better together.”
Demi: “I think that they should all just…you (with a point)”
Mario: (chiming in) “Ok, it took a little interrogation.”
Khloe: (not backing down) “Which one? Carmella?”
Demi: “Yes, I think you all should learn something from her.”
This is a refreshing live TV exchange and more of this from Khloe is only a good thing.
BRITNEY SPEARS LIVE
Here is a complete breakdown of the sixteen comments made by Britney after the sixteen acts with some of my brief observations to follow (I sometimes struggled capturing punctuation and grammar of Britney speak):
“I felt, I just feel like you’re outrageous, you’re outrageous, I love everything about it, the costumes are beautiful, your performance was great, and I think you are a true star.” – after Paige Thomas (Does she even know what “outrageous” means?)
“I am so proud of you, I can’t believe. You were a little genius up there and I love the performance the way you gave it. And, it was on, I loved it.” – after Arin Ray (As opposed to the way you didn’t give it? Little genius? Really?)
“I thought it was very interesting. I thought you guys – I wasn’t expecting that, and I felt like you really delivered. You had a great performance and I think you were stunning.” – after Sister C
“I felt like you rocked it out. You completely rocked it out. I love your hairstyle. I love the way you dressed. I loved everything about. It was really amazing.” – after Jennel Garcia (Note: The use of “Amazing” for a third time.)
“You impressed me so much. I am so incredibly proud of you and I’m, you were amazing.” after Diamond White (Of course, above all else, “amazing” (number 4).)
“I really feel like you were really good and I feel your effort and but I was a little bored.” after Vino Alan (At least this appears to be a break from the “amazing” script.)
“I was genuinely entertained.” – after Jason Brock (Her emphasis on “genuinely” is classic.)
“I agree with LA. I felt like overall it was a really great performance. I loved your outfit. I love your performance. It was really great, but your vocals were a little weak sometimes.” after CeCe Frey (Read this back one more time. She really struggles with sentence structure variation.)
“I feel like you wow me every time you perform. Every time I see you I’m just like “I know you get the girls, you get me” and I think you’re amazing.” – after Tate Stevens (What is she talking about? “I know you get the girls”? What does this even mean? Note: “Amazing” number 5.)
“I disagree. I think you are a true star. You are amazing. You are the best and I loved it. It was great.” – after Beatrice Miller (“Amazing” number 6. Beatrice’s response to Mario’s question about what Britney is like: “Britney is the best. She totally gets what it is like to be a kid.” I fear this is all too true.)
“I really feel like you could have chose a better song but overall it was really interesting and entertaining.” – after Lyric 145 (You know “interesting” can often be used as a euphemism for “I don’t like it” or “I don’t get it.” I think for Britney, “interesting” means interesting.)
“I felt like your energy just drew us in and you were very, very honest. I was pleasantly surprised.” – after 1432
“I feel like you are a true star. You have what it takes. I was definitely entertained and you are amazing.” – after Willie Jones (“Amazing” number 7.)
“I felt your vocals were amazing and you did a great, great job.” – after Carly Rose Sonneclar (“Amazing number 8.)
“Your trio is amazing. You are absolutely adorable…(the audience it too loud to hear)…you guys were amazing.” – after Emblem3 (And, finally, “amazing” 9 and 10).
The transcript does not even come close to encapsulating the struggle that is Britney’s live verbal expression. She is a mess and seems to using a word bank of eight words (amazing, interesting, love, great, entertaining, I, definitely, felt). I know this was her first night, but I am concerned going forward that we are in store for more of this inconsequential babble. It begs the question (especially considering her disastrous mentor artistic choices this week) if she will be able to support her very talented teens. Can you imagine if Khloe had interrogated her? What would she have said? (“You are amazing.”) My take: I think like all parts of her 2012 life, Britney is carefully controlled by her handlers. Everything she says, does, and eats is predetermined or meticulously edited (including concert performances). This is her first sojourn into live expression in some time and the philosophy of her handlers this week was to give her some token phrases to work from and to keep it all brief. I hope that she is allowed a little more leverage going forward so we at least get a sense of what (and dare I say if) she thinks on her own.
MOMENT OF THE NIGHT
NIGHT 2 – Thursday
This week, the public sits back and (mostly) does not enjoy, while the mentors choose two of their acts to immediately go forward to the final twelve and two of their acts to perform a “save me song.” Post “save me song,” Simon, Britney, LA, and Demi must keep one of their acts and send their other act home. Briefly, here is what went down.
Demi immediately sends Jennel Garcia and Paige Thomas to the safe place. Jennel is her biggest no-brainer, who, despite some misguided rock angst fabrication on Wednesday night, is the only Demi contestant that has any shot in this competition. Paige Thomas’ Rhianna-lite performance Wednesday night (“outrageous” according to Ms. Spears) was weird enough for Demi to lead her through. CeCe (despite some pitch problems and an overall creepy affect) clearly differentiated herself (in a good way) from the one trick Southern gentleman, Willie Jones, ending his X Factor life.
Moving on to the top 12: Jennel Garcia, Paige Thomas, CeCe Frey
Who has a chance to win this competition: Jennel Garcia
Now that LA portends to be more on board with his Over 25s group, I have gone in an opposite direction and left Wednesday’s live show unsure of what to do with any of these men. LA selected Tate Stevens (the conservative choice, a good singer, not much more) and Vino Alan (visibly vindictive for Britney’s “boring” comment) to move on. David Correy’s “way too much” rendition of Kelly Clarkson’s “Since You’ve Been Gone” (Demi and Simon were so on point with their comments) and Jason Brock’s “One Moment in Time” (a great song selection, the too high key yielded some unreachable high notes) were aptly like judging, according to Simon, “two horses at the pack of the pack.” LA made the right choice by keeping Jason who could use better mentoring and less “Mr. Entertainment!” from Mr. Reid in future weeks.
Moving on to the top 12: Vino Alan, Tate Stevens, Jason Brock
Who has a chance to win this competition: At this point, no one
Britney made a mess of her group this week, so we all felt relief when she correctly put Carly Rose Sonneclar through to the top 12. Her selection of Beatrice Miller was a bit of a surprise (especially to the emotional, Beatrice). Arin and Diamond both strutted their vocal stuff leaving Britney with “like the hardest decision ever.” She chose the perhaps more ready for primetime Arin (I am not sure I really get it) over Diamond White (such a sweetheart). Is it too late to assign Simon to both the groups and the teens and have Britney sit back and sip Pepsi? I don’t think she would mind!
Moving on to the top 12: Beatrice Miller, Carly Rose Sonenclar, Arin Ray
Who has a chance to win this competition: Carly Rose Sonenclar
Simon’s category had the best showing on Wednesday night (although I was kind of with LA on the hip-hop-less Lyric 145 performance) and all his groups have something to add to this competition. However, his selections of Emblem3 (the frontrunner at this point) and Lyric 145 to the top 12 were the right decisions. Sister C was Simon’s group casualty and as little C sister pointed out, maybe they should stick to country and stay away from pop. 1432 is saved for another week, although their second name (they used to be Lylas) is not. Simon wants an on-line competition to make a better name. It is not a good sign that this five girl construction is still in search of a viable name at this point.
Moving on to the top 12: Emblem3, Lyric 145, the artist formally known as 1432/Lylas
Who has a chance to win this competition: Emblem3. I finally understood why they are the frontrunners this week. Although never going to be my jam (this bad behavior will not help), they are going to be very attractive to young music consumers who want to watch three young, good looking dudes have so much fun onstage. I think their talent is in this charisma (certainly not musically) and like always on The X Factor, in Simon we trust.
What do you think? Is season 2 of The X Factor Emblem3‘s to lose? Is Britney going to add more words to her vocabulary?
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 every Monday on Derrick Kosinski’s ultimatechallengeradio.com.