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 ultimatechallengeradio.com.

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