First it was Simon Cowell. Now it is Piers Morgan’s turn to be a Brit facing United States audience rejection. The former journalist turned America’s Got Talent adjudicator turned Larry King primetime replacement and the face of the mainstream media anti-gun cultural movement (and an admirable soldier he has been) will no longer be sharing his opinions on a nightly basis. CNN and Piers Morgan have decided to end Piers Morgan Live (the final show date is to be determined). For a platform and show that started with a fair amount of promise and intrigue three years ago (his first interview with Oprah set an initial ceiling that he has struggled to consistently maintain), Piers is no longer a viable ratings choice for CNN (Megyn Kelly’s Fox News conservative variety show has proved to be a tough act to go against). Some will miss his pithy banter. Some will not. I will miss his consummate and fervent advocacy for better gun control laws. There has been no louder (albeit not always effective with the people who must be reached) voice. On the plus side, Taran Killam’s (oops, a total miss) Piers Morgan impression will thankfully be retired.
In a decision that seemed to shock no one and barely popped in the the weekend television news cycle, the United States version of The X Factor will not be returning for a fourth season. Such a cancellation would have been on the cover of Variety or Entertainment Weekly just a few years ago, but the American X Factor struggled off the gate with overhype, strange host and mentor performances, and, until this fall, winning acts who were not going to translate into viable recording artists1. Here are ten takeaways from my three seasons of devoted DVR season pass viewing:
1) Steve Jones is not Ryan Seacrest2 and maybe I was “a bit naive” to ever think so. Let’s just say that composure was not his forté.
2) Rachel Crow was a really special talent from season 1. She is now doing some acting work in Hollywood, so good for her to parlay her obvious talent into a little career.
3) In three seasons, there were nine different judges (if you include the hot second Cheryl Cole was around) and three different hosts. At least Simon and his producer cohort were trying to make the show work better!
4) It was a treat to watch Simon mold and mentor his artists, especially Fifth Harmony during season 2 and Alex and Sierra during season 3. There is a reason why Simon has been so successful in the music business beyond the entertainment value of his snarky remarks as a judge. He is a master identifier and cultivator of talent (as we heard too many times in reference to One Direction) and Fifth Harmony and Alex and Sierra show why. I am still amazed that he managed to see something in Emblem3.
5) Carly Rose Sonenclar should have won season 2. This girl is really special and it is unfortunate that her forum for this kind of broad audience exposure was not an early Idol season where she could have more easily broken out.
6) The US X Factor was my introduction to Demi Lovato, who, on her best days, was a pleasure to watch judge her contestants. Her rapport with Simon over the past two seasons was one the reasons to still watch.
7) Britney Spears thought everything was “amazing” while mentoring contestants during season 2. The producers thought that the nonsensical murmurings of Paulina Rubio would be a better direction to take for season 3.
8) Living up to Simon’s initial ratings predictions gave The X Factor an unrealistic charge. Had it come out of the gate as an upcoming act rather than the self-declared one to beat, it might have had an easier time catching on. Also, the MLB Baseball Playoffs were always the enemy to X Factor momentum. Competition reality shows cannot just take weeks off and expect to continue to build an audience.
9) My final judge/mentor rankings in order of best to worst: Simon Cowell (season 3), Demi Lovato (season 2), Simon Cowell (season 1), Kelly Rowland (season 3), Simon Cowell (season 2), LA Reid (season 1), LA Reid (season 2), Demi Lovato (season 3), Paula Abdul (season 1), Nicole Scherzinger (season 1), Paulina Rubio (season 3), Britney Spears (season 2). Not enough information: Cheryl Cole (season 1)
10) Alex and Sierra, to quote Britney, were “amazing.”
- Yes, we do not know how Alex and Sierra will fair off on their own, but they have the potential to be something special. It is not a coincidence that we have not heard anything from season 1 winner Melanie Amaro in quite sometime and I admittedly had to look up Tate Stevens name (and I wrote a weekly column on season 2!). ↩
- I have never appreciated Ryan Seacrest more than during the Steve Jones host experiment. ↩
Last night, the final three acts of The X Factor performed for the last time before America’s final vote. Tonight’s season finale part II is supposed to be a celebration of the season and will feature the big reveal of the winner of the $5 million recording contract. As has become my way in other Wednesday night show recap/columns, I thought a running diary was the way to go. Unlike the first performance of tonight, this diary was written live…
THE X FACTOR SEASON FINALE PART II RUNNING DIARY
8:00 – It’s the X Factor red carpet and a “countdown” until the show begins. This is ridiculous.
8:01 – It’s LA Reid! He looks like a hobbit next to Khloe’s Gandalf.
8:02 – It’s Demi Lovato! She looks incredible, is incredible, but does not seem to be enjoying this silly interview with Mario Lopez. Can you blame her?
8:02 – It’s Simon Cowell! Khloe’s interview goes nowhere (a constant theme of season 2).
8:04 – It’s Britney! It’s Pitbull! It’s One Direction! Honestly, this red carpet routine feels uber-staged and insincere. This is embarrassing.
8:06 – The montage from last night reminds me of just how bad LeAnn Rimes performed last night in her duet with Carly Rose. If Carly Rose loses this, I am holding the “I am worried about you” version of Miss Rimes accountable.
8:08 – Did Pitbull get his nickname because he kind of looks like a pitbull? Can someone explain this to me?
8:10 – The packaged descriptions of the top three finalists (“the family man”) are too packaged (another unfortunate theme of this season).
8:10 – Hmm, what just happened? (I went back and watched. Here is what happened: Mario says, “Right now America, here are the X Factor top 3!” Then there is an excruciating six-second pause in which Mario and Khloe are frozen. Next, in silence, Mario and Khloe cross stage left and begin to talk, but the mics are turned off so you don’t hear their attempts to save the moment. Flash to a picture from outside of the red carpet of an SUV limo that may have been taken earlier in the evening. Mario’s mic comes back on and he makes some joke about how the contestants are so nervous that they are “making a deal” if one of them wins. Good try, Mario. Khloe laughs nervously and says, “I think we are ready.” Mario then again announces the top three and crosses stage right with a smile that says he wants to strangle whomever screwed this moment up so badly. All of this epitomizes so much of what has been wrong this season) That was unprofessional and inexcusable. Wow.
8:11 – Lip-synching opening performances should not be happening on a season finale of a Simon Cowell produced reality competition program. This is a complete mess so far.
8:12 – The walkthrough, SNL-like opening montage (“Look at all the performers that have come before you!”) is meant to be fun. Only Camila from Fifth Harmony seems to be having any. CeCe is getting her makeup done in the chair! Look, there’s Diamond White! Give her a hug Carly Rose! This is just embarrassing.
8:18 – The LA Reid “animated at the judges desk” montage set to the Nutcracker suite is the best produced segment on The X Factor in many weeks.
8:21 – I have written this many times before: if I were a fan of country music, I would really dig Tate Stevens. His voice shines on this slow-tempo Christmas jam. This is the highlight of the night so far.
8:25 – This video montage from Tate’s family and friends from back home in Belton, MO is a genuinely beautiful moment. His reaction to his mom and his son is what this show can be all about.
8:26 – Khloe, please be quiet with your “how did it make you feel” questions. They are unnecessary and silly.
8:32 – The whole Simon “is the Grinch” montage feels very 2003. Are they going to bring out Clay Aiken and Ruben Studdard next?
8:34 – I am a sucker for “Baby, Please Come Home” and I am (admittedly) a sucker for Fifth Harmony performances. Win or lose tonight, there is definitely something “X” as a factor with these five young women.
8:37 – Director of the X Factor: please show Dinah’s reaction to Dinah’s family and Normani’s reaction to Normani’s family. Thank you.
8:38 – Quick update: Camila’s little sister Sofia is now the highlight of the episode.
8:39 – Fifth Harmony members all have seemingly amazing families. This was a beautiful segment.
8:44 – Mario tells us that it is about to “get really intense in here.” Is he describing the meeting he is about to have with Simon when Simon lets him know that he will not be returning next season?
8:45 – The Britney reaction shots video may highlight an underlying truth: is Britney’s body language communication more effective than her verbal communication? Answer: Without question.
8:46 – Yeah, it was probably time for Carly Rose to tackle Mariah.
8:48 – These “funky toy soldier” dancers backing up Carly Rose are doing great work. It is unclear whether they are young people or not.
8:50 – Doris, Carly’s piano teacher, is a special woman. “Go Carly!”
8:52 – No, Mario. It is hard to explain how montages like that make one feel (although Carly Rose manages an eloquent answer because she is just that good). Stop asking, please.
8:53 – This Khloe interview with a fan is unintentional comedy in its ultimate form. Steve Jones would be proud.
8:58 – Hello unexpected Khloe costume change.
8:59 – Fifth Harmony is in third place! (This is not entirely unexpected). Khloe’s first comment is unintelligible. (“Fifth Harmony, you guys are out of the competition, but you guys fought a crazy fight to stay where you guys have.”) Has Khloe been taking Britney’s speech classes?
9:03 – Quick final take on Fifth Harmony – I give Simon much credit here. He recognized that there was something special with this combination of voices and personalities and mentored them to an improbable third place finish. They were always engaging and enjoyable to watch (the anti-Sister C) and certainly fill a gap in the marketplace. I wish them the best of luck in the future.
9:10 – Khloe continues to ask awful questions of the Stevens and Sonenclar families. Simon and X Factor brain trust: let’s find some new host talent for season 3.
9:14 – Watching this video montage of the entire season inspires this lingering thought: Jennel Garcia deserved to go further in this competition.
9:17 – When asked what her favorite moment of the season was, Britney’s reponse: “The whole season has been pretty amazing to me.” Classic.
9:18 – What is Drew Chadwick talking about? Renting a cabin and going snowboarding? Thankfully, one thing Khloe did learn this year: take away the mic from Drew Chadwick before he finished a sentence. We will all be better for it.
9:23 – My wife’s comment: “Pitbull looks like an old, creepy guy. He is not even that good and this song is stupid.”
9:25 – She continues, “He has a little ghost goatee. That is disgusting.” Speak the truth.
9:32 – The chemistry between Demi and Simon is undeniable. Of all the things that need to continue in season 3, this is it.
9:36 – One Direction came and went. Honestly, it was too easy to tune them out. I want the “biggest boy band in the world” to more effectively hold my attention.
9:42 – Carly Rose and Tate on the stage one last time and together singing a duet is a potential treat. Unfortunately, “The Climb” is stuck in no-man’s land for their two diametrically different voices.
9:46 – The Tate and Carly Rose hug at the end is an unexpected moment. These two finalists really care for one another.
9:48 – Simon has now unbuttoned three additional shirt buttons. He is trendsetting a new form of shirt called the “Helm’s Deep V-Neck.” (And no, I am not sure what this spontaneous pun means either.)
9:52 – Khloe’s costume change no. 3 does not work. This bedazzled pink and gold get-up is off-putting.
9:54 – This is it….the winner of The X Factor and the $5 Million dollar recording contract is…
9:55 – …Tate Stevens!
9:55 – Tate and then LA’s hug with Carly Rose is complete class. Credit to both of these men for understanding what it must feel like for a thirteen-year-old girl to come this far and then fall short.
9:56 – Carly Rose is visibly disappointed. Don’t you fret, girl. We will be hearing more from you soon.
9:58 – Demi and Simon have a sweet moment next to one another when they watch Tate sing through his “I am the winner” song. If anyone was going to beat Carly Rose, I am happy that it is this talented and kind man.
9:59 – Emblem3 are making fools of themselves on stage. Tough lasting impression, lads.
10:00 – The final image of the season? Camila giving Tate a congratulatory hug from behind as we fade to black. The X Factor season 2 season is now in the books and I think we all need a little break…
Stay tuned for a reflection on the whole season and an assessment of the current state of X Factor affairs in the coming days (or weeks). Until then, happy holidays to all!
David Bloom can be reached on twitter at @davidbloom7. His THE CHALLENGE POWER RANKINGS appear weekly on Derek Kosinski’s UltimateChallengeRadio.com.
The second season of The X Factor in the United States has been an exercise of mixing the forced lowering of expectations (Simon’s lofty season one ratings predictions were not achieved and may have been a set-up for inevitable letdown) with a self-aware-less internal hype machine that presents the stakes (a five million dollar prize and a ticket to super stardom) as industry affecting, monumental, and an assured successful career. This dichotomy between our collective understanding of the X Factor’s cultural footprint (a smaller one in a few too many reality singing competition world) and the footprint that the hype machine apparatus so overtly suggests often leaves the viewer feeling like it is all irritatingly inauthentic, and, most of the time, it is. Thankfully, talent, although subjectively adjudicated, is universally felt. When Khloe this week did one of her silly, crowd-surfing interviews with young female fans, she met a young tween who was there in support of Mr. Simon Cowell. When the tween was asked why she loved Simon, her response was “he’s always right…I love him.” Simon opinion infallibility is a bit hyperbolic, but he is musically insightful, has a verbal command that America recognized and fell in love with (albeit for some, for his meanness) over a decade ago, and knows what it takes to foster the growth of a budding recording artist. We tune in because he is talented (and one of the best in the industry).
This season on The X Factor, for all of its many demerits, missteps (more on this later) and overhyped buzz-less buzz, has managed to present some moments of genuine, authentic, and notable talent that have sent emotionally charged goosebumps throughout our bodies. When Carly Rose Sonenclar’s “star was born” several weeks ago, we felt the ripples of this movement. When Jason Brock, the over 25s first live show casualty, dramatically dominated his “New York State of Mind” rendition in initial auditions, we felt the ripples of this movement. When Diamond White channeled her inner Whitney and Mariah and when Jennel Garcia created such an impression at boot camp with just that look while she performed, we felt the ripples of this movement. Too often though, we are told by Mario, Khloe, and the X Factor publicity team that what is taking place is significant, but our hearts and our ears listening to the judges (Simon has been consistently on point, LA and Demi have been in recent weeks, Britney is not even in the oral communication continent) often tell us the opposite.
Fortunately, this penultimate week of The X Factor was both infused with a proper display of real talent (Wednesday night’s final four performances on the whole delivered) and genuine buzzworthy results (Emblem3’s shocking Thursday night departure, Britney’s reaction when Fifth Harmony was announced as one of the final three looked like she had just tasted liver for the first time) that justify all the hype. Last week we cared, but this week, The X Factor mattered, and, for a show whose momentum (Carly Rose brilliance excluded) has often been embodied in a typical Britney Spears sound bite (i.e. passionless and lost), it couldn’t have come at a better time. Although it was a suspect ride to get there, the final three of Carly Rose Sonenclar, Tate Stevens, and Fifth Harmony (the big shocker) will make for an interesting final week, an unclear outcome (the weekly leader board may have been one of the best things that the X Factor did this season), and the potential for a star (Carly Rose, Tate at least in the country world) to have their defining musical moment.
Before we recap the happenings of this week’s final four performances and look toward next week’s final, I wanted to begin by briefly assessing the performances of some of the lesser known people who contribute to the X Factor behind the scenes (next week I will adjudicate the season’s performances of judges and hosts – quick preview: Britney and Khloe need to go):
Lil’ Eddie, vocal coach – From his wikipedia page, I learned that Lil’ Eddie is an R&B/soul singer-songwriter (written for Usher and Pink) born in 1988. No offense to 24-year-olds (several are the nearest and dearest to my heart), but in a competition show where a judge is 20, is Lil’ Eddie really the best choice for vocal coach? He seems really chill, but his work with Emblem3 (particularly Drew and more recently Keaton) did not show much vocal coaching. I do appreciate his warm energy which is in sharp contrast to…
Autumn, vocal coach – …who seems really unhappy to be working on The X Factor and with artists like Paige Thomas and Fifth Harmony. I wish she could have a little more fun. At least she held Harmony, Fifth accountable for their namesake this week.
Whoever designed the title credits – The whole “outer space” motif has always worked poorly for me. It is yet another example of humblebraggery and overblown hype. As far as we know, the music (if you can call it that – too soon?) of artists like CeCe Frey should not be categorized as intergalactic.
Brian Friedman, supervising choreographer and creative director – You may have seen Mr. Friedman’s work in music videos (“Toxic” and “I’m a Slave 4 U” to name a few) and over the years on The X Factor and America’s Got Talent. I think he is an insanely talented man and his stage ideas continue to impress. Unfortunately, he is a choreographer who intrinsically puts more (movement is inherently more) into a medium that often calls for less (Carly Rose’s “Imagine” this week is a perfect case in point). I wonder if his creative director role is in contention with his choreographer role.
The video production designer – Although the images are often seriously misguided (the Fifth Harmony fire montage during “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” a few weeks ago comes to mind), I give this individual credit for coming up with so much content week after week.
Whoever choreographs Mario and Khloe to walk across the stage while announcing – This is always so silly. Also, since it is so silly, you may want to rehearse this at least once before trying each week. For unintentional comedy purposes, thank you. For quality work purposes, this is a disgrace.
The backup vocalists – Or, as I like to say when Emblem3 and Fifth Harmony perform, the co-lead vocalists. One of the most challenging aspects of this season’s musical failings has been the overuse of backup vocalists (who are legitimately killing it) to mask some of the potential issues that may arise from the vocal dynamics of the groups. I want Fifth Harmony to be five or Emblem3 (moot point now) to be three. Their issues can be masked, a luxury the Tates and Carly Roses are not afforded.
The faceless X Factor announcer voice – He is really annoying.
Now, on to a breakdown of this week’s performances from the final three and the now departed Emblem3. Because we are on a “leaderboard blackout” this week, I have ranked the artists in the order of “who should win season 2 of The X Factor.” Also, note that Britney Spears, Khloe Kardashian Odom, and Mario Lopez are not ranked and although not officially competing, should lose season 2 of The X Factor. I am just saying…
1. CARLY ROSE SONENCLAR
Compared to her normal, otherworldly self, Carly Rose had a tough week. Did Britney’s initial introduction of her as “my little thirteen-year-old didav” or “diav” (I certainly couldn’t tell) throw her off? Did the loss of her competition best friend, Diamond (they showed their beautiful departing moments), affect her confidence? Was she just due for an off week and it just happened at an unfortunate time? Either way, I was nervous for her to go home and was relieved when she was announced as the final of the final three (Even worse, after her two performances, Khloe asked Carly Rose, “What are you going to do to make sure you are in the finals?” Carly Rose, after having already sung her two songs: “Well, there is nothing else I can do.” C’mon, Khloe).
Her first song, a uniquely arranged rendition of Elton John’s “Your Song,” was mostly classic Carly Rose (a good thing), but for the first time in the competition, she seemed her actual age of thirteen while performing (this was bound to happen). Still, the early judge comments validated her song choice. LA thought she “did things with that song that [he] never heard done before” and Demi, despite thinking it was “still very predictable,” thought it was her “favorite song” that Carly has ever performed. Simon and I agreed that it was a “beautiful version of a fantastic song,” but that she “can do better than that.” Britney, in predictably incoherent form, told Carly that she was “right before my eyes.” Yep.
Simon’s analysis of her second song, “Imagine” by John Lennon, hit all the right notes. Britney suggested (rightfully so) that Carly show her piano playing as part of her performance (after Tate and Drew of Emblem3’s guitar “playing” earlier this season, a low bar for instrument usage had been set), but instead of riding the piano the entire song, she stood up, walked around, belted (at times unsuccessfully) some unnecessary high notes before finally returning to the piano at the end. Simon said this “made a beautiful song fussy,” wasn’t sure “that song needs those big notes,” and thought it was “overcomplicated” (preach Simon, preach). The outcome of this movement happy mentor direction (either Britney, Autumn, or Brian) made a potential game-winning move into a sloppy mess and one of Carly Rose’s least outstanding performances. In contrast, a balladic, simple, piano performance of one of the greatest songs of all-time (and on that note, I credit Carly Rose for tackling Mr. John and Mr. John Lennon in the same week, gutsy) could have been an opportunity for Carly Rose to seal her victory. Instead, she was on the brink of going home. Mentor/judge/enigma Spears majorly dropped the ball and could have cost this legitimate star an opportunity to compete in the finals.
2. TATE STEVENS
Tate’s week exemplified what he has been the entire competition: consistently good. I am no active listener or frequent enjoyer of the genre of music called “country,” but I get why Tate is a viable and potentially successful country artist. Despite Britney’s out of nowhere “I don’t think it was your best” comment, Tate elevated his uptempo “Bonfire” as far “out in the sticks” as one could possibly imagine. What was so remarkable about this first performance was the passionate energy emanating from this midwestern road worker (who may or may not have lost his job). Simon said it best when he noted that Tate looks “like a man right now who believes he can win this competition.” His age, often used as an asset, showed a poise that that his younger competition do not have the years to embody. His “Bonfire” performance was the most fun LA has had since he has done this show.
His second song, “Fall” by Clay Walker, a big country love ballad, was Tate Stevens doing his best Tate Stevens. He was so at home, rocking the rousing choruses, connecting on the key change (with a nice little falsetto line), and making his wife of fifteen years (Happy Anniversary!) oh so proud. Even Britney, who has somehow seen Tate “hit and miss a lot” (WHAT?), thought it was a “direct hit.” Tate is maybe not a transcendent performer, but is really good and if he wins next week, he will be deserving.
3. FIFTH HARMONY
Fifth Harmony, Simon’s “second group, because Demi hasn’t got any,” had their best performance in this competition with their contestant’s choice song, “Anything Can Happen” by Ellie Goulding. The performance, arrangement, costumes, and concept were all incredibly dynamic. The harmonies were tight and clear (despite the backing vocalists who continue to do too much). No, the male waiters with butterfly wings serving food to the ladies at the table made little sense, but I was more distracted by the undeniable energy coming out of the five young woman (especially Normani who was on fire this week!). The judges (and the voting public, apparently) saw what I saw. LA called it “the very best performance” Fifth Harmony has ever done and Simon thought that now “anything could happen” for this clear underdog. (Britney found it to be “inspiring girl power.” Of course she did.)
Although their second performance (and second time in the competition – the first at Simon’s house back when they were called Lylas) of “Impossible” did not connect with all the judges (Britney: “I would be surprised if you were here next week.”), this reminder of why Simon “fell in love in the first place” was enough to compel the American vote. For many weeks, I have placed their ceiling as top three and, after their “Anything Can Happen” success story, here they are. They may be a wee bit annoying in their over the top “we love everything and each other” pre-performance video each week, but when the music of Fifth Harmony connects (“Anything Can Happen” and “Impossible” that first time), we feel something special. Although Emblem3 earned a spot in the finals after their awesome week (more on that in a bit), I am happy that Fifth Harmony made it. They will make for a compelling finals.
Yes, Fifth Harmony over Emblem3 in the finals is serious surprise and unfortunate because Emblem3 were likely the best act of the week. Both of their performances (an unexpectedly effective “Baby, I Love Your Way” and a surprisingly good “Hey Jude”) were electric and moving. Simon contended after their first song that “if this doesn’t get you into the finals, nothing will.” They did everything they could have done – command the stage, connect with many audiences, appear humble, show great musicality – yet America’s vote was the only arbiter this week (no judge controlled sing off) and their eventual demise. My Emblem3 enjoyment journey this season has been a bit of a roller coaster, but I found myself this week, particularly during the Beatles sacred “Hey Jude,” surprised and becoming a legitimate fan. If Simon’s kind work ethic and passion compliments are true about Wes (absolutely killing it this week with his vocals), Keaton, and Drew “we will miss your sleeveless self” Chadwick, their one direction to One Direction stardom has only just begun. As Drew said when sound board operators failed to mute his mic, “we are going to do something great in this world…we need your help.” I would not be floored if he were right.
My prediction for next week: Fifth Harmony will finish in third place (last year they announced this result at the top of Thursday night’s result show, poor Chris Rene) and Carly Rose will beat out Tate for first place (or at least that is what I hope will happen). Honestly, it is anyone’s game and, for the first time all season, The X Factor matters.
Tune in Wednesday night at 8:00 PM on Fox!
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.
The X Factor takes a fair amount of self-referential pride in being a trendsetter, a buzz machine that drives popular culture, and a weekly live event that supposes to be the centerpiece of the musical universe. In reality, little of this has been true in its first and now (nearing the end of) second United States season, but, in order for it to succeed, The X Factor and its most essential promoters (the hosts and the judges, the mad men from Pepsi-Cola, not always Fox) must believe it be true. Khloe and Mario (congrats on the marriage this past weekend), befuddled and overmatched as they may be, are paid to facilitate a consummate self (as in The X Factor’s self) promotional tour. They spend their weekly three hours of live airtime reminding the viewer just how important the many happenings on the stage are. They improvise questions (habitually disastrous and poorly timed) of fabricated significance, they react to playful banter between Demi and Simon as if they are observing moments of unheard of dramatic tension, and they introduce each judge entrance and contestant performance as if the fate of the universe (listen, the opening credits justify my hyperbolic metaphor) is in play. Unfortunately, we too often see through the work (a generous term) of Ms. Kardashian Odom, the artist formally known as AC Slater, and the publicity junket juggernaut to find all of the glitz and glamoured overproduction disingenuous. Does this competition and all the baggage that too often comes with it really justify a $5 million recording contract prize? Do any of these contestants even deserve it? Should the brain trust of the show be sent to the naughty corner?
With these questions and thoughts too frequently pervading the audience psyche during each weekly viewing, something made this week’s shows featuring an audience “choose your own adventure (at least in CeCe’s case) of a song” Pepsi-Challenge and an “unplugged” performance feel so different. On one level, the judges panel (excluding Ms. Spears who wears her passion on her sleeve, except she doesn’t seem to wear any sleeves) could not have been more committed to their mentees and the performers at large. Simon (always strives to reach the $5 million ceiling of the show), LA (finally grooving after faltering earlier in the season), and Demi (with newly sharpened edges and some refreshing honesty) went to bat for the contestants and the competition itself. They were passionate, clear, forward-thinking, enthusiastic, and largely accurate in their understanding of performance success or lack there of. They cheerleadered the answer to the big “so what?” question that the X Factor must continually face with a contagious energy. I cared because they cared.
Although judge positive activity (in its many manifestations) is an essential component to the success of this show, ultimately, it is about the contestants, and for the first time all season, this group of contestants left everything on that stage. Maybe this is a byproduct of the depreciating numbers and proximity to the finals, but something universally clicked and we, the audience at home, were finally faced with the music (stealing X Factor puns is my right). Riding the birth of a Carly Rose star nation wave (she is really in a different league), the momentum throughout the first night of performances was filled memorable musical moments and heightened clarity as to who these artists are right now and what they may become.
Two eliminations later, we are down to the top 4, and for the first time all season, the buzz (especially surrounding the privilege of experiencing a Carly Rose Sonenclar performance) is worthy.
Before we scout out the top 4 contestants and take a moment to honor the fallen two, here a few side notes that must be addressed:
- Drew Chadwick of Emblem3 wore sleeves all week. Apparently the memo was received.
- The Sony X headphones segment was vomit-inducing (in a Survivor private cinema showing of Jack and Jill kind of way). The product placement propensity is one thing, but to ask the contestants to discuss the origins of their love of music synonymously with their use of the Sony X headphones was unforgivable.
- The segments involving conversations over tea between Carly Rose and Diamond could be made into a very watchable television show (I so wanted to hear more of their analysis on last week’s Vino exit). It could be called “Teenage Tea Talk” or “An Afternoon with Carly Rose and Diamond” or “Britney said what?” (clearly my show titles need some work).
- I know I mentioned this a little bit above, but Demi is doing great work on this show. For a few weeks there she was struggling to find her mentor wings (and maybe never did), but her seat at the judge’s table continues to bring insight and perspective (whether I agree or disagree). Her ability to frame her own opinion, challenge contestants with largely tangible constructive criticism, and articulate her ideas in a compassionate way have all impressed. We sometimes forget how young she is to be doing this very high-profile gig so well. Whether she is back next year or not, I am proud to have become a fan of Demi Lovato (now off to the naughty chair with you).
Now to the top 4 and some goodbyes to Diamond, CeCe, and Demi’s mentor role…
The Top 4 (as ranked by America)
1 (2) Tate Stevens (should be 2)
Is this the right ranking? This displacement at the top is not the right ranking (Carly Rose should be a definitive number 1 – more on that in a bit), and despite a mini-comeback with his Pepsi-Challenge Garth Brooks tune that fit in the best part of his wheelhouse, the acoustic “Living on a Prayer” is not soon annulled from the record. For many weeks now, I have been asking for Team LA/Tate to explore the “countrification” of a song outside of Tate’s comfort zone genre, so I do applaud the attempt. Simply put, this attempt failed. As high note limitations were illuminated by not attempting the iconic chorus lead vocal, so too were artist limitations. This is no offense to country music, the sanctity of its industry, and an acknowledgment of its continual instances of crossover appeal, but its niche audience (albeit a huge one that can from time to time dominate the billboard popular music charts) has a certain American cultural ceiling (the metropolitan cities on the coasts are not central audience hubs). Tate is the same way. He can be a successful and even a very good country singer (or so I am told by Demi), but he not of the caliber of singer/performer to deserve a $5 million recording contract.
What needs to happen going forward to win? At this point, Tate needs to stay country. I think that he may not be capable of the crossover artistry that I have craved and his best chance at winning is to keep doing what his fans love him for.
2 (1) Carly Rose Sonenclar (should be 1)
Is this the right ranking? No. Carly Rose should be number 1 and should win The X Factor. I agree with LA that Carly Rose’s performance of Justin Bieber’s “As Long As You Love Me” was record ready. She, probably in ways that she has not before, showed such incredible and nuanced musical restraint that allowed some of the less travelled components of her artistry to shine (in contrast to her impressive big note belts that have highlighted previous week performances). I have heard the song once or twice before Wednesday night, and, through this lack of familiarity, heard it almost fresh as a real Carly Rose track. As mentioned last week, like Adam Lambert on AI before her, her vocal and performance capabilities are so awe-inspiring that I eagerly await each new performance in a middle school crush kind of way (the butterflies and goosebumps begin with the anticipation). Although “If I Were a Boy” had some moments slightly below the pitch on some of the high belted notes (see Simon and Demi – she is human after all!), the idea that she continues to attack some of the best female vocal performers in history (and this week, she didn’t even have a choice) and so competently perform them, is simply remarkable. With four acts left in the competition, it is not too late to jump onboard the Carly Rose Sonenclar train to tune-in to witness the birth of this star.
What needs to happen going forward to win? She nailed the nuanced artistry this week on her Bieber track. Now, I am with Demi that combatting an uptempo number should be part of Carly Rose’s next challenge. With the finals just a few weeks away, she must work to find new ways to increase her voting block and overtake Tate once again.
3 (3) Emblem3 (should be 4)
Is this the right ranking? No, they should be fourth, and the difference between Emblem3 and Fifth Harmony is widening. Last week, Demi called for a change-up from the physically clumping reggae/ska/pop performances that Emblem3 seem to have stalled at. Wesley responded with talk about “playing their own instruments” and “writing their own songs.” This comment was curious because from the start of my Emblem3 journey, I have questioned their musical abilities (certainly as singers) and have struggled to consistently understand their dynamism, but coming out of the acoustic “Just the Way You Are,” a no-frills attached performance was not a friend of changing my opinion. Unlike Carly Rose, who, when singing Celine or Beyoncé, benefits by living up to the comparison to the original, Bruno Mars is an amazing vocalist and the boys of Emblem3 did not come close, thereby hurt by the comparison. Even more disappointing was the performance of Drew “sleeved this week” Chadwick who finally got the opportunity to sing outside of his faux-rapping style that we have grown accustomed to in earlier performances. Sadly, he really shouldn’t be singing (let alone in a $5 million competition) at all (he has the most bizarre vowel usage) and his guitar seemed to only add background filler to the track. I am happy that these boys love music and skateboarding and I think they have found a way to fuel some of their more negative energies or tendencies, but this is the big leagues and they should not be a part of that.
What needs to happen going forward to win? I don’t think they can win. With fewer acts, they are more exposed as teenage boys who crashed a party that they should never have been invited to.
4 (4) Fifth Harmony (should be 3)
Is this the right ranking? I would have them ranked ahead of Emblem3, but well below Tate and Carly. Fifth Harmony (or Fifth Unison as LA would like to think, brilliant) were solid to good on both of their performances (they set fire to the rain, but it blew out quickly), but, in LA’s request for more substantive representation of the their name in their song arrangements comes a challenge they have yet to overcome. What is their musical identity? I do appreciate that recent weeks have had fewer “pass the solo” to all performer moments and have focused more on one or two leads (Lauren has been the primary beneficiary, more Camila please), but I still don’t get what I am hearing beyond five pretty good to awesome solo artists. Demi was sweet to applaud their version of her “Give Your Heart a Break,” but I can objectively disagree with her assessment that they did it better than the original. They still have too much Fifth Unison going on and not enough time to right the ship to victory.
What needs to happen going forward to win? Last week I wrote: I want to connect more them as a musical artist and less as a sweet, “so happy to be here” teenybopper story. This remains true and as Carly Rose and Tate have started to define who they are (or not in the case of Tate’s Bon Jovi fail) in musical terms, Fifth Harmony is still finding that footing. Material that provides a more dynamic harmonic background (think a female version of Mumford and Sons, in cases like this I yearn for a group like Sister C) could propel them closer to the final.
CeCe Frey (should be 6)
On Wednesday night, CeCe Frey tried to take on Lady Gaga and Katy Perry (the audience’s choice) and did a solid showing, but her fate was sealed a long time ago. Simon keeps applauding her for being a fighter and for “making this competition interesting.” I agree, but it has been for all the wrong reasons. CeCe has spent Season 2 of The X Factor as a competitor on this edge of glory who has provided the editors a through storyline of futility, overconfidence, and unhealthy competition. The Paige and CeCe bootcamp sing-offs and all access initial audition behind the scenes footage never gave the audience a chance with CeCe. She was polarizing from the start (some of it is just the way we react to her), but, if they really believed in her talent (albeit closer to false than true), why not cultivate it instead of making her into a pawn in a contrived narrative? Notwithstanding, CeCe’s time had come and she took it all in stride. She is a woman who grew so much during the X Factor process and whose production team did not let the audience always in on these changes.
Diamond White (should be 5)
One of my favorite moments of Thursday night was Diamond’s comment to Mario and Khloe after having been eliminated about how Cher Lloyd (a successful recording artist that had not reached my purview until her performance on The X Factor several weeks ago) also finished fifth on The X Factor (in the UK) and that this could bode well for Diamond in the future. This optimism, this sparkle in her eye, and her exceptional vocal talent will be missed.
- Carly Rose Sonenclar
- Tate Stevens
- Fifth Harmony
- Emblem 3
What do you think? Did you forget about Melanie Amaro too? Can Carly Rose retake number 1 before the finals? Why did Drew start firing an air machine gun after his second performance? Is Drew the new Vino (a live tv director’s nightmare) when it comes to unscripted microphone chatter?
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.
Last week on the X Factor, thirteen-year-old Carly Rose Sonenclar’s star was born. Somewhere over that rainbow of “alien” talent and remarkable performer poise, Simon’s sing to win competition show got a little of her groove back (continual production hiccups aside). This week, you could feel this momentum shift (even Britney looked amazing both nights and managed a minor increase in verbal coherence) overtake the show. Fewer remaining contestants means longer forms of songs and a better barometer of an artist’s full potential (I agree with Simon, I couldn’t wait for Vino to end), more engaging intros (Vino’s was my favorite. LA stepping in at the last minute to change songs is non-fabricated drama that this show needs), and judge/mentor comments that have more time to breathe. The good news is that many of the key players including the judge/mentor panel (LA Reid – it is so good to have the season 1 version of you back!) and several contestants rode Carly’s pathway to brilliance and made the show come alive anew. My X Factor loyalist and aficionado friend, Daniel, has been contending for several weeks that there is marked distinction among the contestant battles for the top and the bottom of the rankings (the haves and the never will haves, so to speak). For the first time this week, I thought this setup changed to a battle between Carly and then everyone else who was gunning for her top spot (albeit with some variation in success). As the pre-performance videos suggested, Carly Rose is the one to beat and the other acts are aware. By having this frontrunner in place (and admittedly, America is placing Tate right on her tail), the competition part of The X Factor finally found some footing and likely will continue to do so in coming weeks as we strive to find out if anyone can beat Miss Carly Rose.
Unfortunately, there are a few remaining points of trouble, trouble, trouble (bring it home, Vino) left to suss out that seem to be even further illuminated now that some other show elements are humming. They include:
The Hosts – Poor Mario and Khloe do not seem to be improving. Mario had a particularly difficult week (“Will.I.An”, a strange discussion with Diamond White about her year of birth) and his off the cuff reactions are the opposite of organic. Khloe’s flirty interactions with Simon reached their shelf-life weeks ago and now come across as uninteresting as brother Rob Kardashian’s new line of dress socks and as ineffective as spouse Lamar’s NBA play in the years 2011 and 2012. The incessant “how do you feel?” questions when a contestant has been eliminated need a major overhaul. The only time when Khloe’s humanity (and based on my past experience with her, she actually has it in droves, Kardashian haters take a step back) is in her interactions with Carly Rose and Diamond (Beatrice, too, previously) when she snaps into big sister mode (Kendall and Kylie know it well) and provides TLC and cuddly support. More of this Khloe, please. Unless something drastically changes, I think both Khloe and Mario can take the same advice Simon gave to CeCe this week – after this season, pack your bags.
The theme – Or should I say, what theme? Apparently (I had to look this up), the theme this week was “number ones.” Listen X Factor brain trust – if you are going to have a theme, have a theme, but this in-between, inconsistent (I am still stuck on Al Green as a diva), “maybe we won’t mention it at all” mentality has got to go. Pick a theme and make it an artistic challenge of the night or just let the artists pick a song of their choosing.
Drew Chadwick of Emblem3 – Someone has got to let Drew Chadwick know that he is not required to take off his sleeved shirt to expose his burgeoning arm cannons during or after every performance. Drew, you may not have received the memo, but this is not required of you to be a contestant. You can cover your arms, bro.
On to the top 6, two surprising eliminations, and the odyssey of CeCe Fry:
The Top 6 (as ranked by America)
1 (1) Carly Rose Sonenclar (should be 1)
Is this the right ranking? Obviously. Although LA Reid was right when he called her “Rolling in the Deep” a “second best” performance, he was also right when he said that “even her second best is better than everyone else’s first best.” Preach, LA. I have gone back and watched this performance a few times and my only objections with it are in the arrangement (the attempt to differentiate from Adele went too far) and production (Carly Rose does not need a wind machine blowing in her face, people). Notwithstanding, she is an incredible artist. I remember eagerly anticipating the wow factor each week of the Adam Lambert experience back in Idol season 8 and Carly Rose has tapped into this higher ground. She is unreal. Simon’s “the first half was good, the second half was sensational” comment gave me goose pumps. To witness this birth of a star continues to be a privilege. Her only problem, according to Simon, is that her suspected alien status (as in humans should not be capable of what she can do as a singer) could disqualify her from the competition. Carly Rose’s response? “Darn it.” America, you have to love this girl.
What needs to happen going forward? To Britney and Carly Rose’s credit, I loved the song choice this week (just not the execution). I encourage them to continue to pick not good but great songs that are going allow Carly Rose’s artistry to have a chance to fly.
2 (2) Tate Stevens (should be 2)
Is this the right ranking? Country is not my jam (especially upbeat country), but Britney was right to predict a CMA award in Tate’s future. His aw-shucks uptempo “Somebody Like You” was wonderfully (and unexpectedly) enjoyable. He looked cool with the guitar (although, did he even play it?), the banjo player interactions were nothing short of joyous, and his dance attempts (Simon told him not to ever again) made Tate really likable. I also appreciate that Tate knows how good Carly Rose is (he admitted she was better last week) and that mixing it up this week was a conscious choice to reclaim number 1 (based on the percentage difference that Mario told us, he was very close).
What needs to happen going forward? Last week I wrote: I think Tate needs to have a performance that stretches his artistry within his genre. Think David Cook’s brilliant “Always Be My Baby” from several Idol seasons ago. The good news is that his uptempo switch this week did just that. Now he has to countrify a pop/soul tune outside of his genre. Now LA’s sole focus (bye Vino), Tate will find a way to compete.
3 (4) Emblem3 (should be 5)
Is this the right ranking? I don’t know. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Emblem3 went home this week. Demi blames it all on Simon, but I think there is something more to it in the artists themselves. Yeah, we get that you play instruments and that you write your own music, but are you that good? Although they often don’t bring all they can, Fifth Harmony gives me a more emotional connect and presents the possibility of a higher ceiling. Emblem3 seem to have plateaued, and although “I’m a Believer” was fun and energized, their musicality is worse than any other artist left in the competition (CeCe included). Great, you are a boy band that causes riots at outdoor malls in LA. Yes, Drew, we see your arm muscles all the time. I am just not sure if there is really that much there up on stage underneath the thick layer of smoke and LED moving lights.
What needs to happen going forward? Last week I wrote: I am starting to realize that their musical scope may be more limited than I thought. Simon needs to find them a song that does their thing better than they have ever done it before. This remains Mr. Cowell’s quest.
4 (7) Fifth Harmony (should be 4)
Is this the right ranking? Of who is left, probably. Their stationary rendition (they took hitting your spots a little too far) of Kelly Clarkson’s “(Stronger) What Doesn’t Kill You” suffered under the longer song format (musical monotony ensued). I did appreciate Lauren’s lead throughout the song, but their lack of body movement (those arms were rocking) choreo and scary fire soaked projections yielded a tinge of boredom. Down to the final 6, I still think that Fifth Harmony at least has shot at third place (they are never going to overtake Tate or Carly Rose) and for recent group construction, this is saying something.
What needs to happen going forward? I would love to see less of their personal interactions backstage (I get how much they care about each other, but I find myself increasingly tuning out) and more of their musical interactions. What is it like in the room when harmonies are being discussed? Do music mentors try to teach them and then give up because they are too hard for these young women to handle (it is my only reasonable explanation for the propensity of unison)? I want to connect more to them as a musical artist and less as a sweet, “so happy to be here” teenybopper story.
5 (8) CeCe Frey (should be 6)
Is this the right ranking? “Lady Marmalade” (and its visual medium incarnations) has always been a bit of a hot mess for me and CeCe Fry’s insertion into this lineage seemed to work very well. Simon’s “chocolate cake” analogy was totally relatable. With the new song length, this was all too much. Simon (“pack your bags”) and (I thought all of) America assumed CeCe would be journeying on this week, but this resilient fighter is not done yet! The old CeCe is back – a wild and unruly performer, an unlikeable personality (Demi’s house-visit words), but someone who will stop at nothing on her path to the top. She won’t win, but her continued participation in this competition makes it all the more enjoyable to watch.
What needs to happen going forward? Keep fighting, girl. Be the old CeCe and you may stick around again next week.
6 (5) Diamond White (should be 3)
Is this the right ranking? Definitely not. Diamond is a precious jewel of a talent. Her “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” channeled some young Whitney (owe the beautiful spark and promise she had at the beginning of her career), and, although the production was a bit over everyone’s head (too much Britney, too much), she did so well with it. Over the last two weeks, Diamond has performed Celine, Whitney, and Beyonce (her awesome save-me rendition of “I Was Here”) and she was at least auditioning for their minor league. Diamond’s ceiling is second only to Carly Rose and she should be here close to the end.
What needs to happen going forward? I think it is time for something more contemporary. A Katy Perry or Jesse J could do the trick.
Vino Alan – last week 3
Poor Vino had a tough week (“You’ve Lost that Lovin Feelin’” struggled), and despite an AWESOME save-me rendition of his first audition song, “Trouble,” I can understand why Simon and Demi did what they did. Although LA pushed the idea that Vino was a really chill guy underneath his scary-looking exterior, I am not sure he was ever going to be accessible outside of a dark and dreary pub. He is a soul singer who excels in darker, more somber environments. The flash and gleam of the X Factor stage was just too much for Mr. Alan. I hate to admit it, but we will miss his non-singing time at the mic – a rare mix of unintentional comedy and his creepy musings.
Paige Thomas – last week 6
I didn’t really like Paige’s Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give Up” (I think the song suffers), but I thought it was definitely her best performance and earned her a chance to stay. Her look (more relatable), her vibe (a natural sexy), and her command of a very naked stage (I agree with Simon that she would have benefited from more back-up dancer time) was a bit of a revelation. Sadly, America feels the same way about Rick Astley as I do.
- Carly Rose Sonenclar
- Tate Stevens
- Diamond White
- Fifth Harmony
- Emblem 3
- CeCe Frey
What do you think? Will Britney continue to wear a cool stetson? Can Carly Rose maintain her top spot? Do Drew’s arms from Emblem3 get hot easily?
David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company. His weekly THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASON Power Rankings appears weekly on Derrick Kosinski’s ultimatechallengeradio.com.
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.
Eliminated – Arin 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.
Eliminated – Beatrice 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.
- Carly Rose Sonenclar
- Diamond White
- Vino Alan
- Tate Stevens
- Emblem 3
- Fifth Harmony
- CeCe Frey
- 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?
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.
- Carly Rose Sonenclar
- Emblem 3
- Tate Stevens
- Fifth Harmony
- Diamond White
- Vino Alan
- Arin Ray
- Beatrice Miller
- CeCe Frey
- Paige Thomas
What do you think? Will you miss Jennel? Will Demi’s losing streak continue? Does Britney know what “heartfelt” means?