They come from across America.
In Rochester, MA, Jennel Garcia, 18, student, puts down her welding torch—she’s a student welder, apparently—when her dad tells here it’s time to go.
In Manhattan, NY, Vino Alan, 39, musician, seated in a New York taxi, also must go, though he’s seemingly stuck in midtown traffic.
In Huntington Beach, CA, three teener surfers known collectively as Emblem3 also must go -- amazed, they say, that they are going to another place far away, yet it too has an ocean.
They are going to Miami. They are coming to the “X Factor” Boot Camp episodes.
Well, we hope the X-Producers are done with all that Morning In America political campaign commercial vibe, because we came here to see some kind of smackdown sing-off. So bring on the jealousy, the cat fights, and the stage fright, already!
“We brought 120 acts to Miami,” Simon Cowell (age indeterminate, occupation: Chief Judge) says. “Twenty four will be left at the end of the week.”
The kids have all been put up at the fancy Mondrian hotel to give them the feel of the lifestyle that success could give them, Associate Judge Demi Lovato says. Scenes of the X-testants reveling in the pool. OK, group room rate earned, producers -- smackdown please?
“Task One,” at X Factor Boot Camp, will be to sing a song -- in front of the other contestants.
“No second chances. You either stand out or your go home,” says Senior Associate Judge Britney Spears.
At last a singer. Diamond White, from Los Angeles, CA, 13, gives a mature performance of Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” We can tell she’s totally going through to the next round, but the rules of Boot Camp/Task One is that the judges make no judgment after the performances.
Give Austin Corini, 16, from Gilroy, CA -- aka the Tintin lookalike -- a little dog sidekick and he’d be unstoppable. He says he’s been working toward this moment his whole life. All 16 years. He gives a perfectly decent high school version of Adele’s “Make You Feel My Love” though Executive Senior Associate Judge LA Reid doesn’t think he nailed it. We agree, but we’re not the best judge of what’s going to hit with pre-teens. Simon, of course, is. “I think people would like him,” he says.
David Correy, 26, a tatted out professional musician, seems to be selling his bluesy style to the judges. LA points heavenward.
We get a brief look at a performance by someone we didn’t see in auditions: rapper Lyric da Queen who wears a silvery glittery eye-patch. She may turn out to be “X Factor’s” Most Interesting Person, or at least the one who gets a liquor endorsement gig out of this, but the producers are apparently holding her in reserve from us.
Carly Rose Sonnenclar, 13, another mature singer, young one, looks good to us but Simon is troubled. “Too old for her age -- if that makes sense?” he wonders.
Jessica Espinoza, who we remember as the likeable poor girl, from San Antonio, TX, also made an impression on Demi. “One of the only people in the competition I remember first and last name.” But poor Jessica is bedeviled with nerves on Whitney Houston’s “When You Believe” and she gives a shaky performance. “I’m pretty disappointed,” Demi says to the others.
Jennel Garcia, 18, the student from Rochester, MA, tells the camera that this is the first time she’s been away from her parents. “It’s hard but it’s time to grow up,” she says.
Jennel grows up quickly, strutting provocatively on stage in short shorts, standing with her legs spread, and running her fingers through her hair. Simon smirks; “very spicy,” says LA.
“Task One” says the title again.
Singing in front of other contestants “must be really hard” for some of them, Britney opines, fulfilling her other job as “X Factor” Chief Stater of the Obvious.
Vino Alan, 40, apparently had a birthday on the plane down to Miami because was identified as 39 in the opening sequence on his way to the airport. Vino is a competent rocker on “Bad Company” and he has gobs of stage experience in his 39-plus years, but Brit has taken a dislike to him. Simon thinks he has a good voice.
Johnny Maxwell, 16, should be heading back to Castro Valley, CA, after forgetting the words to his rap song, which was apparently Jay-Z’s “Pray.” Britney tells us he forgot the lyrics.
Simon tells the other judges he hopes it doesn’t get any worse. Cue up Worse Songs.
Remember little Jordyn Foley, 12, who sang “Tomorrow” from “Annie” to Simon’s disgust in the auditions? She is just awful on Christina Perri’s “Jar of Hearts.” “I’m really disappointed,” Simon now says. What?
And Trevor Moran, the 13-year-old who’s all over YouTube with his videos dancing and lip-synching in Apple stores? Well he performs at exactly his Apple store level on Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” and yet the judges are unpleasantly surprised. “It just wasn’t there today,” says LA Reid.
We are not sated yet with failure. Nick Perrelli, with the teen idol looks and the Sinatra-like voice, is a total stage-fright disaster.
And to finish off this chorus of the doomed, 12-year-old Jake Garza is so terrified he actually can’t get any kind of song out of his mouth. “I froze I forgot the words. I forgot the melody. I forgot everything…I want my mom!” he weeps backstage.
Brit: “I’m sad. I feel so sorry for him, I really do.”
Simon: “And he was good the first time we saw him. “
Groups, like appendix, are an evolutionary left-over from the first season of “X Factor.” And yet, groups are back.
Even the producers can’t seem to explain it, flipping rapidly through a bunch of performances by groups that are parodies of group-ness, with the coordinated dance moves and all the other trappings.
They are watched with contempt by Emblem3, the three surfer dudes, ages 16-19, from Huntington Beach, CA. And now it’s their turn. Their moves are not coordinated. Their singing style is kinda rap, kinda melodic, kinda listless really.
But Demi sees something we don’t. “I feel their energy,” she says.
“Will you love them 20 songs from now?” asks Simon.
Tara Simon. We love/hate Tara. The professional vocal coach, says she, is so sure of herself. So showbizzy. “It’s originality that got me here,” the 27-year-old crows.
We don’t care what they say -- we give it up for anyone who attempts a Queen song in the style of Al Jolson, dropping to her knees when she gets to the line about “down on my knees.” With her non-microphone hand she simultaneously pulls down her short dress -- but not far enough.
“When you watch that back, you’ll find you showed us a little bit more than expected,” Simon says, and the producers cut to Britney who, you may recall, had her own famously embarrassing moment getting out of a car in front of the paparazzi. Brit doesn’t look like she understands, or she’s faking it.
Willie Jones, who is already vying with silver eye patch lady, Lyric da Queen, for Most Memorable Character of this X-Season, looks urban but sings country -- and not even urban country but Kenny Chesney’s “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy.” He’s got a good country voice. We don’t know if it’s up to the high standards of real, commercial country – then remember Scotty McCreery, “Idol” winner.
Anyway, Willie tickles LA, who’s smiling broadly, but not Britney doesn’t get him.
And now – what we watch for. A vocal mud wrestle. Seems Paige Thomas and CeCe Frey, each 21, have each chosen to render “I Will Always Love You” in the style of Whitney Houston. In another time and place, they might be best buds. But not here, not now, not on Task One.
CeCe may have the stronger voice, but her annoying personality and temporary temple tattoo are utterly distracting, so we give the win to Paige. Really, both performances are above par for one of these singing competition shows.
“It was quite interesting to have those two performances because one of you actually nailed it,” says Simon, looking smug.
Paige looks stricken. CeCe is high-fiving other contestants.
Judging, judging, judging, looking at pictures …
The four judges are alone in hall now at their table, looking at photos of the X-testants. “I think he’s a one-trick pony,” LA, says about somebody we can’t see. “My little sister would love him,” Demi says about someone else.
“I think these are right choices,” Simon finally says, signaling that the judging is done.
In the Vatican, a puff of smoke goes up the chimney at the Sistine Chapel. It’s like that.
Now the contestants are divided into three groups.
Group 1 is brought out on stage.
“The decision is bad news,” Simon says, which we know from years of watching Simon, means good news -- in this case, that they have to work really hard tomorrow for, presumably, Task Two.
Turns out Paige got through. And so did Jennel.
Nobody tells Group 2 it’s bad news, which means it really is bad news. “It’s a five million dollar prize and that’s a really serious prize and we’ve made our decision,” LA tells them.
Among the losers, Jordyn the “Annie” girl, and Trevor the Apple boy.
But since they’re making half the needed cuts in this episode, that means it’s looking good for Group 3 and that means CeCe, and the wheelchair-bound obese guy we saw virtually nothing of tonight, are through to Round 2, as is vocal coach Tara.