America, having passed the test of peacefully re-electing a president last night, is now good to go for tonight, the first episode of this season’s “X Factor” in which the audience gets a vote.
Enter the judges. Chief Judge Simon “Wattles” Cowell has apparently made peace with the show’s ratings or switched to Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Splenda, because he has no additional chins.
Simon has some “important news”: The judges “made a mistake” in last week’s elimination round that left 12 contesting acts. They certainly did, eliminating the adorable and talented 13-year old Diamond White in favor of the dull, though possibly irresistible to tweener girls, Arin Ray.
Justice is done! Diamond is back. And so, we say goodbye and good luck to Arin who… uh, no. He’s staying to make an even 13 X-testants.
Tonight’s theme is music from the movies.
Arin is first up. His number is “American Boy” and he’s a solid C+, with points deducted for barely standing out from the backup dancers and the backing vocals, not to mention the borderline Gangnam Style dance steps.
The judges love him unconditionally. It’s a rule, apparently.
Paige Thomas makes a fabulous entrance for her number, being lowered to the stage by a cable attached to her back while a wind machine makes billows on her white sheet-like gown. She’s also wearing some kind of breastplate that was made in crafts class with a jigsaw.
She sings “Take My Breath Away” and we think it’s her best performance of the competition so far, though possibly we were distracted by the stagehand, finding himself at leisure after unstrapping her cables when she lands, begins to suck on her neck.
Wattles points this out and accuses Youth Demographic Judge Demi Lovato of a lack of imagination in coaching mentoree Paige. Provoking Demi, he’s figured out, is about the only story arc going on at the judge’s table, what with Refusing to Crack Up In Public Judge Britney Spears being disappointingly robotic week after week.
“She could have flown back upstage,” says Demi mockingly. “There should have been flames. Sorry, I let you down,” she says to Paige.
One of the other themes of tonight is taped bits with the X-testants in which we learn that each has virtually nothing to go home to.
Like Vino Alan, the hulking guy in the Over 25 co-hort of the competition, who says he literally doesn’t have a home, he just tours around entertaining at military bases. He also says he tried to volunteer for the military, but they wouldn’t take him because his head is covered in tattoos. This is a lot of backstory for a few minutes.
Vino sings “When a Man Loves a Woman” and it’s a strong performance though not particularly distinctive, and we end up agreeing with Demi’s assessment that it’s hard to imagine him as a No. 1 selling music artist.
That was a “stupid thing you said,” Wattles replies and goes on to say something about Susan Boyle, the gifted eccentric older woman who came out of one of his British talent contests
But we can’t actually hear what Wattles says. Vino has gone over to the edge of the stage to touch hands with girls in the audience and their shrieking drowns him out. Vino is apparently of the mistaken belief that the show is about him at this moment, and not the judges. We suspect he received a stern talking to by the producers, afterwards, about never upstaging the judges.
Emblem3, the three surfer brothers who seem marked for X-success give another high energy, high entertainment performance, with a surfer hip hop medley that includes “My Girl” and Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.”
Far End of The Table Judge LA Reid calls them perfect.
But the bad blood between Demi and Wattles has not ended.
“I wouldn’t have plugged another group,” she says, referring to One Direction. “They can easily be compared to One Direction,” she sniffs.
We’re getting lost here. Pepsi has been tirelessly plugging One Direction in commercials running on ‘X Factor.” Has Demi got a problem with One Direction plugging — One Direction’s Niall Horan being the guy Demi has publicly denied she is dating, despite all those rumors?
“It’s called a tribute,” Wattles says placidly.
Roll tape on Beatrice Miller, another of the talented 13-year-olds, who also doesn’t want to go home. She has two moms and they are both out of work. “If I’m sent home early, it would be even worse at home now than it is now,” she says ominously.
“Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls is Beatrice’s song choice and, as much as we like Beatrice’s raspy, radio-ready voice, this one falls kind of flat. An overpowering backup chorus doesn’t help.
LA Reid pegs her. “The tone of your voice sounds like a hit record (but) I can’t tell you I got chill bumps.”
Demi and Wattles find nothing to disagree about.
Jenel Garcia’s alternative to “X Factor” is bartending school, which would make her “completely miserable” so she doesn’t want to go home either.
She performs “I Love Rock and Roll” as a Joan Jett look-alike and is a bit overwhelmed by the staging.
Once again, Wattles takes out after her mentor, Demi.
“A bit of a parody,” says he.
“Obviously, you rehearsed tonight, you’re trying to ruin whatever I’ve done,” Demi interrupts.
Sole surviving country guy Tate Stevens does a nice job on Bon Jovi’s “Wanted Dead Or Alive.” He’s never going to rocket to the top of the country charts but he’s a pleasant weekly presence on the show for however long he lasts.
Brilliant strategic choice by Lyric 145, the hip hop trio! Faced with the problem of a) being a hip hop act on a middle of the road show and b) having to pick a song from a movie, they come from way out of left field in a performance of “Marry Poppins’” “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” which they perform while dressed like invitees to Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatters’ Tea Party, as staged by CeeLo Green. It’s a hoot.
Ah, the return of Diamond White! Mentor Britney Spears has dressed her in mannish white suit and sent her out to sing Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing.” Oh, well.
CeCe Frey, to show what a fierce competitor she is, decides to sing “The Eye of the Tiger.” She’s pitchy and once again sporting ridiculous facial makeup, though she’s regressed from tropical fish face and is back to leopard spots — unless they were supposed to be olive slices.
Carly Rose Sonnenclar gets to do Bruno Mars “It Will Rain” with no meddling from a busy production number, and marches forward just on the strength of the big voice that comes out of her little 13 year old body. A rare moment of insight from mentor Britney.
Poor Jason Brock. Mentor LA Reid can’t stop pegging him as this generation’s Wayne Newton, or Liberace. Each week we wait to see which shiny smoking jacket LA will pick for Jason. Tonight it’s a red on red number. Jason tackles “I Believe I Can Fly” with his strong voice and wrestles it to the ground.
The judges are savage, however. “Predictable cabaret,” says Demi.
Wattles is worse. “I don’t believe you could fly. Maybe jump a couple inches off the ground, “ he says, which is pretty cheeky coming from someone who’s packed on the pounds, as has Simon.
Final act of the night, the pickup girl group formed by Simon from rejected soloists. Tonight, at Wattle’s behest, America has voted on the “X Factor” web site for a new name for the group, the previous two names they’ve sung under having been discarded for legal or general awfulness reasons. The new name America has chosen is: 5th Harmony. Or is it Faith Harmony? Anyway, we predict a new name next week. LA hates it too but, he wisely notes, since America picked it, he’s not going to dis it.
The girls harmonize on “A Thousand Years” though, as the judges would say, we have a hard time visualizing this as a hit record. And yet — the judges love it.
The show ends with — a plug for One Direction, performing during Thursday’s results show.