Ratings were not stellar for Wednesday’s premiere of “X Factor.” Here’s hoping episode No. 2 gives people something to get excited about.
Miami’s the next stop. Show host Steve Jones reminds us that Simon is a “record mogul” and that the winner of the competition is guaranteed -- $5 million dollars!
First to audition: 27 year old Ashley Sansone, a motor-mouthed, unemployed “starving artist” who tells judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, Nicole Scherzinger and L.A. Reid she admires Adele because you don’t see her going on a diet. She begins to talk about the ‘70s until Paula cuts her off, wailing, “I’m exhausted!” Reid orders her to sing. Ashley removes her shoes and begins to murder a Janis Joplin classic. “I hope you have really thick skin,” Reid says, explaining that when she was talking she was getting on his nerves but when she was singing he wanted to slit his wrists.
And so the weary night wears on.
One montage of equally lousy singers later, Gloria Estefan appears from a balcony to deliver the inspirational message to the auditioners, “Who wants to win $5 million dollars?!”
Things are not going well in Miami.
“This is the worst session, honest to god…I’m going to take a break,” says Simon. At which point wouldn’t millions of viewers have followed his example? And just as we start to think - why do we have to watch and blog this -- Paula gives us a reason. We have to do it for Simon. “A lot is riding on Simon” we hear Paula say to Reid, followed by Simon pouting, “I wonder why we came here.” Oh, buck up, Simon, we’re still here for you!
Up next is 21-year-old Nick Voss, and we’re just feeling, before we even hear him sing, that the talent drought is about to end. Nick tells the camera that his boss told him he’s fired if he goes to audition. Nick turns out to be nearly an Elvis impersonator, doing Elvis’s “Trouble.” But the judges are ready to embrace him. “For the first time today I was excited,” says Reid, who looks about the same as when he’s not excited.
Nicole pegs Nick as “Jim Carrey meets Jerry Lewis with a little sprinkle of Elvis.” Simon enthuses “I absolutely love it” but explains that what he really loves is hearing Nick talk about how much he wants to win. Anyway, we’re happy for Nick but really, really happy for Simon who needed this one so bad and for us, because we don’t have to see Simon’s pouty face again.
“Is anyone in Miami worthy of the $5 million?” wonders Steve the Host.
What’s that? I didn’t quite catch that. Did you say 5 MILLION dollars?!
Maybe Ashley Deckard can save this episode. Ashley, Emo Girl, can see ghosts. Simon’s intrigued. He wonders what ghosts look like. “People,” Ashley explains.
Simon has lots more questions about ghosts and wonders if Ashley can invite her ghost pals to the audition. Paula is jealous of all the attention he’s giving to Ashley. “I see ghosts too,” Paula insists.
Eventually, we’re allowed to discover Ashley can’t sing, and she’s sent packing. Then begins a carefully constructed sequence in which the power in the arena “mysteriously” goes off and on, some worker guy is seen telling Simon, “I can’t explain what’s going on,” and Reid says this is what comes of asking The Ghost Girl to bring her friends, and Nicole gets freaked out. It’s like a bad TLC reality show.
Former music teacher Mirivan Viscuso’s performance is heavily edited and she appears to be so bad – Simon says her singing reminds him of wolves mating in the forest which, he assures her, he means in the best sense of wolves mating in the forest. Yet, she receives four thumbs up.
A few other singers and groups get the pass to the next phase of the competition. And, in one such sequence, the torch is passed. Now it’s Nicole who will play the role of the leering cougar.
Dark-haired pretty boy Brendan O’Hara (who sings pretty well) gets the flirty treatment from Nicole that Paula used to give, back in the day, on the Singing Competition Show Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned.
Finally, about half way through the episode, we see 18-year-old Melanie Amaro, for which we thank the audition gods. Melanie has a rich voice and a professional stage presence, singing Beyonce’s “Listen” -- she is the real deal in a show that seems to be at a loss to find talent among the thousands in line (have so many singing competition shows finally drained the talent pool dry? )
Melanie seems like a nice person too. LA: “ You have the gift, you have the soul, you have the spirit, you have the swagger, you have The X factor.” Nicole (teary): “People like you inspire me”. Paula: “Unlike anything I’ve ever heard in any audition I’ve ever been to.” Simon: “People ask me why I am bringing this show to America. It’s because I was hoping to find someone like you.” High praise indeed. And incidentally, Simon, let us take this moment to thank you for taking the risk to bring this show to America because, well, who knew if Americans would like a singing competition show?
One genuinely good audition, and an hour into the episode, they head to Dallas.
In Dallas, 17-year-old Jonny Rogers carefully tends to his Justin Beiber hair; he insists he had the hair first. Jonny gets the shock of his life when Simon says he looks like – not Bieber but Barbie’s boyfriend, Ken. Jonny performs a tune he wrote; the choreography is his too. Simon says if he was running a factory in China and had been given an order to manufacture 10,000 Justin Bieber dolls but something went wrong in production, the result would be Jonny Rogers.
Kentucky good ol’ boy Dillon Lawson sold his truck to buy a plane ticket to Dallas.
His performance is spasmodic and obscenity laced. It ends with him lying face down on the stage. “I think it’s time for you to leave the stage,” Simon snarls. “He sold his truck to do THAT?” LA marvels.
Nicole starts flirting with another dark-haired slender guy named Curtis Lawson, aka “Phoenix,” who has a “dream catcher” for a belt buckle, because apparently she has no radar for losers. Hope she doesn’t go out on the town at night unescorted. Anyway, his act is singing in voice that Paula accurately describes as like a lawnmower. Simon uncorks a good one, telling the guy to come back when he can sing in English, or even “in human”.
Dexter Haygood used to belong to a group called Xavion that, he said, traveled with Hall and Oates in the 70’s. Dexter does a spot-on James Brown imitation, which the crowd in the arena loves but has Simon cringing. Simon tells Dexter he’s got 15 seconds to perform something else, a cappella.
But not before we travel to Memphis, where Dexter lives on people’s couches, so we can hear Dexter explain how much this audition means to him, while sitting on someone’s front porch in a rocking chair.
Back to Dexter on stage; he erupts into another James Brown tune, “It’s A Man’s World.” This time Simon raves, saying, “That is what you call Taking Your Moment.” The others fall in step with Simon’s lead and Dexter’s on his way to wherever it is “X Factor” will hold its boot camp.
With the clock running out, we see snippets of other singers talking about being little birds in cages that have had the door flung open so they can fly, from The Heaven Room, bathed in bright white light.
Then comes Caitlin Koch, rugby player – half scrum position. Koch, from Buffalo, NY, is a big, strapping girl with a face like a Botticelli angel. She does an original take on The Supremes’ “Stop in the Name of Love,” in a slight but pleasant voice and she’s through in a walk.
And finally, the main event of the night: introducing 27-year-old Xander Alexander, who’s about to get into a diva-smackdown, with Simon himself.
“I want to be the next Donald Trump meets Martha Stewart -- without the jail time – meets Britney Spears, meets Beyonce – without the ugly husband,” Xander tells the camera.
If there’s one thing that makes Xander nuts, it’s being called ‘Alexander.’
“I swear, the [‘X Factor’] crew needs to get my name right – no ‘Alexander,’ no ‘Xavier’ – it’s ‘Xander’!”
So, the instant Xander walks out on stage, Simon begins to bully him.
Simon asks him what is his name. He says it’s Xander Alexander.”
Naturally, Simon begins to call him Alexander, no matter how many times Xander asks him not to.
As in: “Alright, Alexander, how old are you?”
(Apparently Simon doesn’t believe in stage names. Wonder what he calls Lady Gaga on camera.)
“Twenty seven. How old are you?” Xander shoots back.
“Alright, Alexander -- ” Simon begins again.
“Don’t call me Alexander, please. I hate that name,” says Xander.
Simon then wonders if Xander’s ever performed in public before.
“Have you ever worn a shirt that isn’t grey?” Xander responds.
“Okay, Alexander, because we’re running out of time,” Simon continues.
“Stop calling me that, Simone!” Xander says. As best we can tell, Xander is now about 5 points ahead of Simon.
“You are amazing!” marvels Paula.
Simon tells Xander to “shut it and start singing.”
Before Xander gets four notes into his number, Simon cuts him off and tells him, “this song is not working.” Simon clearly wasn’t ever going to let Xander sing more than four notes.
Nicole asks him if he has another song. He fumbles around and finally starts another ballad. He’s not bad. Simon stares daggers at him.
“This is really, really tough,” LA says when it’s over.
“I can do Justin Bieber,” Xander snarks. One of LA’s claims to fame is producing Bieber.
“You know what Alexander -- ” Simon begins.
“Ooh!” Paula gasps.
“I quite like you,” Simon continues. “You’re lippy…but interesting.”
Time to vote.
LA can’t forgive Xander for the Bieber crack. “For me it’s a ‘no’,” he says. Nicole votes “yes” but Paula, surprisingly, votes ‘no.’
Xander begs Simon for a ‘yes’.
“It’s too late,” Simon says, explaining he needed three votes in his favor to survive.
“Where you blew this, Alexander, was that you got the audience to hate you by the end of the audition, where they liked you at the beginning. The minute anyone criticizes you, you turn into a bitchy, nasty diva.”
Except Xander didn’t get set off by being criticized. He was baited. By Simon.
“Xander’s dreams of a $5 million recording contract over…” Steve begins to blather, as the show revels in Xander’s genuine tears, off stage, as the judges get into their massive product-placement SUV’s and are driven away.