The scene: A hotel room in Kansas City, Mo. The characters: LA Reid, Demi Lovato, Britney Spears.
Action: Britney tells the others that she’s got some news: Simon’s not going to be on the judge’s stand today because he’s sick. But he’s sending a substitute judge, somebody named Louie.
“Who the hell is Louie?” asks LA Reid.
Cut to a bio-montage of historic video clips.
Louie discovers the Beastie Boys at a junior high school dance. Louie discovers Mariah Carey as a singing waitress. Louie knighted by the Queen as The Fifth Beatle. You know, THAT Louie.
Uh, actually, no. According to Louie’s bio-montage, he discovered some of the biggest boy bands in Ireland. And he’s worked for years with Simon. And he looks like Simon’s older, chinless brother. And he doesn’t even rate a super-title with his name on the screen.
In other words, nobody who’s going to upstage Simon. THAT Louie.
Louie, who’s Irish, bounds in with a spring in his step and shakes the other judge’s hands and introduces himself.
“Steady on, old boy,” we imagine him saying to himself. “Just ask yourself ‘What would Simon do?’ and then do it. Right, off you go!”
As they walk toward the stage, he slaps Demi on the back and asks her if she’s nervous, like he’s an old pro.
Let’s judge some talent. First up Rizzloe Jones, 18, from Kansas City, MO, a gawky blond who looks like a Future Farmer of America but no is a rapper, and to LA Reid’s disbelief, is going to freestyle rap. He asks the judges for any subject, to prove he’s truly free-styling and Demi suggests “marshmallows” but LA wants to make the topic the “X-Factor” show itself.
And off Rizzloe goes, rapid-fire, though we can’t get the image out of our head of an auctioneer at a Future Farmers of America competition selling off the prize goats, but hey that’s plainly our limitation, not Rizzloe’s, who’s rapping on about all the judges, though if he found anything to rap about Louie, we missed it.
High praise from LA: “I like your flow. I admire how brave you are to stand up there and do that. And you know, it was really good.
Demi and Brit like him too and then it’s Louie’s turn.
Steady, mate. What would Simon say?
“I think we found a pop star!” Louie says.
CeCe Frey, a 20-year-old mail clerk, is tough, over confident and intent on psyching out the other contestants in the waiting room. So, of course, she’s doomed because, as we learned last week, any show with Demi Lovato as a star is a No Bully Zone.
“I’m willing to do whatever it takes to win,” she tells the camera. Oh, yeah, doomed.
CeCe walks out on stage to big cheers for her hot pants and her cocky attitude. The judges quiz her on her ambition level, including Demi, who wants her to say she’s better than all the other contestants backstage. She does. Doomed.
Her song choice is a strange one: the very old school “Unchained Melody” and she’s pitchy and unconvincing.
Demi saves her. She holds up a hand to signal a second chance. CeCe goes with Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man”. Much better: She’s all attitude, still pitchy, but everyone seems distracted by her posturing, hair flinging -- and, of course, the leopard print face paint.
Britney’s mouth is hanging open and--we’re learning to interpret her mouth hangs. Really slack like this is a gesture of astonished appreciation (a little tighter in the jaw means astonished disgust).
LA is dancing in his chair.
Demi: “Your attitude is awesome and I kind of have a girl crush on you!”
CeCe gets four yeses.
Backstage, Brit sings a happy birthday song while bringing a cake to LA Reid. It’s breathy, like Marilyn Monroe’s historic birthday song for President Kennedy, but without the sexy.
Vino Alan, 39, a professional musician, is a heavy set guy with a head full of tattoos but, in fact, is a regular family man, he tells us -- devoted to his 15-year-old son. His soulful version of Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble” is the best singing we’ve heard in this episode so at least we feel we are back to watching a real singing competition. Thank you, Ray.
Four yeses from the judges, though the two guys judges are somewhat hesitant. “Don’t let us down,” Louie says, channeling Simon addressing that contestant from last year who was fresh out of rehab. Of course, we haven’t been given any reason to think Vino will let us down but we’re appreciating Louie’s attempt to add poignancy.
Finally, someone on the show realizes they have not put up Louie’s name, and they fix that: “Louis Walsh”.
Louis Walsh is back stage with LA Reid and asks if LA misses Simon.
“Of course I’m missing him.”
“Wrong answer,” says Louis.
“But not that much,” LA concludes.
Come to think of it, we miss Simon, but not that much, too.
We meet DeAngelo Wallace backstage trash talking the judges (“Miss Little Disney Princess Demi Lovato, she like to talk a lot”), and blustering on about “if they don’t see a star they’re fools”.
More of same from him onstage. “Do you have any idea how much you’re getting on our nerves?” LA asks, finally. So DeAngelo launches into Chris Brown’s “With You”.
He is stridently pitchy. The judges actually get up and leave while he’s still singing – an “X Factor” First.
It never would have happened if Simon were there. No, Simon would have found a way to bait DeAngelo into making threats against Britney just to watch her jaw drop, based on his performance in last week’s episodes.
DeAngelo has the last laugh, or tries to. He allegedly walks off with one of he show’s microphones. Off goes a producer and a cameraman in pursuit.
The cameraman catches up to DeAngelo who apparently does not have the presence of mind to switch from Reality Show Contestant to Potential Criminal Defendant and confesses on camera: “I stole their mike. You all didn’t let me through so I was going to keep their equipment.”
Tate Stevens, 37, works in the city street department, family man, big hat, greata sense of humor, solid country baritone, crowd gobbles him up. All boxes checked, he’s through. “That’s an American Classic!” raves LA.
That’s the end of the Kansas City auditions.
Louie, we hardly got to know you, but, like DeAngelo Wallace, your celebrity time is up too soon, at the end of hour one.
“If anybody gets sick, I’m back,” he tells LA. Louie waves sweetly, gets into his chauffeured ride and is gone. Presumably back to the British version of “X Factor” from whence he came, we’ve learned thanks to Google. Anyway, we’re going to miss him terribly.
On to the next town -- and the Return of Simon.
Waiting, Demi and Britney agree that they kinda did miss him. “He’s a lot sweeter than he comes off,” says Demi.
Simon’s reunion with his fellow judges has about as much chemistry as a meeting with an accountant.
“You missed your little Simie?” he asks Demi.
“Quite the contrary,” she says.
“I mean, where did that come from?” says Simon.
Citizen is a group of 5 guys, ages 21 to 25 who worrying excessively about their hair products and whether collars should be worn up or down. They hit the stage to perform a highly choreographed version of En Vogue’s “Don’t Let Go”.
It is cringe-inducingly dated. And yes, Simon does serve his function by calling them on it: “It’s like you’re in a time machine.”
And yet the other judges love them so they’re through, as Simon is seen wondering whether swapping out Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherziner for Demi and Britbrit was such a bright idea after all.
On to a montage of Simon dissing other performers. Highlight: “You’re a bit like a singing candle. You just stand there and melt.”
“So mean!” whines Demi.
“Constructive,” insists Simon.
After Simon savages a perfectly a nice little girl who attempts an Adele number, and tells us he’s sick of Adele tunes, it’s Diamond White’s turn to audition. Diamond White is a 13-year-old who lives in a “shoebox apartment” and has to share a bed with her mom. Does she have to sing, too, or can we just put her though?
But Simon first has to savage her just in case she has any thought of singing an Adele tune. “Don’t sing anything by Adele,” he growls, while we remember Louie fondly.
Diamond looks confused. In fact, she is very old school, singing James Brown/Etta James/Christina Aguilera’s “It’s a Man’s World.” She’s a little reedy, but a performer who lights up the stage. Simon declares her “incredible.”
Four easy yeses. “Now, I’m happy, “ says Simon.
Panda Ross, 42, a portly, jolly barista, is flirting hard with Simon. “I wore this necklace just for you!” she says fingering a gold piece that says “SINGLE”. And she just got out of the hospital for pneumonia. So the crowd is with her. Turns out she can sing too, in an energetic pass at Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me” with some Simon references ad libbed.
“You sound like a legend. I absolutely love you,” Simon says and the other judges lay on the praise too.
But, drama backstage – Panda has a pneumonia relapse and gets strapped on a gurney and sent back to the hospital.
“Don’t let Simon see me like this!” she says through the mask. Like THAT’s not going to make the show.
Last audition—and we’re expecting a lot because it’s the “X Factor” Way to send us off happy. So bring it, 22-year-old Jessica Espinoza. She’s a poor kid from San Antonio who’s been out on the street performing for tips with holes in her shoes, she says.
LA Reid asks her The $5 Million Question – you know, to get at whether she appreciates the enormity of the opportunity before her.
“Where I come from, we understand,” says Jessica. “If I believe, then I want people from where I come from to believe in themselves, too.”
Jessica gives a gritty, bluesy – weepy -- version of Pink’s “Nobody Knows.”
Britney, whose role is developing rapidly into The Person Who States the Obvious, states it: “I feel like you have such a strong voice and it’s really deep, and I love it.”
Simon shows Britney how it’s done:
“I didn’t like it,” he says.
“I loved it.”