‘X Factor’: 32 finalists revealed

October 7, 2011

“The X Factor” boot camp. (Ray Mickshaw )

After a grueling first night of X Factor Boot Hollywood Camp Week, Night 2 opens with host Steve Jones, who we’ve learned from new “X Factor” photos is very tall, informing us we’re in for more groups of hopefuls who still have to perform for the judges.

And, in case we’ve forgotten: the finalists picked tonight will be divided into four groups: boys, girls, groups, and “Over 30s,” and each group will head to the home of one judge, where they will live while the judge mentors them and decides which of them makes it to the live competition.

Day 2, Group 1 will sing Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On.”

Oh, man things start off ragged with this group. This is the “Exit Factor” for most of them. Marcus Canty, who we’re getting signaled is a keeper, shows off his riffs. Chris Rene, the soft-voiced father-of-adorable-young-child rapper just out of rehab, is really off key, but all the judges can hear is “backstory, backstory, backstory.”

Day 2, Group 2 will sing Rascal Flatts’ “I Won’t Let Go.” Who are these people? Tim Cifers starts off this group alone on stage, and he’s a credible country act. The others are just passable country types. Simon says Tim has “a great voice,” though Antonio “L.A.” Reid thinks Tim’s a contender — not a star. Which in “X Factor” terms must mean he’ll get through the front door of a judges’ house, then sent out the back.

Day 2 Group 3 will sing Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars.” We recognize some interesting voices in this group, including the Brewer Boys — the kid brothers with the surprisingly mature voices. Then there’s 32 year-old Christa Collins, aka Elvira, whose vintage look is more interesting than her voice. And Henri Bredouw is kinda sweet but kinda tuneless.

Group-sing concluded, here comes the Calling to the Stage.

Judge Paula Abdul sends one batch of hopefuls home – no one we recognized anyway.

Newbie judge Nicole Scherzinger gets to try out the judge switcheroo gag made famous by The Singing Competition Show Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned, telling the second batch brought back on stage that they performed well but “I have to be honest and speak from my heart (pause, pause)—“you’ve made it through [to] the next round!”

Then Simon Cowell, addressing the last batch of the night, really gets into the nostalgia thing and uses a line we’ve heard from him somewhere before but we can’t remember: “It’s not good news. … It’s great news!” So they’re also through to the next round.

This whole thing is starting to feel like jury duty, where you have to sit through a bunch of legal formalities so nobody appeals.

Steve lets us know that 64 acts have made it through, and Simon tells the acts that the next challenge for each is to pick a song that fits them as an artist – from a list of 30-something tunes – and perform it, after just 15 hours of rehearsal, in front of – no, not the judges! The judges – and 3,000 people! In other words – just like their original auditions.

“I know you’re tired, but seriously this is a $5 million moment,” Simon adds to egg them on, apparently feeling that the possibility of a sleepover Chez Simon doesn’t sound like enough of a life changer.

Cut to the next day and the start of everybody’s $5 million moment. First on stage is cutie pie Rachel Crow doing Beyonce’s “If I Were a Boy” and she really sells it at the start, goes uneven in the end – but, no matter, the kid is like a Shirley Temple for our times.

Tiger Budhill, the 42-year-old beer gut who is being pegged as a come-from-behind candidate, pulls off Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” as a slow ballad — a gutsy song choice.

Josh Krajcik, 30, one of the most likeable of the contestants, reminds us he’s in this so he can stop making burritos to pay the bills (and we hope, stop styling his hair with Crisco), then belts out another very professional, heartfelt version of Kelly Clarkson’s “Up to the Mountain,” which must have tugged at Simon’s heart because Kelly was the big find of that other show, while simultaneously giving Simon the jitters because Josh is kind of like Taylor Hicks, the first of the totally non-commercial winners of that other show.

Then comes a flameout. Simone Battle, 22, describes herself as a “fierce” performer, and tries to take an original attack on Elton John’s “Your Song.” Unfortunately, she spent more time picking out her wardrobe – short shorts, red sequined platform shoes, big sunglasses, clown hat – than learning the lyrics, which she forgets entirely. She wraps things up by assuring the crowd of thousands she can “bring it.”

Then there’s 4Shore from Virginia Beach, a group that way overplays their hand with the showmanship, and Siameze Floyd, who hits a painful ending note. Brennin Hunt does his own very different take on the Alicia Keys “If I Ain’t Got You,” and Simon is sinking deeper and deeper into a depression, until he finally erupts to some poor producer who steps in front of the cameras.

“I am hating this! Why are they making these weirdo versions?” Simon whines. They take a break from production, during which we’re just sure Simon apologizes to all these music novices for hiring the professional vocal coaches who steered them so wrong and resulted in these disastrous performances. No…psych!

It’s the start of Day 2, Hour 2, and things are getting pretty portentous with Steve intoning that “no one was feeling the pressure more than the judges,” but Steve too is feeling the pressure – he’s so undone, he’s back to calling the city “Los Angeleez” again.

But we keep thinking: the producers have actually teased us about quite a lot of good talent so far, so really the judges should chill about the outcome and maybe go shopping for some extra towels for all those X-Guests who are about to be showing up on their doorsteps.

We get a bunch of snippets of performances. The group The Stereo Hoggz sing “Cry Me a River,” but they barely make it to the first chorus since they’re so busy with a lot of choreography shtick. Props to them, however, for all coming dressed as Antonio “L.A.” Reid, which gets one of the biggest responses we’ve seen from “L.A.” all season.

Phillip Lomax croons George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” and Chris Rene gives his soft voiced slow rap treatment to The Police’s “I’ll Be Watching You,” and they’re both entertaining.

Time for some drama. Stacey Francis, one of the Over 30s we have been watching intently through her ups and downs—big-voiced audition, too big voiced second round, waterfalls of mascara spilled — hits the stage and … all this has apparently gone unnoticed by L.A. who asks her to “tell us your name.” Before we can stage-whisper “Stacey,” she makes a very sad reveal. Her father died on the day she arrived for boot camp. Cut to a taped bit where she says “for the rest of my life I’ll have to deal with missing my father’s funeral.” But, she says, she feels “my dad would want me to be here. I know he’s with me tonight.” She gives a heartfelt, if uneven, performance of “Summertime,” after which “L.A.” says to Simon, “That’s pain. That’s deep, deep pain.” The segment ends with stock footage of heavenly clouds streaming by. Yes, really.

“Who goes to the judges’ houses?” Steve wonders after a commercial break. We make a mental list: the pool guy, the personal trainer, the breakfast chef, the dinner chef…

We’re snapped back into the subject at hand by the re-appearance of one of the most striking looking — and strangest-energy emitting — contestants, Tiah Tolliver. She’s pretty much seething on stage. If this singing thing doesn’t work out, we think there’s a role for her over at Charlie Sheen’s house. Drew Ryniewicz gives a very commercial performance. But the main act here is Leroy Bell, who is emerging as the King of the Over 30s (or the Overs, as they’re called on show). “I’ve got to bare my soul up there, that’s all there is to it,” he says before going on stage. Because, at 59, this is his last chance before being reduced to playing Saturday afternoons at the assisted living centers. Leroy gives a touching performance of Garth Brooks’ “To Make You Feel My Love.” After, Simon says he was “thinking what it would be like to have that tone and be frustrated,” — in other words, Over.

This is it. We’re gonna find out who the final 32 are.

Unlike the show, we won’t drag this out:

The Girls:

Caitlin Koch

Tora Woloshin

Simone Battle

Drew Ryniewicz

Rachel Crow

Jazzlyn Little

Melanie Amaro

Tiah Tolliver

The Boys:

Brennin Hunt

Brian Bradley

Skyelor Anderson – who?

Nick Voss

Tim Cifers

Phillip Lomax

Marcus Canty

Chris Rene

The Groups:

The Stereo Hogz

2Squared

4Shore

Brewer Boys

Illusion Confusion

The Anser

Yes, we know, that’s only six groups, not eight.

The Over 30s:

Elaine Gibbs

Tiger Budbill

Leroy Bell

James Kenney

Josh Krajcik

Krista Collins

Dexter Haygood

Stacey Francis

Well, the final 30 of 32 have been revealed, and our ears are practically ringing from the repeated blaring of Whitney Houston’s “One Moment in Time,” and we’re so darn uplifted by it all we’ve practically moved to the apartment upstairs. And yet at the same time, we’re so crestfallen by all the weeping rejects that we’re pretty much questioning whether life is worth living. We’ll say this: We thought The Show Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned made a big deal of the life-changing nature of The Final Cut, but “X-Factor” is putting these moments right up there with appearances before St. Peter at the Pearly Gates.

But, wait a minute, what’s this? A Mess of the Under 30s are being brought back on stage and separated into two groups. And Simon is telling them that if they’d only known each other before this competition, and formed a group, they would have been slam-dunks to make it to a judges’ house. And, guess what? He pronounces them “X Factor” Insta-Groups. And we have our final two groups, bringing the grand total to 32!

But in this show, the judges too get sorted out. Which one will coach which group: The Boys, The Girls, The Groups and The Overs?

The judges have scattered far and wide –wow, they couldn’t wait to get away from the auditioning crowds.

L.A. is in New York. Yes, that’s ironic. Paula is at home in LA, and Nicole is also in LA at some sort of dance rehearsal place.

But Simon is far, far away, off the shore of the south of France on a fearsome, giant motorboat, “on vacation” — apparently with his closest friends who, here’s a bit of luck, also happen to be a crew of professional videographers.

We see Paula at home in a glowing white environment – she lives in such a high-rent district that everything appears in soft focus.

“I’d be excited to work with … the boys?” she says coyly, hinting at her younger days as a cougar on The Show Whose Name… And we know instantly that Paula is not going to be working anywhere near The Boys.

Nicole, meanwhile, giggles that she wants to work with the girls, and she anxious fiddles with an HTC phone – buy yours today at X-Sponsor Verizon!

L.A. says, rightly, that the strongest category is “the Overs.”

“The Groups will be hardest,” says sailing Simon, but anyway, he’s indifferent to which group he mentors because “it’s a question of making other people happy, knowing they’ve got me.” We imagined the video crew did a lot of takes of him saying variations of that same line and we feel sure they included ones featuring him wearing a natty little captain’s hat and driving the boat.

So now Steve informs us that there’s a Higher Brit who’s the final arbiter of all things X, who’s going to tell the judges their fates. We can’t get a good look at Higher Brit because his office is behind some of those big old-fashioned blinds, but we think Higher Brit is being played by Anthony Hopkins. He makes the calls. Nicole gets the Over-30s. “You didn’t say girls did you?” she whines. True, she would have been perfect for the girls, but there’s a Higher Brit that everyone must answer to.

So on to Paula: The Groups. “I’m excited and feeling a little bit overwhelmed already,” she says.

Simon gets The Girls and L.A. gets The Boys – and we get it. The rest of the season is being set up as a battle between L.A. and Simon, while the ladies occupy themselves with the long-shots.

“You have met your match,” L.A. says to sailing Simon on his Verizo-phone.

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