We’ve made it to Hollywood for the first of “The X Factor” live shows!
The episode opens with each judge/mentor and their gang of contestants swaggering out on stage like they’re here for some high school performance of “West Side Story.”
Leading the Teenagers is Britney Spears in a black minidress with bedazzled football protective gear attached. Simon Cowell and the Groups show up next – hello, Simon has added a bit of padding his jowls! Ratings got you hitting the ice cream cartons late at night, Simon?
Demi Lovato, leading the Young Adults, is looking very Uma Thurman:“Pulp Fiction.”
And LA Reid, with a blank look, leading the Too Old to Win Adults category.
Let’s meet our hosts for the first time. Khloe Kardashian Odom, of the Kardashian family – reality TV royalty. Khloe – not to be confused with Kim or Kourtney -- is the one who married Lamar Odom of the Los Angeles Clippers. Khloe is a robust girl and, in her Spanx-ish skirt and plunging neckline, she looks like an overstuffed suitcase on which the zipper has broken.
Before the live episodes started, Simon told reporters Khloe hopes to prove a point on this show, and will have to have “nerves of steel” tonight because she has never hosted a show and wound up with less time than planned to rehearse when Fox decided to go to the live episodes early after a four game World Series. The point she’s proving tonight is that she can shout. The show’s other new host – they’re replacing last year’s Too Tall Steve Jones – is veteran Mario Lopez, who’s barely noticeable next to Khloe.
First up: Paige Thomas, of the Young Adults, with the model good looks and passable singing voice. Oh, yes, now we remember -- shows always put the X-testants contestants through the trial of heavily produced production numbers as part of their professional education.
In this case, Paige has been dressed in a skin-tight silver Halloween outfit, complete with spikey silver hat. If there were a Bond character called Silver Sea Urchin, that would be Paige.
“What Is Love” by Haddaway is the number, and Paige is visually striking, though sonically scattered.
Judging time. LA Reid says she “looks like a star” but he isn’t sure about the song choice.
Simon thinks she’s “an artist who can work in the real world,” which is the point of the competition.
Brit and Demi love her too.
Up next, the first of the teens and their “brentor” Khloe shouts who, then quickly corrects herself before finishing with “Mitney” which is a real shame.
Anyway, we’re loving the neologism. Brentor – that’s a keeper.
First Brentoree is Arin Ray, Britbrit’s Usher-in-training. Interesting old school song choice, with The Supremes’ “Keep Me Hanging On,” but Arin’s voice really isn’t much. And we’re actively bothered about the adult, female dancers writhing around Arin, who is 17. Is this legal?
LA both says Arin “nailed it,” and that his vocals weren’t up to the song choice. Make of that what you will.
Demi claims she couldn’t hear the vocals because of the girls screaming in the audience. And she wanted better dancing.
Simon knocks Britney for putting too much dancing around Arin.
No matter, Britney says she’s proud of Arin and calls him a “little genius”.
David Correy is the first of the Old Adults and his rendition of “My Love Is Your Love,” by Whitney Houston, is a little pitchy, but he works the stage, and probably does the best he can do.
“A bit desperate, like you were begging the audience to like you” says Simon. Britney says she felt it, however.
Next up, the first of Simon’s Groups, starting with SisterC, the three pretty sisters from Texas who harmonize sweetly.
Simon has decided to honky-tonk up their act to deal with what he says is their big problem -- lack of likeability. The song is Pistol Annie’s “Hell on Wheels” and the girls seem a bit overwhelmed by the stage.
Britney calls them “stunning” and Demi says they have “a unique sound missing in the industry now.” On the other hand, Demi also says “you guys seemed really stiff”.
Simon: “They are singers not dancers.”
Demi: “I’m a singer not a dancer, and I make up for it.”
We are liking Demi vs. Simon.
Demi tries to introduce her next act while Simon holds her nose. It’s Jenel Garcia, who gave a fantastic audition but has never seemed to recapture that moment.
Demi has decided to rock-up Jenel’s image (when when she’s done, Jenel has Demi’s latest hair style) and send her out to sing Motley Crue’s “Home Sweet Home.” It’s modestly rocking.
The judges foam over. “You just convinced me you could win!” raves LA. “Love your hairstyle” says Brit. Simon says Jenel defines “Made In America” -- tonight’s music theme (wait, wasn’t Paige’s song British?) but says he like her better with curly hair and calls the Demi-do “complete narcissism” on Demi’s part.
Diamond White, the adorable little 13-year-old, has a big voice but seems to need careful coaching to shine. Instead, Britney has dispatched her into a confusing dance routine to sing “Hey, Soul Sister” while wearing an overwhelming hat with a big mirrored “USA” emblem on top and surrounded by a cacophony of dancers, props and colors. It’s not a good venue for Diamond to focus on her singing.
“A little mechanical” to start, says LA though she recovered in the second verse, he says.
“I would have liked to have seen you having a little more fun,” says Demi.
“You came over as a relevant pop star,” Simon says, while also taking a moment to compliment his show – “the talent tonight has absolutely blow me away.”
Sure, he feels better now but, later tonight, we’re predicting he’s back to the fridge for another pint of Ben & Jerry’s.
Vino Alan, the hulking member of the Over 25’s with the tattooed head, is another singer who needs special care. He doesn’t get it with LA’s song choice ,“Gotta Be Somebody” by Nickleback. It looks painful for Vino. It is painful for us.
“I feel your heart,” says the Brentor. “But I have to say I was a little bored.”
Demi: “I have a hard time seeing you as a pop star.”
Simon calls the song “utterly wrong for you” and “made you into a horrible cover singer.”
“You’ve had criticism all you life and it ain’t gonna stop you,” LA jumps in, deflecting criticism from himself, as Vino’s song chooser, and pointing it at Vino. Nice guy, that LA.
Next, Khloe and Simon engage in some byplay. She calls him sexy. “I think the air conditioning is on high tonight. It’s very distracting,” Simon responds. Ask your parents to explain the reference. Simon should stick to sparring with Demi.
Next Group to perform: Lyric 145, the pickup trio starring Lyric da Queen, the chick with the eyepatch who has been to more funerals than wedding. Anyway, they’re rapping “Boom Shake the Room”. It’s pretty pedestrian rap but we love, love, love their explosion-in-a-clown-dressing-room costumes.
LA is harsh, maybe smarting from the recent drubbing he got over what he did to Vino. “It sounded like somebody put you in a washer, dumped in bleach and took the soul out of you,” LA tells Lyric 145.
The other three judges love them, however.
Next up, Demi’s CeCe Frey, the chick with the good voice, and huge likeability problem. Demi’s solution is to peroxide CeCe’s hair and give her a makeup job that gives her a tropical fish’s face. The performance of “Because the Night,” by Patti Smith, involves way too much activity for CeCe to focus on while singing. CeCe’s performance ends with her crawling on her belly and pushing her face into a floor cam.
The judges all give various takes on “loved you, not the vocals.” But Simon adds, “that doesn’t matter to me because you’re someone I need in this competition.” Simon’s seeing the potential for a multi-week story arc: From Here to Likeability.
Tate Stevens, the country singer/road worker, performs Craig Morgan’s “Tough” and it’s just okay.
Demi says she was a bit bored at first but by the end Tate gave her “chills.”
“You’re a good, honest man who needs a break,” says Simon. “For me you’re a keeper.”
We have high hopes for Beatrice Miller, the oddly edgy 13-year-old with the raspy voice that could be radio-ready with the right coaching. She doesn’t get it from Brentor Mitney with Jason Mraz’s “I Won’t Give Up.” “It doesn’t really go with who I am,” Beatrice says on tape before the performance, and she’s right – it’s frequently off-range and off-personality, though with a couple breakout moments.
But Demi saw “so much feeling behind your eyes,” and Simon sees “a gap in the market for someone like you.”
Next, “Mr. Entertainment” Jason Brock, as LA Reid introduces the jolly self-described diva. LA, the guy who threw a tantrum when told he would mentor the Over 25 X-testants, because he’s all about the kiddies, has decided the way to make Mr. Entertainmnt relevant in this competition is to dress him like Liberace and put him in a 60’s Vegas act.
He’s also selected the tune “Dance Again” and it’s a terrible choice for Jason, who should be allowed to be one of the best singers on this show. The tune is all steady and loud and un-modulated. The high point of the performance comes when he steals a feel, in passing, of a male dancer’s flat abs.
The Brentor and the Demi agree the song choice was lousy.
“Utterly horrendous,” says Simon.
“He’s a hater, don’t worry about it,” LA tells Jason, not doing him any favor.
“Hey! Mario Lopez! Can I pinch your butt?” Jason asks the heretofore useless Mario, as the judges move in for their X-testant embrace.
“Got to keep it PG-13 up here buddy,” Mario laughs uncomfortably.
Remember the pickup girl group Simon formed and named the Lilas? Well, it seems Simon was a wee bit hasty in his name choice, and some kind of legal mess ensued. So now the girls have chosen the name “1432,” because that means “I love you too” in texting.
The song choice seems right for these four chicks: Taylor Swift’s “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
“Very karaoke...Your mentor really failed you,” says LA. Oh – he also hates their new name.
“I feel like tonight there was only one person who shined,” says Demi.
Suddenly Khloe is inserting herself back into the action, demanding – loudly -- to know which singer Demi liked. Demi demurs but, under more Khloe khlobbering, finally points to one of them. It’s very awkward.
Now for one of the most interesting contestants -- Demi’s country crooner Willie Jones. He tries Gretchen Wilson’s “Here for the Party,” but has been given way too much stage business and dancer interaction to deal with, and the vocals suffer.
LA calls it “adequate,” Brit calls him “a true star.” Now it’s down to Simon and Demi.
Simon: “It didn’t show off your vocal ability…The dancers were inappropriate on that song…It all felt a bit cheap and silly…I don’t think your mentor has done you any justice.”
Demi responds. “His mentor happens to be someone that’s 20 years old, and happens to know what people like and right now people are liking unique things.”
Simon takes a swig of whatever is in his Pepsi cup and holds it in his mouth, as if swallowing would be a sign of weakness in the face of this attack.
“This may not have worked 100 years ago when you were good at this, but I think it could work now,” she spits at Simon. And to Willie she says, “I’m really proud of you. You took my notes really well.”
With no sense of dramatic pacing, Khloe jumps in and starts hectoring Simon to reveal, “what would have been a better song.” He refuses – because, of course, he famously has no knowledge of country music.
Roll tape of The Brentor coaching Carly Rose Sonnenclar -- the 13-year-old who’s performed on Broadway and who looks like she should be in a math competition, but in fact may have the best voice of this singing competition.
“You have kind of an older presence about you,” Britney says perceptively. So what’s her approach gonna be? Serious/cause-y/Sarah McLachlan-y, maybe? No, Brit thinks Carly should dress up in a schoolgirl uniform, just like Brit did in “Baby One More Time” back in her older-presence period. And so, we get a very uncomfortable looking Carly, dressed in a Hogwarts uniform, singing “Good Feeling.”
It’s cringe inducing.
“It didn’t feel like you were having fun. But you were amazing,” LA guesses.
Simon agrees that it didn’t look fun. “Based on how brilliant you are, you could have done a much better song. But it would be criminal if you were to leave the competition tonight,” he says.
Brit congratulates Carly for her “great job.” Carly looks stricken.
Last act of the night: Emblem3 -- the surfer brothers from California. We are ready at this point for an un-conflicted performance, after so many musical mismatches tonight. The boys deliver, a pleasant, jolly “One Day,” by Matisyahu.
LA compliments Simon. “Even a broken clock is right twice a day. You got it right this time”.
“You boys make me swoon,” Demi gushes, giggling, “I can’t look you in the eye!” She averts her gaze from their beaming presences. TMZ has tomorrow morning’s report.
“Remember this night because you are seeing a future superstar here!” Simon hyperbolizes.
Mario Lopez provides one final service, besides being pinch-able. Tomorrow night, he informs us, eight acts will be saved by the judges, eight will have to sing for survival, and four will be sent home.