[Ned Martel is filling in for Lisa, who will be back blogging next week.]
Ever since Beyonce rubbed her belly on the red carpet, America has wondered about the potential musical genius growing inside her.
Thursday provided a kind of preview, what the precocious genetic product of Jay-Z and Beyonce, mastering pitch and timing and lyricism, might be like.
Fourteen-year-old Brian Bradley of Brooklyn had the attitude and rap talent and hip-hopster glasses of Jay-Z, but he’s his own person. And judges said what anyone watching knew: he had something special.
No one can yet call it the X Factor, since Fox is reserving $5 million for the claimant of that title. Their new talent-show caravan went East to meet megastars of the megalopolis, and as one would expect, the fledgling show needed a fledgling star to help it grow. It found, just by opening its doors, a tyke with a fade and frames without lenses—the aforementioned Brian Bradley. Why hasn’t he gotten a record deal? “It’s politics, man. You gotta know somebody.”
He started by sassing Simon of all people, to launch into a hip-hop tirade with a don’t-mess catchphrase: “Stop Lookin at My Mom!” Simon is so short-fused that while the small fry was winning over everyone, Simon was still nursing his hurt. Eventually, he had to concede.
“Arrogant, obnoxious, argumentative,” he called Brian—to his face!--but obviously talented.
Superfly LA Reid talked about Def Jam, his legendary record label. “All the years that I was there, you know what? I was lookin’ for you and you never walked in.”
The talent show started its fourth episode with Brian, and rightly so—he got four yeses to send him to the next, “boot camp” round, and he is proving that something is happening on this show that doesn’t really happen on “Idol.” The talent is more daring, more deviant, more cool. My hunch: the world knows L.A. Reid is music’s major player, and people are showing up to impress him.
But it is the house that Simon built, and he shows off that fact by making money on ads adjacent his own show. It seems like double-dipping, but he’s also making money off the contracts of the kids he signs. So maybe it’s triple-dipping.
This fourth episode soared by the arrival of Brian Bradley, then sagged in his absence. The show zipped through other winners like they were flirting at a speed-dating session.
Kelly Warner, 22, who cuts hair in a nursing home, sang Leonard Cohen’s “Halleleujah.” She’s in. A foursome of girls and a hot guy in plaid apparently are too. A Milli Vanilli-like store manager got harshed on by Simon, and then someone named Liliana Rose Andreano sang “You Are My Sunshine” in a prairie dress. Quick cut on the DC Fox station to an Xfinity commercial, which ended and the show resumed with a crying Lilliana. A big boo-boo.
Alas, all that success meant time for failure, in the form of Andy Silikovitz, 43. No employment given. Never kissed a girl.
His mom, Arlene brought him and he wants to be on “MTV Cribs.” He’s a reminder that the New York/New Jersey area is home to some of America’s finest shut-ins, and that weird Welsh backstage guy asked Arlene a cloying question: “Do you think Andy would like to get together with Paulerabdool?” My question for him: How have you not been deported?
Andy attempted “Hero” by Mariah Carey. It didn’t go so well but he earned a hug from Paulerabdool. He confided in a stage whisper with his fellow performer and consoler: “I shoulda done ‘My Way.’”
A hoarse guy sang “House of the Rising Sun” to no avail. An office clerk sang “Always Be My Baby” to less-than-no avail. A life coach proved in need of coaching. A female bartender flopped, and Simon got all mean-girl on her. “You keep booing me,” she told the crowd she was trying to capture. “How am I supposed to do anything? Seriously.”
Let’s talk about 17-year-old Cari Fletcher, with butter tresses and raccoon mascara. She could be “Friday Night Lights” rally girl. She is super-duper pretty. She jammed “Alone” by Heart. The judges got solemn like they do before a big compliment but then Simon skunked it up. The blonde was bland, he assessed implausibly. It does not seem just, but of course, the show needs to subject some to trial, right? And she will engage the jury if there’s a little hardship in her plea.
Then another cavalcade of yeses for Joshua Blaylock, 30; Emily Michalak, 12; Dorit Yahudai, 48. All chosen, but we’ll just have to take the judges’ word for it. We saw so little in some rush to another Verizon commercial.
A duo of 15-year-olds--Austin and Emily—self-proclaimed themselves to be Ausem, as in totes awesome. They met in sixth grade, they attested, when their singing made people cry. We are gonna need some affidavits from those witnesses. Their songs were vocalizations of growth spurts, Simon gave them a half-smile like a shark must when he sees his first hints of water-borne platelets. But then he gave a yes! Huh? And all four judges gave all those errant notes all the necessary approval, and I am officially suspicious. The judges made a stab at separating the Siamese tweens, suggesting that Austin alone was awesome. But in the end they let both through.
Tora Woloshin, a sweet-faced blonde 21-year-old in raspberry suede boots and tattoes everywhere, including her knuckles, is a mechanic who “would love to own my own auto shop.”
Simon called her the amalgam of guy-loving parts: a body for dancing, a brain for speed. She delivered “I Want You Back” by the Jackson 5, like she was a tattooed P.J. Harvey in Pucci.
When Simon heard her choice, he grimaced. But she infused so much vibrancy into The Gloved One’s early song that it became a tribute in a tough week: Michael Jackson used to sing that song with so much life, and now the world watches his doctor on trial for helping him drain the life out of himself, in front his crying children. Tora honored him ably, unlike that later, ghoulish Pepsi commercial that used an actual clip of Jackson.
Meanwhile, everything L.A. Reid says is cool, even stuff you heard before: “You really turned the place out, girl.”
Nicole Scherzing is trying SO HARD to be Tyra and it’s interesting to see her coltish form start its diva strut. By now we can see what’s good about this show. The cool people on “Idol” have ditched the uncool ones: Paula and Simon ran away and re-formed without Ryan and Randy. The show focuses on the X-factor of performers but proves what non-factors those two original “Idol” hangers-on really are.
Rejections piled up, and when they sang, a quintet called The Stereo Hogzz seemed bound for the heap. They were rescued by energy and sex appeal, demonstrating the power of potential.
But then a more nuanced deliberation on exteriors. Brennin Hunt from Nashville is a graphic designer, 26. He has blue eyes and a brown pompadour -- looks like a butch-er Jared Leto.
He knows this: “I’m the total package.” Oh, God. Overconfidence is as un-sexy as the huge silver cuff on his wrist, and the announcement that his song, “How We Make It” is one he wrote himself. Simon winced and then looked shocked, Susan Boyle style, when Hunt turned out to have a sexy, low growl of a voice. The young singer overcame even his cheesy lyric about the “circle of life.”
Paige Elizabeth Ogle is an 18-year-old secretary with Pepto lipstick and a missing tooth. I love her and her identical twin boyfriend. She advanced, as did Leroy Bell, a 59-year-old songwriter who was told by Paula that dreams can still come true at 59. So did the Brewer Boys, brothers with overgrown Bieber mops. And same for Nick Dean, a 14-year-old who sang his “first single” as aggressively as Billie Joe Armstrong must have sung his first.
Then the let down. Devon Talley, a customer service person in a retail store in New York, sang “Seasons of Love.” His voting was in the tradition of humiliation and hubris that confirms that the judges have as much power over the singers as the lions did over the gladiators. Paula tried to make up for the slaying with some slurping: “I’m going to have to say no, but I love you.”
For a show capper, out came Jazzlyn Little, a 16-year-old from Cape Coral, Florida. She was shaking and her throat was closing. She crossed herself before her pre-song grilling. Yes, she posted one video on the Internet of her singing, and it got only 500 hits, probably, she explained sheepishly, because people didn’t like her performance.
“You’re not selling yourself well here, Jazzlyn,” Simon said, adding that she’d have to lift her confidence.
She came up with “I’m Goin’ Down,” by Mary J. Blige. She rocked it and the dewy-eyed girls in the audience knew the words. Standing ovation and standing date to see her again soon. Again, leave it to LA Reid: “That’s a superstar name to go with that superstar voice.”
Will the wallflower gain confidence?
Will the stud gain self-awareness?
Will the bland blonde gain a personality?
Will the saucy blonde gain an agent?
All we know so far is Paula and Simon are now friends and L.A. Reid is a god on Earth. All other revelations are lesser and will be delivered in due time.