With “X Factor” star Simon Cowell having rejected Melanie Amaro last week and then regretting it, and winding up with five X-testants in his chicks’ group instead of the required four, and what with Fox reportedly having to make it up to X-vertisers for the singing competition’s less than X-credible ratings, Tuesday night’s first-ever live episode is destined to be two and a half hours long — that’s 30 minutes longer than Fox’s primetime.
To help pass the time: How many times will Simon say “$5 million contract” tonight? Drinking Game!
Tuesday night’s rules: The Four Mentors are both judges and coaches, which means at any time without warning they may either be giving the contestants their honest opinions about their performances, or giving dishonest opinions because they get carried away trash-talking other Mentors or because they are defending themselves against dishonest opinions or giving honest opinions that sound like dishonest opinions because the show is dragging and they need to perk things up. Some of the Mentors are Healers and some are Damage Dealers — no wait, that’s World of Warcraft. Anyway, it’s complicated!
To top it off there’s The Host, the enormous Steve Jones who towers over all the contestants and who we suspect also doubles as The Bouncer if any of them get frisky.
With a surprising lack of ado, the show rips forward, bringing the judges out on stage and launching into The Boys — the four singers under the mentorage of music-industry mogul LA Reid.
LA introduces his first contender: little Brian “Astro” Bradley who rockets out on stage and keeps up the energy through a hip-hop, free styling, call-response-with-the-audience performance that’s just flat-out fun, if corny.
Next Boy is 28-year-old Chris Rene who is some number of days out of rehab — we didn’t catch the exact figure because the producers haven’t yet thought to add one of those billboards like the ones that show the national debt increasing. Which is not to say the producers aren’t milking it; we see warm-up tape showing LA warning Chris to stay straight. Chris sings/raps “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore,” and he’s passably good — more interesting to watch than listen to.
Paula Abdul calls him “authentic.” Simon calls him “authentic.” Nicole Scherzinger demurs a bit about the song choice, which causes LA to get in some licks: “We like the unpredictable, unlike these guys — they like the predictable,” LA scoffs to Chris, in re the other Three Mentors.
We’re expecting Poor Phillip Lomax, the jazz crooner, to be set up as a sacrificial goat, like all jazz crooners on pop music competition shows. But LA leads him to slaughter with more than usual cruelty. He sticks him with with The Monkees “I’m A Believer” — a period piece it’s hard to believe anybody would sing for real today except in a comedy routine.
Then, LA dresses Phillip in some cheesy tux, with a carnation no less, and surrounds him with Naughty Girl Tin Soldiers who rub up against his thighs and pinch his heinie while he’s trying to sing. It’s soft-core porn “Babes in Toyland.”
The Lady Mentors are polite, but Simon dings LA for treating Phil like “a race car driver (put into) a tractor.” On the bright side, LA tells Phillip, “You are no longer imitating Frank Sinatra.” LA also tells Phillip to “pay them no mind,” in re the Other Three Mentors, adding, “You’re just fine.” Mark my words, Phillip — you are not fine. You are toast.
Likeable, Bobby Brown-ish Marcus Canty performs Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” — another lousy LA song choice — and he’s completely lost in the maelstrom of dancers, flashing lights, and background music. Which is probably just as well, given how uneven he sounds when we can hear him. But the Lady Mentors coo and even Simon applauds the performance noting, that when he first met Marcus he thought he was the “one who thought this through and understood “the $5 million contract, the Pepsi [Super Bowl] commercial.”
Thank goodness — we were parched!
Now, LA has to choose which of the Boys goes home. Hey, this show really moves it along, unlike “The Singing Competition Show Whose Name Shall Not Be Mentioned That Slogs On For Nearly Five Months.” After reminding us how hard this is on him, and some countdown music, Phillip Lomax is sent packing.
Groups, mentored by Paula, next. We are dreading what looks to be the weakest of the categories — and the dancing-est, what with Paula in charge. But, hey, the four-man Stereo Hogzz break into “Try a Little Tenderness” with a soupcon of something else. And they’re really working the floor with all kinds of moves and all kinds of musical style — flashing lights, too — so we momentarily forget this group is, as some of the Mentors have already noted, 98 percent about its lead singer. While they whip through their fast-forward version of an entire show, we mull why The Four Mentors and their producers didn’t disassemble the Hogzz and make this guy a solo artist – kind of like how they created two Insta Groups from solo competitors.
“My mouth won’t say it. … Paula, you did a really good job,” Simon says when it’s over. Ten years we waited for that. Ten years! Simon and Paula talk some more while we choke back sobs. Ten years!
Those cute brothers, The Brewer Boys, can’t dance — we learned that when they performed at Mission Santa Paula during the X-testants Make House Calls episodes. Paula, a professional choreographer, wisely decided the B-Boys should instead get danced around, by some young ladies who are old enough to be their gym coaches, while they strum on a mandolin and guitar, looking adorable and performing a mash-up of George Michael’s “Faith” and Hall & Oates “Rich Girl.”
Judge/mentor (judgetor?) LA wasn’t wowed, but he lost most of his credibility with his “Babes in Toyland: The Directors Cut,” so we’re not listening too carefully. Nicole says if she was a teenager again she’d have the Brewer Boys plastered all over her bedroom walls. Simon’s message to The Brewer Boys is “to remind you there’s a $5 million contract.”
InTENsity, the 10 soloist kids thrown into one of two Insta-Groups, come out on stage and mill around, with occasional kids popping a head up to solo, in a mashup of “The Clapping Song” and “Footloose.” It’s kinda messy, but we think we caught even Simon tapping his feet.
“You’re my pumpkin patch of yummy pumpkins,” Nicole raves, which could mean anything. Simon, more to the point, calls it “the equivalent of a music miracle” adding, “I look at you and think I’ve got the new, young ‘Glee’ in front of me.” Ooh snap! Did Simon just call the cast of “Glee” old? Your response, Ryan Murphy?
Then Simon delivers the night’s most memorable line so far — straight out of an old Broadway stage-door movie: “You, in the red jacket, have got an amazing voice.” Paula informs him that “the girl in the red jacket” is Elona.
Lakoda Rayne, the pickup female group also put together by the producers from soloists, consists of four chicks, each one with teeth more sparkly than the last. They perform “Come on Eileen” standing in front of a Santa Fe sunset. Major enthusiasm from The Four Mentors. LA tells them they would be signed immediately if they walked into his office, and Simon reiterates, “I never thought I’d say this on live TV… Paula, you have done an amazing job with these girls!”
Paula has to send one group home. It’s going to be hard on her. From a giant door, the groups spill back onstage in a mob with blinding light, like that scene from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Paula tells the Brewer Boys they have to go back to the mothership and sends them off with a message: “Those notes I gave you — ” But the booming voice of Too-Tall Steve Jones overpowers hers from the stage, telling her to move it along. “Magic’s going to happen,” Paula finishes.
Now for the Over 30s, the most interesting characters in the competition, under the direction of Mentudge Nicole Scherzinger. First at bat: Dexter Haygood, once homeless, now impersonating Prince, or Mick Jagger, or James Brown. Who will he be tonight? Surprise: Katy Perry! Yes, he’s singing “I Kissed A Girl,” while wearing a Prince jacket and croaking like James Brown, though it’s hard to hear him over the roar of backup singers and the ridiculousness of the song choice.
“I think you found him,” LA tells Dexter. “Found who?” Dexter wonders. “I think you found Dexter,” LA explains patiently. “I love you,” Dexter concludes. Paula dares to question the song choice, but Simon put it best: “It’s like the weirdest milkshake in the world ... but I kind of liked the taste of it.” Nicole tells Dexter she’s so proud he remembered the lyrics.
LeRoy Bell is 60, we have to be reminded, because he looks 40 — perhaps because he hasn’t spent the last 30 years in Hollywood. He sings Pink’s “Nobody Knows” in his easy-listening voice. Paula raves that that voice is “pure magic,” but Simon gets pretty knicker-knotted about the whole thing, blaming Nicole for “silly choreography” and wishing he was LeRoy’s mentudge. “l don’t know if you would have put the two weeks into him,” Nicole sneers — like that’s an awful lostac of time out from her important schedule.
Sobbin’ Stacy Francis, who has a powerful voice and even more powerful tear ducts, is out next to sing George Michael’s “Teacher” in tight sparkly pants and a feather jacket of some sort, suggesting quiet diva-ness. It’s not a particularly fresh take on the song and a bit underpowered from what we’ve seen of her before. “You’re a church singer. … This needs a massive shift in the right direction,” Simon scoffs. Simon and Nicole bicker for a while in re whether this performance gave Stacy wings.
Oh, good, it’s time for Josh Krajcik, the Singing Burrito Wrapper, and the most interesting contestant of them all! In a rare show of guts, he has no massive backing track as he feelingly sings Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.”
It’s easily the best performance of the night. LA and Paula pile on the superlatives and Simon says, “You’re the artist I fear, because you’ve got it all going on.” Nicole to Simon: “No props over here?” Then, she commends Josh for taking all the stuff she worked on with him and “you threw it all away.” What?
“Such a hard decision for me,” Nicole whines when it’s time for her close-up as she whacks an oldster. But Too-Tall Steve, turns out, is also The Timekeeper and he hustles her along. Dexter is out. How does Dexter feel, in 10 words or less, Steve wants to know. “Right now I’m in the foggle zone,” Dexter says, explaining it’s “the 21st century Twilight Zone.”
And, finally, it’s time for Simon’s group: The Chicks.
Simone Battle will perform Mariah Carey’s “Just Be Good To Me” as a Victoria’s Secret commercial, reminding us exactly why Simon picked her. She’s got looks, legs and … looks, too! Her singing is not so steady on high heels, however.
“I never understood why you put her through … and now this. You must be really rich, because $5 million clearly doesn’t mean much to you,” LA tells Simon, causing us to forgive him for his “Babes in Toyland Gone Wild” earlier in the show. We also amend the drinking game to include LA mentions of the $5 million prize. The Lady Mentors are more polite, but not more encouraging. Simon assures Simone, “All of this is intended to upset you because these guys never liked you.” That Simon — such a cat.
Next up, little Rachel Crow, the Shirley Temple for our time. Simon has aged her forward about a year, with a costume that is somewhat hipper yet 80s-ish. And he’s wisely given her a Motown medley, so she can sing out in a feel-good kind of vibe. LA says she could have a career as an actress. Paula goes farther, saying she could be president, though both she and Nicole think a better song choice was in order. These comments earn Paula and Nicole the nicknames “Squiddly and Diddly” from Simon — maybe a reference to the ’60s Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Squiddly Diddly, who was an aspiring musician squid who never achieved fame?
“She’s only got one name now — it’s Drew!” Simon says as he introduces Drew Ryniewicz, apparently willing to write off the Polish vote. Out comes the young teenager with Alanis Morrisette’s face to sing her forte plaintive ballads — in this case “What A Feeling” from Flashdance.
All The Four Mentors rave and Simon tells her, “That’s why I want to be back on American TV — to find someone like you.” That, and to bring happiness to 20 million people a week. Oh well, you can’t have everything, Simon! Hahahaha! Oh, sorry...
“I dedicate this next performance to Cruella and deVil,” Simon says, in re Nicole and Paula, as he introduces Tiah Tolliver. Remember how Paula and Nicole thought Tiah should be sent home when she first auditioned?
Out comes Tiah. She’s got pouty good looks! She’s got legs and … she’s got pouty good looks! Her singing is just awful, even when overshadowed by a massively distracting “Cats” set and “Cats” dancers. Tiah’s performing the Eurythmics “Sweet Dreams.”
“If that’s a sweet dream, I’d hate to see what a scary one is like,” Nicole says. Paula recommends Tiah work on her pitch. “You’re like two spiteful little cats who will never recognize that she’s got potential,” Simon hisses and spits.
Saving best for last, Simon introduces Melanie Amaro, the singer he dramatically pulled back from the rejected list and added as the not-in-the-rules 17th contest for this live show. To make this perfectly clear: Simon would have us believe he thought Tiah and Simone were better than Melanie. Simon Cowell — the new P.T. Barnum.
Simon’s given Melanie a Whitney Houston tune, “I Have Nothing,” to knock out of the ballpark. She does. The audience roars. “We really did save the best for last,” LA gushes. The Lady Mentors also rave.
“I now have to make the hardest decision I’ve ever made,” Simon announces portentously. “There are four people who I genuinely want to go through, and I haven’t made my mind up yet.” He then sends through Drew and Rachel, leaving Melanie, Tiah and Simone up on stage. What, oh what, will Simon do?
“Okay, I’ve made my decision,” Simon says theatrically. “This may come as a surprise,” Simon says of his last choice.
Go ahead — try us, Simon.
“The final girl ... going through to the finale — and I believe, after tonight, she could win this competition — it’s Melanie Amaro!” Simon says.
Asked by Too-Tall Steve for comments, Tiah mentions the usual takeaway about studying the criticism of the judges and being “super excited” for the opportunity.
But Simone grabs the microphone to announce, “I just want to say, I’ll be releasing my first music video tonight — ‘He Likes Boys’.”GALLERY: View more photos from "X-Factor."