X-Factor USA: Round of 12

If you read my blog regularly, you know I blog “American Idol” each season once the voting round starts.  My plan all along was to also blog “X-Factor”… the problem is, I find myself working nights, so the blog will be done live-on-tape on Thursday and Friday mornings.  So if you don’t mind a 12-hour delay… here we go. 

From the Idol-esque theme music to the Idol-esque set to two of the judges/mentors, X-Factor is basically American Idol on steroids… so if you’ve seen (or heard of) Idol, you pretty much know the drill.  The major difference?  Each judge has a stake in the game, as they are also mentoring some of the contestants.  Executive Producer and Head Egomaniac Simon Cowell mentors the “girls” (technically, under 30, but his oldest charge is 19).  Official Sidekick Paula Abdul mentors the groups (yes, X-Factor allows groups – but ran most of them off in favor of creating two groups out of failed solo singers).  Original co-host-turned-judge Nicole Scherzinger mentors the “Over 30’s” (there’s no upper age limit here, unlike Idol).  And the man whose tagline through the auditions has been “I found Justin Bieber”, record exec L.A. Reid, mentors the boys.

We already have some controversy – one performer claims he asked to be dumped last week in the final judged round because he didn’t want to be a character on a reality show (indicating that he has never watched a reality show).  And another, who we’ll meet shortly, stands accused of hiding an extensive past career in entertainment – and her membership in the Church of Scientology. 

So… sponsored by Pepsi (instead of Idol’s Coca-Cola) and Verizon (instead of Idol’s AT&T)… and allowing vote-by-Twitter, which means that even more than Idol, X-Factor voting will be dominated by teenage girls (which should make L.A. Reid happy, as his team is automatically the favorite)… here we go.  Already renewed for Season Two…

It’s Time.  To Face.  The Music.

We start with a new voice doing the introduction.  Up until now, UK-based host Steve Jones has been doing the opening voiceover – but he’s overly British, don’tcha know.  So FOX finally hired an announcer.  Not sure who it is.  Yet. 

And here’s Jones – still British, still basically charisma-free.  Jones quickly gets out of the way for the real egos stars of the show, as the judges get their center-stage introductions.

The game is played for $5 million and a Pepsi commercial.

We dive right in with one of Paula Abdul’s groups – the only one that started the competition as a group…

The Stereo Hogzz – “Rhythm Nation”, Janet Jackson
This group of 5 has been sailing through the auditions.  And the do get the show started off well, with approximately a zillion dancers backing them on “Rhythm Nation”.  They provide a solid (and unique) take on Miss Jackson’s hit – entertaining, well-done, and they pulled off singing and dancing well. The red jackets help to evoke the Jackson family image, too… Smile The judges fall all over themselves to praise the Hogzz (of course, Simon had to take a poke at Paula for her mentorship), accurately.

It turns out that you can vote in five ways: Toll-free phone, online at thexfactorusa.com, via Verizon Android app, via Verizon text messaging, and via Twitter direct message.  There are no limits, apparently, on any method.  Any hope that this would be a talent competition are now shot down completely.  The Idol demographic of bored housewives and hormonal teenagers will own this…

The first of L.A. Reid’s boys is next…

Chris Rene – “Superstar”, Carpenters
Chris is a recovering addict, which has been his storyline through the competition.  I have to wonder why Reid gave Chris a Carpenters song – then had him rap parts of it.  Interesting, but… I don’t think it suited him.  It was enjoyable but odd.  No matter, he’s a guy with a backstory, so the voters are going to shove him through.  The judges find nothing wrong.

Nicole Scherzinger introduces her oldest competitor…

LeRoy Bell – “I’m Already There”, Lonestar
He’s 59.  With a 13-year-old son.  Wow.  Nicole has him sing Lonestar’s song about a father away from his kids – yes, why don’t we pull on the heartstrings a bit?  It took a moment to realize this was a country song, because with the sparse arrangement (just a piano), it didn’t sound like it at all.  You know, if the singers are going to all do well, this isn’t going to be nearly as much fun as Idol… Smile Of course, the crowd booed as soon as Simon said anything that wasn’t effusive praise – but he had a point about Nicole giving LeRoy a country song… except that LeRoy made it work.

It looks like a major part of the gimmick here will be Simon criticizing the other judges as much as he critiques the singers – and the other judges piling on Simon.  Singers?  Who said this was about the singers?

From the oldest competitor to the youngest… one of Simon’s girls…

Rachel Crow – “Walking on Sunshine”, Katrina and the Waves (recast as “You’re My Sunshine”)
She’s 13 (and started before her last birthday).  And if you pre-judge her voice based on that, you are dead wrong.  The problem is, this song really doesn’t fit her – she comes off a bit flat, but you can still hear the talent in her voice.  She gives it a game effort, but I think Simon let her down a bit with the song choice. I could see her being a “surprise” elimination Thursday night.

The problem is that, given the traditional competitive-reality voting audience, the girls have to be far better than everyone else to survive.  In the past, Rachel was.  Tonight… not so much.

Lakoda Rayne – “Landslide”, Fleetwood Mac/Dixie Chicks
They started as four soloists, and were thrown at each other by the judges after the Boot Camp round.  And we get the official X-Factor Cheese, with Paula dressing them up to reflect the four seasons?   The good news?  For the most part (aside a couple of pitch issues), they nailed the song.  And for L.A. to say they should be country or pop – has he heard of Taylor Swift or Carrie Underwood? Smile   The country/pop niche is exactly where they should be…

I finally realized which Idol wrinkle they haven’t ripped off – yet.  Since iTunes has no viable competitor, we’re spared the constant reminders to buy all of tonight’s songs online.

Josh Krajcik – “Jar of Hearts”, Christina Perri
The dumpy, stringy-haired (over-30) ex-burrito-maker with the incredible voice… which started out seriously flat, as he mumbled his way through the first few seconds of the song before he found his way into the track.  And at that, he never really found his way out… it was a good performance, but to use a frequent Cowellism, it’s forgettable.  The judges don’t think so, but they don’t want to be booed.

Melanie Amaro – “Desperado”, Eagles
The girl Simon went back for after an initial rejection to make the 17th of 16 semifinalists… and Simon takes her well out of her “comfort zone”.  She killed it (to steal another oft-used cliché).  She proved why she’s the early favorite to win – she *is* good enough to get past the voting bias against girls.  Best performance of the night so far.

Up next, the rapper who’s gained the coveted VFTW seal of approval… but first, an in-show Verizon ad for their Android app.  Woo hoo.

Brian “Astro” Bradley – original rap track
The teenage rapper who doesn’t do covers… I think he’s seriously talented, but never belonged in a “singing competition”.  He’s so different from everyone else, you can’t really judge him against the other acts.  He’s got a great future, which he demonstrated with this performance – but I can’t see him surviving long here, as the voters won’t know what the hell to do with him. 

That said, he’ll be a test to see if the Idol voters did move over to X-Factor, or if this show develops its own voter base…

InTENsity – “Kids In America”, Kim Wilde
Ten teens and tweens thrown together at Boot Camp… Simon has called them “X-Factor’s young Glee”… and Paula may have buried them with this song.  Having a group of teens do the obvious “Kids In America” was probably a mistake, especially since they don’t want to be typecast as Disney Kids – doing a song the Jonas Brothers covered?   They did a fairly good job with the song, but I think they’re going to be lost in the crowd tonight.

Of course, it was the kind of cheese that X-Factor has produced in the UK and Australia… however, the American audience doesn’t always like that kind of cheese… Smile

Drew – “Just A Dream”, Nelly
She used to have a last name (Rynewicz, or something like that, which is why she dropped it)…  The 14-year-old from the middle of nowhere with the killer voice… and what a song choice by Simon, to have this white-bread teen do a Nelly track after doing folk/rock through the auditions.  Thing is, she pulled it off spectacularly.  She was another early favorite to win, and if she keeps this up, she just might.

If she’s voted off Thursday night, we’ll know that the Idolbot voters have arrived.  I don’t think it’ll happen yet… but she has to be on her game every week to survive.  Then again, she may have already clinched herself a record deal just by getting this far…

Oops… we finally get the “purchase your tracks online” plug… forget what I said above…

Marcus Canty – “Every Little Step”, Bobby Brown (mashed up with “Beautiful Girls (All Over The World)”, B.O.B.)
The last of the boys… no backstory, just talent… Marcus gets a song his mentor wrote for Bobby Brown… and Simon has a point.  Why should Marcus be the next Bobby Brown, when he should focus on being the first Marcus Canty?  Good performance, lots of energy, catchy.  Hopefully, he’ll keep L.A. from turning him into a clone.

And we finally get to the planted Scientologist… check Vote For The Worst for her unannounced backstory, the one where she’s done Broadway and sung for CoS icon Tom Cruise… but now, back to the story X-Factor wants you to hear, as they put her in the Pimp Spot…

Stacy Francis – “Up To The Mountain (MLK Song)”, Patty Griffin
The over-30 “held down by an abusive relationship”… sorta resembles Diana Ross… and Nicole gives her an track covered on “Idol Gives Back” by Kelly Clarkson…?  Then again, this is the kind of song Stacy does well, an inspirational pop song… and she did a good job with it.  So, much as I’d like to see karma pay her back, she’s probably going to survive.

And here we are.  Because X-Factor has thrown out a wider net, and been more innovative with their choices, the talent level is definitely better than most seasons of Idol.  There isn’t anyone who comes off as badly overmatched – yet.  But it’s early.  We’ll see how the singers hold up over the next couple of months… and we’ll also see how the voting goes.

At risk: Astro, InTENsity, Josh Krajcik, Rachel Crow

I’ll recap the first X-Factor Results Show on Friday morning – but you can watch it live Thursday night on FOX.  I expect surprises.

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Author: Rob Hoffmann

Occasional blogger, full-time computer techie, radio producer (basketball, mostly), improv tech guy, generally nice person (if you ask me).

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