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My verdict after the first episode of the X Factor? I’m underwhelmed. Simon Cowell’s new show is a lot like his summer show, America’s Got Talent, if you stripped out all the variety acts. X Factor is light on good singing and heavy on the drama. It’s a reality show first and foremost. Simon is on the search for pop stars he can mold and develop. Auto-tune makes good singing unnecessary. As an example, two acts from the last series of X Factor UK, Cher Lloyd and the boyband One Direction are doing well on the UK charts, but were dreadful singers on the show. Cher could barely sing in tune, and One Direction rarely attempted to sing harmonies, and exhibited weak vocals.
American Idol at it’s best is about singing first, which is why I like it. There are back stories of course. As much as I bitch about them, they are fine–and even help to bond viewers to the contestants–as long as they don’t supersede the talent. The Voice is gimmicky, but that listen-without-looking conceit actually establishes the aim of the show right up front. In the end, the contestants who compete all have impressive chops.
If you’re like me, and want your singing competition reality show to be all about the talent, then tonight’s premiere was kind of boring. Even the judges’ interactions were disappointing. I don’t think this crew has much chemistry to tell you the truth. For the life of me, I can’t quite figure out why Simon dumped Cheryl Cole. She was fine, certainly no worse than Nicole Scherzinger, who came off cluless and self-absorbed. The big reunion between Simon and Paula was muted at best. and the L.A/Simon rivalry seemed forced. Maybe the panel needs more time together. Hopefully, by the time the live shows roll around, there will be more fireworks.
I’ve watched a couple of seasons of X Factor UK, but didn’t join in until the live shows began. In the end, as critical as I am of the format–the cheesy, over-the-top production, the canned music (those backing tracks tonight were awful) and the manipulation (Nigel and co. are a bunch of pikers compared to Simon), the contestants always suck me in. I’m not generally a huge fan of Idol auditions either, so I’m going to reserve my overall verdict until the live shows begin.
Tonight it’s the premiere of The X Factor USA! Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul will be together again, joined by L.A. Reid and Nicole Scherzinger on the judges’ table. Steve Jones hosts. Los Angeles and Seattle are the audition cities.
The show begins with a pan of the cities X Factor visited, including the throngs who auditioned. Next the introduction of the cast. And “introducing Cheryl Cole” is how the ex-judge is presented. But not for long! A montage of emotional contestants rolls by. Then some behind the scenes squabbling between the cast and crew.
It’s gonna be Big! Dramatic! Emotional! That’s the message.
Host Steve Jones drives in on a tracker trailer. On his way to the auditions? Steve’s voice over is quick to point out that the Los Angeles audition turnout was the biggest EVER for any competition reality show. Steve explains the prize: Sony record contact that guarantees 5 million dollars. Hm. Still waiting for that fine print.
Steve introduces Simon as the “most successful talent scout in America”. Really? L.A Reid is introduced as the guy that brought you Rihanna, Mariah and Justin Beiber. Cheryl Cole is so excited to find stars in America! Enjoy it lasts, honey. Paula Abdul can’t wait to sit next to Simon!
The categories are explained, the judges houses, then the live shows, all ending right before Christmas Good luck with that.
The auditions happen…wait for it…in front of a live audience! Aren’t we great?
Rachel Crow – 13 – “Mercy” by Duffy” – First up is the 13 year old singer Simon has been pimping and pimping and pimping in promos. Personality wise, she’s a little pistol, like Little Orphan Annie on steroids. Cute though. She’s “soooo excited to be here.” She wants to buy a big house with her 5 million dollars. Her 6 member family has no money, a 2 bedroom house, and she needs her own bathroom! Backing track is sooooo cheesy. She’s got raw talent, that’s for sure. But she lacks vocal control. It’s a thing that, of course, comes with training and maturity. The audience goes wild. Paula: You did exactly what we need people to do. You delivered on personality, then opened up your mouth and blew us away. Cheryl: We found ourselves a little star (I do believe she said the exact same thing to XFactor UK’s Cher Lloyd). LA: You’ve got it all. Simon: You are the reason why we were right taking the age down. We’re going to be hearing a lot about you. It’s 4 yeses. Simon tells her to get ready for a new bathroom. “I loved her,” he said. Rachel walks off the stage completely gobsmacked.
Terrel Carter – 36 – Los Angeles – “Ribbon in the Sky” – He’s just aight. Cheryl says “You’ve got the package…yes.” You think so Cheryl? Everyone says yes.
Alana Ellona – 14 Whoa. The judges say yes to this young girl’s caterwauling. All right then.
John Lindahl – 14 – “Forget You” – School productions are his only experience. He’s cute! If not a great singer. Simon will put him in one of his loathsome boy bands. 4 yeses.
Siameze – 30 – He’s got the look, attitude and talent. And girls, he’s way easy to get.! He’s a superstar. Of course he will suck. He looks like a demented Sanjaya. The first note is ear splitting. Mercifully he stops singing to jump around the stage maniacally. His family is into it. Delusion does not fall far from the tree. He should stick to dancing. Or comedy. The singing. Not so much. This is redonkulous, but strangely compelling. The girls are laughing. Cheryl: Do I love this or think it’s weird. I don’t know what me answer is. (she eventually says yes) Simon: It was very copycat. There’s something kind of fascinating about that. Paula: It’s rare to have someone commit with that kind of energy, but not original (she says yes anyway). LA: No, not original. Simon: You’re talented but you’re deluded. But I’m going to say yes. He gets through. See, this is the difference between American Idol and X Factor. This guy has absolutely ZERO singing talent, he would NOT have made it past the AI judges.
Dan – 70 Vanita – 83 – “Unchained Melody” – This couple, married for 2 years, met at a gunfighters club in Nevada. They think they could win! Dan bitches about the cost of food. It’s 5 dollars for a hot dog! Simon asks where they see themselves in 5 years. Breathing, hopefully, I’m sure. They would travel from senior center to senior center in their motor home with 5 million dollars. Yeah, that’s some bad singing. But Vanita is very sparkly and spry! She’s laughing like she’s in on the joke. They aren’t serious. Simon: I can imagine me and Paula being you in 10 years time. Paula: Likes them as a duo, but she has to say no. Cheryl: No. Simon: You are adorable, but No. On Vanita, Simon says, “She didn’t know what show she was on.”
You Only Live Once – a 15 and 19 year old girl. – A strange combination of off-key pop and screamo. Weird.
Linda Ostrovsky – Middle-aged woman performs a screamo version of “I Touch Myself”. Again, this is a joke.
Miranda Singleton – 30 – “Firework” Wants to be the next Madonna. She was out of tune, but no worse than Katy Perry singing live.
Simone Battle – 21 – Los Angeles – “When I Grow Up” by Pussycat Dolls – She looks like a cheerleader. She wants to be a pop icon. She’s fierce as she shakes her booty! She has confidence! She overuses the word fierce. She calls her act a cross between a cheerleader, a hipster, and a drag queen. I don’t see it. She looks like she walked right off the basketball court. She’s ordinary. Simon: You interest me. You really are fearless, ambitious, but you’ve got to work hard. I really like you. Cheryl: You’ve got potential. LA: He disagrees. He sees nothing special Simon asks her to sing without dancing. When she sings acapella and stops moving, her vocals improve. LA still isn’t impressed. Simon argues. LA still says no. Cheryl and Simon say yes. Paula also says yes. “You are fierce. being smart witty and current will set you apart.” A new rivalry is forming! Oooo. Simon sniffs that he’s made stars world wide, unlike the USA bound LA.
Now for a montage of Simon and LA disagreeing. We’re setting up an arc for the season here. The two alpha males going toe to toe. “I’ve definitely met my match,” says Simon.
A montage of hopefuls describing what they’d do with 5 million bucks.
Stacey Francis – 42- Brooklyn – “Natural Woman” – Here’s the single, battered mom who has also been pimped in promos. Her backstory: A boyfriend was emotionally and physically abusive, a last chance at a music career. She’s ready. The time is now. She’s been told she’s too old since she was 30 “I don’t want to die with this music inside of me Simon”. The crowd instantly loves her. She’s a big-voiced Diva…all shouty mcshoutersten on the high notes. Please. Stop. Screaming. At. Me. She loses vocal control at the end. When she dips into her lower register, she sounds like the exorcist took over. Big standing O. But you know it’s really for the backstory, and the theatrics. Who can say no to a woman whose mascara is running? LA: His spirit was stirred. He thinks Stacey has what it takes. Paula: This is your time baby. Cheryl: I was blown away. I could feel the whole room willing you to win. Simon: That was one of the best auditions I have heard in my life. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it. Of course, it’s 4 yeses. OMG her mascara. This could not have been scripted better.
The auditions move to Seattle.
Going through the rules and introductions again, in case y’all just tuned in.And it’s smell ya later Cheryl Cole! There’s a pussycat in town. Nicole Scherzinger! She’s afraid that she’s going to mess up. I don’t blame her…
Geo Godley – 43 – “Mr. Stud” – Why is this guy still dressed in his pajamas? He’s singing an original tune. OMG. This is the guy who drops trou. They don’t pull him off the stage. Wait. Aren’t there kids in the audience? He can’t be totally pantsless. Paula walks out. Dude’s got to be a plant. Seriously. “What the bloody hell was that,” says Simon. “That was offensive, disgusting and distasteful,” says LA, “Take him out of the building! Oh, but you didn’t stop him when he first pulled his pants down, LA. Me thinks you protest too much. “I just witnessed a nightmare on stage,” says Paula. Oh really. C’mon. So fake.
Marcus Canty – 20 – “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder – His mother thinks he only needs 2 years to break. She’s silly. Marcus declares that X Factor is his last chance. YOU’RE 20 DUDE. SHEESH.And here’s a bulletin: Mommy is no longer the boss of you! Not sure what happened but the dude dropped to the floor onstage. Dun Dun Dun. We’ll find out what happens after the break. We’re back. Marcus has a decent, soulful voice, and some dance moves. I’m not seeing a ton of originality. He’s got the crowd on his side. The girlies are screaming. Paula and Nicole are smitten. He gets a little overexcited and pitchy toward the end. The crowd goes wild. He starts crying. Oh. That lying on the floor like he was having a heart attack thing is his emotional reaction to the applause. LA: Compares him to Bobby Brown. Minus the crack, I hope. Nicole: You’re what we’ve been waiting for, babe. Paula: Relevant, fresh–you are adorable. Simon: I really really like you. You remind me of Usher. You can sing, dance. You are one to watch. 4 yeses.
The crowd is singing happy birthday to Nicole. Simon brings her a birthday cake with his face on it. What a sweet gesture!
Anser – “Rolling in the Deep” -Salt Lake City, UT – A boyband! Simon should start peeing himself any minute now. Simon loves boybands, even though most Americans haven’t given them a thought since 2001. OH GOD KILL ME. NO MORE ADELE. WHOA OFF KEY HARMONIES FOR THE WIN. Nicole honey, you judged the Sing-Off, you’ve heard groups that actually have it going on. That was horrible. LA: Looks like he’s about to cream himself “I’m going to say yes.” Nicole: Fab-u-lous Paula: Honored to have you. Simon: 4 yeses. Have I landed on an alternate universe? Those boys were awful.
Nici Collins – 23 – Maryland – Whoa. Sugar Motta ain’t got nothing on this chick. Is that “Emotion”? I think it is, but it’s hard to tell. She sounds like she’s strangling a cat. Nicole: You have range. “It’s my register” says Nici. “Many registers,” says Nicole. Nici swears she’s not joking, she sings all the time. Simon: You have a horrible voice. It’s 4 nos, and Nici can’t believe it! She’s shocked and outraged. (This is a joke)
Three more acts, a zaftig mom and daughter, a dude who attempts to countrify “Like a Virgin”, (in the most deranged way) and a group of girls called the Sonnetts who harmonize so badly, they’ve got to be the result of a sorority dare, are mocked roundly by the panel.
Nici comes back to yell at Simon some more. Definitely a plant.
10 minutes left, and I’m betting they’ve saved a big honking sob story for last.
Chris Rene – 28 – Santa Cruz, CA – He hauls trash! He’s got a 2 1/2 year old boy! Here it comes. Oh, and he just got out of rehab. Despite having a solid family, he got into alcohol and drugs at 13. He’s been clean and sober for…70 days. Wait. WHAT?!? GET SOBER FIRST DUDE. Oh my. No. Too soon. Please judges, do him a favor. Send him away. He’s got some work to do first before he can handle the stress of a competition. You’re just using him for his backstory, and in this case, it’s wrong. You’re putting his life at risk. Argh. The judges are over-praising him. That self-written rap was average. How are you going to cut this man loose later on? I hope you have some counselors lined up for this guy. He’s got the crowd, the judges on his side. LA is visibly moved. Chris begins to cry. Simon says, “maybe you need the show and we need you.” NO SIMON. Chris needs to go home and stay clean for awhile. Find another backstory to exploit. UGH. I am not leaving the X Factor tonight on a feel good note.
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