X Factor: Can Any of These Contestants Sell Records?

Ever since I started watching these televised talent competitions, I’ve noticed a glaring flaw in the system. A majority of the time, contestants who win over America on TV are not the same contestants who win over America’s record-buying public. Sure, every once in a while, America will strike gold with a delightfully loveable Carrie Underwood, who endears herself to the voters and goes platinum many times over once the show is done with. With all of the pyrotechnics, backup dancers, and futuristic technology (i.e. Steve Jones) that X Factor USA brings, it’s sometimes hard to tell what these contestants will be like after the show.

In, NO PARTICULAR ORDER (as Steve Jones says at least 34 times per minute on the results shows), let’s break down this season’s top 7 remaining vocalists (we can’t call them singers because, you know, Astro) and see who can put their money where their mouth is when it comes to selling records.

1. Astro: There’s a reason I used the word ‘vocalist’ above instead of ‘singer’. And that reason is- Astro can’t sing. This season’s child prodigy has already brought major controversy, embedding him in the public’s memory for all the wrong reasons. That being said, there’s no denying his obvious flair and creative rhymes. I still don’t think it’s fair to allow him to sing original raps (Contestants like Josh Krajcik and Drew would never be allowed to sing their original songs on the show), but the talent is there. The problem is, he seems a bit dated to me. In today’s music landscape, it’s very difficult for rappers to achieve success by just rapping. Even Jay-Z and Kanye West coming together for a joint magnum opus hasn’t resulted in a single top-10 charting hit in the United States, despite six single releases. Rappers can do one of two things now- attempt to sing themselves or be featured artists on other records. Snoop Dogg and Kanye West have attempted the former to some success, with their autotuned singles ‘Sensual Seduction’ and ‘Heartless’ doing pretty well. But I think success lies in the latter option for Astro. Even on X Factor, I find his attitude annoying when he’s the sole focus of an entire performance, but I would have no problem with him adding 30-45 seconds worth of rhyme to Rihanna’s next single. That way, he could achieve some chart success and still be creative and write his own lyrics.

First single should sound like: ‘Headlines’ by Drake

2. Rachel Crowe:  Despite their commonality in age, Astro and Rachel Crowe are looking at very different futures. Because Astro wants to be a mainstream performer, he needs radio play and chart success. Rachel, who seems to embrace her youth, doesn’t. There are artists like Demi Lovato and Victoria Justice who have built entire empires despite never being accepted by mainstream radio. Even Justin Bieber, a veritable tween monarch, has only had one single achieve mainstream success and solid radio play. Despite that, he’s one of the most buzzed-about artists today. If Rachel plays her cards right and embraces her younger side (no more Etta James ballads), she can parlay her success on the show into a development deal for Disney or Nickelodeon, and follow in the footsteps of people like Victoria and Demi.

First single should sound like: ‘Kissin U’ by Miranda Cosgrove

3. Josh Krajcik: I know I may light the comments section up with this remark, but I stand behind it: Josh Krajcik won’t sell records, no matter what place he lands in this season. He just won’t- and I say that despite him being one of my favorites left in the competition. The type of music he makes is no longer relevant in the mainstream. People like Lee DeWyze and AGT winner Michael Grimm have already tried and failed. Every once in a while, a band like Train or Coldplay will have a single chart high on the Billboard Hot 100, but these are few and far between. But when the market is favoring electronica and euro-pop, how does someone like Josh Krajcik even stand a chance? And without a conventional heartthrob image to fall back on, it’s doubtful he’ll get promotion from magazines and infotainment shows like ‘Extra’, to make up for his lack of radio play.

First single should sound like: ‘Apologize’ by OneRepublic

4. Melanie Amaro: Melanie is extremely talented, but I’m very torn about what her future holds. Part of me used to think that maybe America was danced out, and might embrace a little bit of old school balladry, but Pia Toscano’s single being DOA gave pause to that theory. If Melanie can modernize her style, she might have a shot. Women are ruling the charts these days, and she’s young, attractive, and has an exotic (new) accent to boot. I could see her doing a song like DJ Guetta and Kelly Rowland’s ‘When Love Takes Over’ or Rihanna’s ‘We Found Love’ and achieving success. It all depends on what kind of material the producers give her moving forward.

First single should sound like: ‘Just a Dream’ by Nelly

5. Chris Rene: If anyone has chart success in the bag, it’s Chris Rene. I have found almost all of his performances verging on terrible, but it’s clear that there’s a place in the market for someone like him. He sings and raps, and whatever pitch problems he has can be fixed in the studio. Additionally, he manages to straddle the line between having street credibility and mainstream appeal, something very rare. His combo of singing and rapping has been very successful lately, with acts like LMFAO and Drake having similar sounds and tremendous success.

First single should sound like: ‘How to love’ by Lil Wayne

6. Marcus Canty:  Even though Marcus is undeniably talented, his recent bottom two appearance (despite performing LAST) proves that his appeal isn’t as mainstream with voters as we thought. On the charts, though, he might have a shot. Singers like Taio Cruz and Jason DeRulo have found great balance between pop, R&B, and dance music on their albums, and Canty could do the same. Him being a male in this female-dominated landscape is a liability, but he has tons of energy and appears to be a hard worker.

First single should sound like: ‘In my head’ by Jason DeRulo

7. Drew: I must admit, I came to Drew last because she’s the most perplexing contestant of all, in that she doesn’t really fit anywhere in the market. Her judges houses performance was probably my favorite performance of the competition thus far, but she can’t release songs like that and expect success. With ballads being such a risky proposition these days (uptempos probably outnumber ballads on the charts 10 to 1), we need to see how she does with a faster song. I think she can be skewed either pop or country with her voice, but I think her album will probably resemble a mix between Adele and Jessie J’s most recent effort. She does bring an undeniable freshness to proceedings, but there’s nobody like her in the market, which makes her a bit of a gamble. I do think if she released a commercial song like Jessie J’s ‘Price Tag’, she could be a sensation.

First single should sound like: ‘The One That Got Away’ by Katy Perry

Summing up, this season of X Factor is honestly a disappointment when it comes to long term prospects for the artists. On the season running concurrently in the UK, the top 5 all have great commercial appeal and seem poised for chart success. In America, there’s barely one contestant who seems like a total slam-dunk when it comes to commercial viability. We’ll see how the rest of the season goes, but I’d advise you folks to savor every minute of the performances, because I don’t think we’ll be hearing from most of these contestants again.

Have a different opinion? Feel free to discuss it with my in the comments or tweet me at @alifazal