Wednesday night on "The X Factor," L.A. Reid threw a totally unprofesh hissyfit when he found out he'd been assigned the "Over-25's" category. But I guess that was understandable, considering that this show has increasingly celebrated youth to the point of near-fetishization. Remember, last season, the oldest category was called the "Over-30's," and it actually included a contestant who was 60 years old. Additionally, the top four finalists ended up all being 19 or older, with one age 29 and another age 30. But not this year, people. Things are different now.
With new categories labeled "Teens" (ages 12-17) and "Young Adults" (18-24), and with the contestants in the "Groups" category being mostly teenagers as well, AND with new judges Britney Spears and Demi Lovato and guest mentors Justin Bieber and Nick Jonas obviously brought in to court a young demographic...well, it's clear that 30-60 is so not "The X Factor's" target market. L.A. Reid is a competitive man, a man who loves to win and loathes to lose, so I assume that he believed he had no chance of winning Season 2 with some group of supposed old fogeys, when he received his category assignment on Wednesday.
However, in a convenient made-for-TV story arc, by the 30-minute mark of Thursday's Judges' Houses episode--which featured the six Over-25 contestants performing at L.A. Reid's fake Beverly Hills mansion--L.A. of course had a change of heart. It all seemed quite contrived, of course, as things on "The X Factor" often do...but it was still somewhat believable, because several of his contestants were really impressive. Even L.A. could not deny that.
But, just to make sure all the kiddy viewers didn't get too turned off and didn't switch over to the CW's "Vampire Diaries" (or whatever it is kids watch nowadays), L.A. brought in barely-18 Justin Bieber (along with the Biebs's manager, Scooter Braun) to help him with his decision-making. And Thursday's "X Factor" also featured performances by the Britney Spears-mentored Zygotes...er, I mean the Teens. And you know what? The Teens were in many ways even more impressive than the Over-25's. And they almost seemed even more mature and more experienced. Hmmm. No wonder L.A. wanted the Teens category so badly.
So here's how Thursday's Judges' Houses performances went down, with each category ranked by my order of preference, from favorite to least favorite...
OVER-25's (mentored by L.A. Reid)
Jason Brock - L.A. didn't seem to like 35-year-old Jason very much, and Justin and Scooter appeared unimpressed as well. "I think that he gave it everything he's got, but it's not all about that," Justin said from behind his shades, after watching Jason's gender-flipped rendition of "Big Girls Don't Cry" by Fergie. "That was a really strong vocal," L.A. mused, "but there has to be more than that." I disagree. It is all about that, and there doesn't have to be more than that. Jason gave a great performance, full of pizzazz and panache, and he was unique and likable throughout. Jason deserves a spot on the live shows. The live shows need glitter explosions.
Vino Alan - Keeping up the evening's trend of men singing girl-pop songs, 40-year-old rock rebel Vino delivered a raw and aching rendition of Pink's "Sober"--not an easy song to sing, regardless of gender, but he pulled it off. This was pure power, and even when he started to become emotionally unhinged at the song's end, his voice was on point. "I felt it," says Justin. Then L.A. ranted, "The package, the package, the package," which just seemed a little...I dunno, awkward. How much you bet someone's gonna sample that, loop it, and put it on YouTube, accompanied by an animated GIF of L.A.'s famous head-wobble? I may actually do that myself, right after I finish this article.
David Correy - David, at 26, is L.A.'s youngest contestant, which means he's all but guaranteed a spot on this ageist program's live shows. That being said, David's performance of Jessie J's "Domino" (another girl-pop song!) was enough for him to earn that spot. He had sort of a dirrty-Bruno-Mars thing going on, and L.A. even smiled for once, which was a good sign. Bieber sat up a few inches straighter and seemed to pay extra attention. "There were some notes that were giving me chill-bumps," said L.A. "The voice was there, he's got a look to him, and I think he could go far," said Justin. "I saw pure passion," added Scooter. There's no way David's not making it to the top 16.
Daryl Black - I really dig 37-year-old Daryl, and I dug his cover of Hall & Oates's "She's Gone." (Side note: All of these singing shows need to have way more Hall & Oates songs.) But I am worried about him. It's never a good sign when a contestant's performance isn't shown in full, and that was the case with Daryl: His interview B-roll overlapped much of his performance, drowning it out, and his entire segment was over before it ever really began. "I didn't find the voice tone to be unique," said L.A. I think this father of five might be going home to his family very soon. Too soon.
Tate Williams - Tate, also age 37, is the only country singer on L.A.'s team, and one of only three country contestants in the entire top 24. That should give him an automatic edge, but "The X Factor" historically hasn't been very friendly to country singers in general, favoring hip-hop and pop types instead, and L.A. doesn't seem like much of a country fan. I do think Tate would be a huge hit in the "real world" with record-buying country fans, and I think if he was given a chance on "The X Factor," he might find a niche--since, as Scooter said, "There's something about him that makes you want to root for him." But I am not really rooting for Tate, personally. He has a very recordable, very professional, and very slick vocal style--but, in my opinion, not a very unique one. He's just not that exciting, and though I appreciated him taking an R&B hit like Brian McKnight's "Back At One" and turning it into a country song, I don't know if I'd want to watch an entire "X Factor" season of that. I'm simply not convinced that Tate is right for this show.
Tara Simon - Ugh ugh ugh ugh. I. Do. Not. Like. This. Woman. This Thursday, Tara didn't bother me as much as she normally does when she performed Hoobastank's "The Reason"--there were times when she actually held back a bit, which was unusual for her, and this was a relief. But of course, by the end, she couldn't resist screaming like a banshee stuck in a hunting trap. The other contestants, watching her through the mansion's window, probably were worried that that window-pane was going to shatter, and they definitely exchanged some distressed looks while listening to her. Delusionally thinking she'd totally nailed it, Tara exclaimed, "That was super-fun!" when she was done. Well, not for me, it wasn't. I'm not sure if it was fun for L.A. and his sidekicks, either. "She should make sure to have more sweet moments with her voice," Justin pointed out. He was actually right. Go Biebs.
TEENS (mentored by Britney Spears)
Beatrice Miller - Beatrice may only be 13, but she sings like a full-grown woman. It's almost downright disconcerting. Her cover of David Guetta and Sia's "Titanium" was so lovely and mature (and actually similar to one that "American Idol's" Kris Allen did for Yahoo! Music recently), and Tara Simon could take a lesson or two from Beatrice about the importance of restraint. Britney actually thought Beatrice needed more control of her voice, but Britney is someone whose recorded voice is mostly controlled by Auto-Tune, so I'm not sure if she knew what she was talking about. This was superb, plain and simple.
Carly Rose Sonenclar - Carly, another mature-beyond-her-years singer, was basically tied with Beatrice for first place here. What a stellar performance! How did someone so young find a way to infuse so much palpable emotion into Karmin's fluffy and cutesy "Brokenhearted"? This was just a tour de force, from start to finish. I'm still convinced that Carly is secretly 35 years old and taking whatever magic elixirs Stacey Dash has been bathing in for years, because I just don't see how she is only 13.
Arin Ray - I'm so delighted that Arin, who for some reason got stuck in the back row of the 20-legged, 12th-place kiddy-pop machine that was Season 1's InTENsity, got a second chance this year. His ballad-y cover of Nicki Minaj's "Starships" was truly out of this world, and I'm glad he is now flying solo. "I love watching him," said Britney. "He has something," said Britney's advisor, will.i.am, the most ubiquitous man in musical reality television today. (Will has now officially done all the major franchises, having guested on "The X Factor," judged full-time on "The Voice U.K.," and appeared on way too many "Idol" episodes for me to count.) Britney and will.i.am said Arin still needed some work, but I think he's ready to go into the studio now.
James Tanner - James seems about as fodder-y as Wednesday night's Dope Crisis from the Groups, since he's received pretty much zero screentime all season, and his Judges' House performance of "Party Like A Rock Star" got the Daryl Black treatment, with only a teensy portion of it actually making it onto the air. Too bad. I thought James, a sassy teen rapper, seemed like a lot of fun, and I would have liked to see more of him this season. Now I'm afraid this is all I'm going to get. "He's very entertaining, but I'm just not convinced he's strong enough," said Britney. You know, I bet if L.A. Reid was mentoring the Teens, he would totally keep James.
Diamond White - This tween struggled at Boot Camp, but she sort of got back on track, at least vocally, with her dramatic cover of Avril Lavigne's "I'm With You." What a voice! But she did lack Carly and Beatrice's charisma, and I did agree with will.i.am when he said, "She sings amazing, but she cares about her moves too much." Except I would have said "amazingly." Adverbs are your friend, will.i.am!
Reed Deming - Reed seems so mature, like such a little man, in his interviews--but whenever he starts singing, he gets jumpy, and suddenly I remember that he's really just a little boy. He fared better this time with "Hey There Delilah" than he did at his first audition or at Boot Camp, and I could certainly see him appealing to the young audience that Simon Cowell and Fox obviously hope to attract. But I wonder if he's really as mature as he seems, and if he's really ready for this. "Remind him to sing the way he speaks," will.i.am said to Britney. If Reed could actually do that, he'd probably slay all the Over-25's. But I'm not sure he has it in him. And least not yet.
So next Wednesday, L.A. and Britney--along with Simon Cowell, who is overseeing the Groups, and Demi Lovato, who is overseeing the Young Adults--will have to cut two contestants apiece, reducing the top 24 to the final 16 that will continue on to the live shows. I think Britney, with her very strong category, will have the hardest time making such decisions, but it's inevitable that between all four judges, some very talented contestants will have to be let go. Tune in next week for what is sure to be a big TV bloodbath.