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On Wednesday night, the "X Factor" top 12 competed for the public vote for the first time--except it wasn't a top 12. It was a top 13. At the start of the show, it was announced that a wild card contestant would be returning to the competition, and then we learned that Diamond White--the pint-sized powerhouse that Teens category mentor Britney Spears foolishly sent home last week--was getting another chance. It seemed like a dream come true for Diamond, something that only happens in the movies...which was appropriate, since the theme this week was actually Movies Night.
Of course, musical themes on "The X Factor" tend to be as loose as one of Khloe Kardashian's breakaway blouses, so really the theme was "Any-Song-That-Ever-Played-During-The-End-Credits-Of-Any-Straight-To-Netflix-Film Night." (Thank you, Wikipedia, for helping me figure out what movies some of these "Movies Night" songs were actually from.) But one act did get very creative with a cinematic classic, and so I just want to skip ahead and discuss that bit of eye-poppin' Mary Poppins awesomeness for a bit.
That act was Lyric 145.
While some contestants, who I'll get to later, played it safe with expected song choices, "The X Factor" once again proved that you should always expect the unexpected from Lyric Da Queen. She and her 145 guys covered "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious"--YES, the Mary Poppins ditty--and it was one of the most bizarrely brilliant, or at least brilliantly bizarre, talent show performances I'd ever seen. They were dressed like Alice In Wonderland tea-partiers. They were jumping up on banquet tables. They were flanked by weird, Tim Burton-esque mummy dancers. They got all up in L.A. Reid and Britney Spears's grills. (And I think one of them even proposed to Britney, which probably surprised her fiancé, Jason Trawick.) And Lyric rapped every nonsensical syllable--even backwards at one point--without getting her tongue twisted once. This was exciting. This was original. This was theater. This was the performance of a $5 million group. And it was all Lyric's idea! ("Who knew in that rusty old brain there was some hip thoughts?" Demi Lovato said to the group's mentor, Simon Cowell, but he was quick to point out that he hadn't chosen the song for them.) L.A. joked that he "completely hated" this, then admitted that "it was perfect." Britney, still reeling from having one of the 145 dudes invade her personal space, called the performance "really intriguing." Demi hollered, while slapping her desk, "You guys got me so hyped!" And a proud Simon declared Lyric 145 "bloody fantastic." I just thought they were supercalifragilisticexpialidociously amazing.
As for the rest of the acts, they ranged from great to not-so-great. Here's how everyone else did:
Arin Ray - Arin got eliminated this same time last year, in 12th place, with his Season 1 group, InTENsity. And this week--after being in Britney's bottom two last week and going up against the aforementioned Diamond White in a very close singoff--he got the "death spot," singing first. But Arin wasn't going to let any of that stop him. He just went out there, straddled a neon motorcycle supplied to him by the Fox prop house, surrounded himself by racer-chick dancers in Danica Patrick unitards, and revved it up for a flashy, Usher-y performance of Estelle's "American Boy." (Side note: "American Boy" apparently was featured in the Beyonce film Obsessed. Come on, fewer people saw Obsessed than saw that one rescheduled "X Factor" Judges' Houses episode that aired at 9:30pm on a Tuesday.) Anyway, Arin sounded pretty strong considering that he was vigorously dancing throughout the performance; yes, he hit a few weak notes here and there, but overall, he kept his engine running from start to finish. His mentor, Britney, actually looked animated, like a real spontaneous person with a soul, smiling and laughing and hair-flipping as she excitedly, proudly watched. Her fellow judges were also pleased. "What happened to you from last year to this year? You're a different person," raved L.A. "I am a little speechless. I just want you to know that you really took our advice. You were definitely more smooth, and you look like star up there," said Demi. "Britney, you've done a really, really good job with this guy. I'm really impressed," admitted Simon. Hopefully this was enough for Arin to break the InTENsity curse. And the "singing first" curse, too!
Paige Thomas - Visually, this certainly was a stunning performance. Paige began the song--Berlin's Oscar-winning "Take My Breath Away" from Top Gun, an actually appropriate song for Movies Night--while suspended in mid-air, swathed in billowing silks that looked like they'd been snagged from the wardrobe of Clash Of The Titans. (Hey, there's another movie tie-in!) The vibe was sort of like Pink at the Grammys, but with much less advanced aerial stunts. And Paige finally eschewed all her silly hats (a big headpiece probably would have gotten caught in her wires anyway), so we could see her buzzcut makeover for once. And she did look beautiful. Then, once Paige landed on the stage, a hunky himbo rushed to her side to lovingly unstrap her harness and nuzzle her neck for the remainder of the song, as they cuddled amid what looked like the ruins of an old "Star Trek" set. So yes, visually, this was all a lot to take in. But what about Paige's voice? Well, there was a reason why all that distracting stuff was onstage. Paige is really the weakest singer in the top 13, and her mentor Demi knows this. Paige probably knows it, too. "The production was amazing, and you seemed angelic; I'm a little jealous of that. But I'm not completely blown away. It was good, but I really want great from you," said L.A. "The beginning was the best part--it was shocking, it was so good. It was so theatrical!" said Britney, notably failing to mention anything about Paige's vocals. Simon was unimpressed by the staging's overproduction, as well as by what he thought was a lack of production for the song itself. "Demi, I don't think you could have put any more stuff on that stage!" he began. "But it needed to go somewhere. You don't want to turn this into a karaoke competition. You've got to make records." Demi quite didn't get what Simon he was saying, which led him to shout, "I was talking about the production of the song! I was talking about the production of the song! I was talking about the production of the song!" over and over. It would not be the last time that Demi and Simon would battle behind the table this evening. But Simon was right this time.
Vino Alan - Vino sang "When A Man Loves A Woman," presumably from the 1994 Meg Ryan film by the same title, which came out 28 years after Percy Sledge first recorded the song. But that's just a technicality, I guess. Vino did an okay job with it--this was nowhere near the brilliance of Joshua Ledet's version on "American Idol" earlier this year, but it was certainly better than the terrible, terrible Nickelback cover that his mentor, L.A., made him do last week. And the show was clearly trying to make the face-tattooed Vino seem cuddlier and less scary to viewers, by putting him in a suit and having him talk about his background singing for the troops. But I am not so sure everything about this worked. Vino's very DNA seemed to be rejecting the ill-fitting Men's Wearhouse suit on his tatted-up body, and the song didn't make him seem cool or edgy or hip--or relevant. But there was no denying that he sang the hell out of it. "Your performance was really stripped, and it really showed how unique and special your voice is," said Britney. "You went from zero to hero in one week," said Simon (seemingly loosely quoting another movie, Vanilla Ice's Cool As Ice). "That was a phenomenal performance. I was so impressed by how you poured your heart and soul on that stage. But I have a hard time seeing you as a number-one artist. I'm not sure I see you as a pop star," said Demi. Simon then told Demi that was a "stupid thing to say" and compared Vino to Susan Boyle, or something like that. (Um, Simon, SuBo analogies didn't exactly help Vino seem cool again!) Sigh. I don't think anyone on this show knows what to make of this guy.
Emblem3 - I have no idea what this was. A mash-up of the Temptations' "My Girl" with Katy Perry's "California Gurls" and One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful"? Why? And what movie was this supposed to be from, Part Of Me? I was confused. I was also unimpressed. While Emblem3's show-closing performance of Matisyahu's "One Day" last week was surprisingly good, this corny medley was just a shambolic mess. (Their mentor, Simon, later explained that a last-minute song change left them with only one day to rehearse, but still.) Even if the judges had blasted these dudes, I'm sure they'd be safe this week--Emblem3 are clearly the heartthrobs of the season--but strangely, the judges actually loved this anyway. L.A. called them "perfect." Britney told them, "I was blown away by how you were able to make the song yours"--revealing her inability to count, since the boys had clearly covered more than just one song. Demi was the only judge who was critical, but her negative words were directed at Simon, calling him out for stuffing a One Direction song in the medley that could lead to unnecessary 1D/E3 comparisons. I saw her point, but I personally think that was a smart move on Simon's part. I couldn't stand this performance, but this was the kind of bubby, infectious singalong that One Direction-loving, mass-text-voting kids probably enjoyed.
Beatrice Miller - I love me some Beatrice. The kid is just so darn likable (Britney, her mentor, said she has the "best personality of anyone in this competition"), and so talented, too--she's like a little Haley Reinhart. But I was not so sure about this performance. I don't know why the "X Factor" stylists seemingly dressed the poor kid up in leftover scraps from a "Project Runway" shopping trip to Mood (why so many layers? was the AC on high again in the studio?), or why--after having her sing Jason Mraz's "I Won't Give Up" last week--Britney had her sing another manly ballad, the Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris" from City Of Angels. Beatrice did all right with it, but she got shouty in parts, and the overall effect was draggy and dreary. Come on, the girl is only THIRTEEN! Give her some youthful and fun material, for once. "I can't tell you I got chillbumps, but I think your voice is just sensational," said L.A. Demi and Simon were more effusive, with Demi saying Beatrice "blew her mind" and Simon raving, "You're not like someone at 13. I can see you working, I really can." I can too. But Britney really needs to give her different songs.
Jennel Garcia - Jennel is the rocker girl of Season 2, and the Arrows'/Joan Jett's "I Love Rock 'N' Roll" was a great vehicle for her talents. (Side note/question: What movie was this song supposed to be from? The Runaways? Flashdance? Britney Spears's cinematic tour de force Crossroads?) She was giving off a seriously Ann Wilson-circa-"Barracuda" vibe, which of course was awesome, and she delivered one of the strongest vocals of the night. Britney liked Jennel's performance, exclaiming, "I have one word for that: hot, hot, hot!" (Once again, she proved can't count. That's three words, Britney.) But L.A. and Simon were left cold. "It was a Joan Jett parody. I didn't see the originality or the inventiveness," grumbled L.A. Simon once again made it personal--with Jennel's mentor, Demi. "I really like you, Jennel, but you've got to listen to me: I don't like what Demi has done to the way you look. You are unrecognizable from the person we first saw," he barked. He also said, "It was a pretty much straight cover, and you are better than this." I understood what Simon meant--Jennel doesn't quite seem like the girl-next-door she was when she first started out, and Demi has picked songs for her that are straight-up classic rock, no major reworkings required. But even if Jennel may be "better than this," she was still better than most of the people who performed this evening. I love rock 'n' roll, and I love Jennel Garcia.
Tate Stevens - Mentor L.A. introduced Tate as "representing the working class," a pretty obvious ploy to sell him to Middle America, even though I imagine much of Middle America is already sold on this lovable working-class hero. Tate's song, Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead Or Alive" (from either Rock Of Ages or 1991's Harley Davidson And The Marlboro Man--thanks, Wikipedia!), was a good one, very easy to turn into a country anthem and definitely something Tate could belt with conviction. (He is a cowboy, after all.) It was a little predictable, but it was very pro, very polished...if "Nashville Star" was still on the air, Tate would have won that show long ago. It wasn't my thing, personally...but I could envision many other voters digging this. "You definitely are a true cowboy. You're a slice of America. You nailed it," said Britney. "As a fan of country music, I really think you have what it takes," said Demi. "Tonight it actually feels like you've arrived back in this competition," said Simon. Oh, stop trying to create an underdog story for Tate, Simon. Tate never left this competition.
Diamond White - Diamond was back and ready to prove she deserved that wild card spot, so she took on a very ambitious song, Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing" from The Bodyguard. Between "The X Factor" and "The Voice" this year, I am already pretty sick of hearing this song covered over and over, but Diamond's version was definitely one of the better ones I'd witnessed in a while. Seeing her in her white tuxedo as she belted out this classic, I couldn't believe that she's only 13--or that Britney actually almost let her go. After her performance, L.A. smiled and said, "You know you brought it home, girl." An emotional Demi sighed, "I am trying really hard not to cry. I'm such a fan of Whitney, and that just tugged at my heart." Britney even said, "You channeled Whitney in that performance, and she would be very proud." So watch your back, Arin Ray. In fact, everyone in this competition should watch their backs a bit. Diamond could be a real threat, sort of the "X Factor" equivalent of Leila returning to "America's Next Top Model." Or, come to think of it, really the "X Factor" Season 2 equivalent of Simon bringing back bonus contestant/future winner Melanie Amaro in Season 1.
CeCe Frey - The Rocky III anthem "Eye Of The Tiger" seemed like THE perfect song choice for someone with such ruthless ambition, not to mention someone with a tendency to stencil animal prints on her temples. At first I thought the song was a genius pick on the part of CeCe's mentor, Demi. But for some reason, something about this fell flat. CeCe sounded VERY winded (she may have had the eye of the tiger, but it sounded like she had the lungs of a billygoat), and she didn't even appear to be enjoying herself like she usually does. CeCe's stern, furrowed-browed facial expression made it seem like she was overthinking everything; maybe she wants this just a little too much, and she's starting to psych herself out. Britney was nice and called CeCe a "little rebel," but an underwhelmed L.A. said, "It didn't blow me away." Simon was the meanest, griping, "Anything recognizable about you has been thrown away, and this song choice was horrible. You're being taken into a direction you should not be going into." (Simon is clearly not a fan of the drastic makeovers that Demi has given all of the girls on her team, but I think CeCe's Hitchcock-blonde-in-outer-space look was actually the best thing about her performance this week.) CeCe appeared to take the judges' words very hard (other contestants smiled and shrugged off negative critiques, but she looked like she was ready to either punch someone, Rocky-style, or just cry). And then she had to suffer the additional humiliation of host Mario Lopez asking her to clarify the pronunciation of her last name and saying, "Oh, like French fry." I'm sure CeCe didn't like being reminded of the types of fast-food worker jobs waiting out there for her when her "X Factor" run comes to an end--which, unfortunately for her, may be very soon.
Carly Rose Sonenclar - Bruno Mars's Twilight ballad "It Will Rain" is NOT an easy song to sing at any age, but 13-year-old Carly made it look effortless. Stripped of the wild bells/whistles/smoke/mirrors that drew mixed reviews for her overproduced performance last week, this time Carly just stood there and sang--and ironically, the effect was more intense than most of the night's kitchen-sink-style spectacles. It was so intense, in fact, that Carly was nearly in tears by the end. L.A. called the performance "heartfelt and honest" and raved, "I loved it--and I love you." Said Demi, "This was you in your element. You're incredible!" And Simon declared, "You would have a hit with a song like that. We're watching a star in the making." Carly's mentor, Britney, even got cocky and proclaimed, "You should have closed the show, because no one can follow that!" But I understood why Britney seemed so confident. Carly continues to establish herself as the girl to beat.
Jason Brock - "There's something about Mr. Entertainment that's really entertaining," L.A. said, redundantly. So why did he give his contestant Jason the most un-entertaining song ever? The moment I heard L.A. introduce Jason with "from the movie Space Jam"...well, my heart was filled with dread. Gawd, please, no. Just no. Not R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly." Why not R. Kelly's "Trapped In The Closet," at least? Doesn't that count as a movie? Chapter 23 is even about to premiere on IFC! But I digress. I suppose, after Jason's campy "Dance Again" rave-up elicited such (undeserved) fury and disgust from Simon last week, L.A. wanted to prove that Jason could do something more serious. Or maybe he just thought voters would be equally turned off by another over-the-top spectacle, so he wanted to play it safe for this first public voting round. I will say, the big, belty ballad was an effective showcase for Jason's vocal talents--the man can sang, and he took "The X Factor" to church. But I missed the camp. I missed the fun. Oddly, Demi and Britney dismissed this performance as being too Vegas-y, but I didn't think it was Vegas-y enough. Still, though, Jason did the best he could with the material and did NOT deserve the second bashing he received from Simon this week. "I don't believe you could fly. Maybe jump a couple inches off the ground, but not fly," said Simon. (Was that a potshot about Jason's weight? Mean!) I do believe Jason can fly--soar, even. But it seems like L.A. clipped his wings this evening.
Fifth Harmony - Who's Fifth Harmony, you ask? Some other wild card contestant? Nope. These girls are The Artists Formerly Known As LYLAS. After they had to change their name for legal reasons, then realized that their new name, 1432, was so bad it should be illegal, they changed it again this week to the fan-suggested Fifth Harmony. It's okay, I guess. Snarky L.A. reacted to this name change by making a sad-trombone sound effect, but hey, at least it can't be mistaken for an ATM PIN code or lottery ticket number. So Fifth Harmony covered Christina Perri's Twilight tune "A Thousand Years," and while their vocals sounded gorgeous, I wasn't wowed by the performance, which had them sitting on stools the entire time. (Come on, Simon. Remember what happened when you had your protégé Drew Ryniewicz sit on a chair for an entire performance last year?) I know Fifth Harmony's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" performance a couple weeks ago didn't go so well, but I hope that didn't make them never ever want to do anything uptempo ever again. This just seemed like an anti-climactic way to end the episode. But like I said, the vocals were on point, for the most part. "I was impressed with your singing. I think you guys nailed it," said L.A. "You guys just shine the whole way," said Britney. Demi didn't like the song's arrangement, but said, "You guys are all powerful vocalists. I'm so excited to see what you do next." And Simon said with a smug smile, "I think there's something incredibly exiting about your potential. I could not be more proud."
So now it is prediction time. One contestant will go home Thursday night, and while this is a tough one to call, I think the contestants who'll probably be in jeopardy are Paige, Beatrice, CeCe, and Jason. Of those four, I think the one to go should either be Paige (because she's clearly the weakest vocally) or Beatrice (only because she's the greenest and may need some more time to develop). But all of them should probably prepare their sing-for-your-life songs, just in case. And I hope if Jason has to sing, he does something camp and cabaret and absolutely fabulous. See you then.