The final "X Factor" auditions of Season 2 had their expected share of comedy--a tween boy getting jiggy to an age-inappropriate LMFAO cover, a pigtailed girl with a "pink glitter" fetish who showed up wearing what looked like Britney Spears's old "Hit Me Baby" costume, and at least one cold Cowell critique that involved a comparison to dying cats. But the standout singer of Thursday's episode was one with a sad but ultimately inspirational story, 41-year-old minister Freddie Combs.
Freddie, weighing in at 540 pounds, was wheeled onto the stage by his loyal "angel" wife and caretaker of 16 years, Kay--and while his arrival amid the show's usual shorts-shorted teen girls and Bieber-haired boys was a shock at first, when he revealed that he used to weigh 920 pounds, and that he almost died in 2009, the judges and crowd were totally on his side. "Give a fat boy a chance," Freddie self-deprecatingly joked--and once he sang, the stunned audience immediately did just that.
While Freddie's performance of "Wind Beneath My Wings" (dedicated to his wife, who once cutely dueted with him on the TLC show "Heavily Ever After") wasn't necessarily hip or current or cool, there was no denying the power of his vocals--or the emotion behind them. Freddie possessed a strong, solid CCM/gospel voice, a bit like Clay Aiken's, and his audition was nothing less than inspiring.
"My comments will not be out of sympathy. They will be based just on your voice--which I think is heavenly," said judge L.A. Reid. Britney called Freddie's singing "shockingly amazing." And then Simon Cowell really got serious, and he struck a bargain with Freddie. "When I heard you sing, I had a vision in my mind of you standing while singing that song--healthy, happy," Simon said. "Maybe you need some inspiration. I don't think you deserve to be stuck in that chair. We have to make a deal with each other: I'll back you, if you back yourself." L.A. offered Freddie an additional incentive, telling him, "Simon challenged you to stand. And if you stand, I'll stand right by you."
Freddie readily agreed, and so, with four yeses, he triumphantly wheeled offstage and into the sunset with Kay--vowing to keep up his health and fitness regimen, so he can be in shape to pursue his goal of standing on the "X Factor" stage the next time he sings. For Freddie, "The X Factor's" Bootcamp will take on a whole new, almost literal meaning...and I have a feeling that viewers of all shapes and sizes will be rooting for him.
But sadly, the rest of Thursday's talent was largely unimpressive, and the episode was an anticlimactic end to what had been a very strong "X Factor" audition tour over the past three weeks. The first disappointment of the night came from 13-year-old Trevor Moran. Wednesday's "X Factor" episode had ended with a "cliffhanger" when Trevor mysteriously passed out and had to be assisted by medics right before his audition. But I've put quote-marks around the word "cliffhanger" because--thanks to a poorly timed "X Factor" promo that Fox ran last week--viewers already knew that Trevor had recovered (it was only dehydration and over-excitement, folks), just in time to perform his amusing/icky rendition of LMFAO's "Sexy And I Know It." I'm not sure if this performance was quite worth the 24-hour wait.
Suddenly it was easy to see why Trevor, who's already a viral video star, had gotten so over-excited. Wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle wiggle, yeah, indeed. Trevor's high-energy performance was certainly fearless, and fun, and it was good for a few yuks, in an "America's Got Talent"/"Gong Show" sorta way. But was it worthy of a few million dollars, as in, a $5 million record deal? Um, no. I absolutely could not understand why the judges were so enthusiastic. "You owned the stage! You rocked the house...Everything that 'The X Factor' is about, you embody," said a clearly insane L.A. "You were so much fun to watch! I was dying! You're too cute," said Demi Lovato (which didn't mean much, since Demi pretty much thinks all boys are cute). Britney and Simon also enjoyed Trevor's party rock in the house, and the kid bizarrely received four yeses. I admired Trevor's bravery (a must-have trait for any performer) and his show-must-go-on spirit...but his hammy personality grated (if he makes it to the Judges' Houses, the poor guy who ends up as his roommate will not get a moment's peace), and I'm still not convinced that Trevor can actually sing.
Then there was Owen Stuart, who babbled so incessantly about the long-distance girlfriend, Tori, that he left behind, he made that smitten Jaime dude from Wednesday's episode look as cold-hearted as avowed bachelor Simon. It was all a little much. His performance of B.o.B.'s "Airplanes" (dedicated to his girlfriend, of course) was just okay, but L.A. was impressed (it seems he's never met an "X Factor" rapper he didn't like), and flirty Demi told Owen, "I think that every girl in this audience really wishes they were Tori right now!" Actually, there was one girl who wasn't wishing any such thing: Britney, who in a rare voice-of-reason moment griped that Owen "didn't wow her" and cast the one dissenting vote against him. But no one listened to Britney, the one time she actually made an important point and offered a valid critique. So the good news for Owen was, he got through to Bootcamp. The bad news for Owen? He'll be separated from Tori for at least a few more weeks.
And then there was precocious Broadway baby Jordyn Foley, a 12-year-old with so much spunk and sass, she seemed like a real-life member of Donnie Darko's Sparkle Motion dance troupe. But I questioned my own commitment to Sparkle Motion, so to speak, because this performance was hard to sit through. Yes, Jordyn was adorable, and like Trevor, she had that admirable fearlessness that I really only think kids possess, before society beats it out of them. But I agreed with Simon: Jordyn's song choice, "Tomorrow" from Annie, was cloying and clichéd. ("I'm actually allergic to 'Tomorrow,'" Simon warned Jordyn, a statement that didn't dampen her sunny spirit in the slightest.) "I do actually like you, but for this show, I'm going say no, sweetheart," Simon told her. But the other three judges were easily charmed (even stern-faced L.A. called Jordyn a "bundle of joy"), so Jordyn made it to Bootcamp, where she will surely continue to torture Simon with her unflappably cheerful renditions of "Hard Knock Life" and "You're Never Fully Dressed Without A Smile."
The one ray of true sunshine during the episode, aside from Freddie's star turn, was a lovely 16-year-old with shampoo-commercial hair named Lauren Jauregui, who looked and sounded like a superstar. Her performance of Alicia Keys's "If I Ain't Got You" was stunning, what L.A. enthusiastically described as "the perfect audition." Said Simon: "And that, Lauren, is how you do it!"
The episode ended with a highlight reel of the many impressive singers who got through on previous episodes--rocker girl Jennel Garcia, single mom Paige Thomas, bullying survivor Jillian Jensen, flamboyant showman Jason Brock--just to remind any discouraged viewers that, Thursday's so-so episode notwithstanding, the "X Factor" auditions this season have been pretty stellar, and that there will be dozens of other fantastic singers, besides Freddie Combs, headed to Bootcamp next week. Bring it on, I say. See you all then.