After a few whirlwind weeks of auditions by everyone from Liberace-channeling IT techs to bridal-gowned drag queens, from single moms to stage-mothered tweens, this Wednesday "The X Factor" Season 2 headed to Miami (cue that Will Smith or LMFAO song now) for Boot Camp. Before the Boot Camp process commenced, however, the show's 120 through-to-Miami contestants got some R'n'R, as they were stationed at the posh, pastel Mondrian Hotel in a corny attempt to give them a taste of the pop-star good life (and/or recreate an episode of "The Hills"). But as Simon Cowell intoned during the episode's cold open: "This is not going to be a holiday. This will be...The Most Intense Week Of Their Lives."
Well, I don't know about all that, especially considering some of the intense sob stories behind some of this year's hopefuls. But it certainly was a pretty intense hour of television. By episode's end, 60 of these 120 contestants--after performing again for the judges, this time without a wild, warmup-coached audience to cheer them on--were already given the boot, so to speak.
Few of Wednesday's cuts were real surprises, since many of them were basically novelty acts to begin with. Quatrele Da'An Smith, the cross-dresser/cake-decorator who auditioned with "Born This Way"; Rizzloe Jones, one of this season's many interchangeable Vanilla Ice impersonators; Trevor Mann, the class-clown kid who auditioned with "Sexy And I Know It" (and tried to top that with an even sillier cover of Nicki Minaj's "Starships" at Boot Camp); pink-and-pigtailed Broadway baby Jordyn Foley...come on, we knew all along that none of these people were ever true candidates for this show's $5 million record contract. The bigger surprise, really, was that some of these people ever advanced to Boot Camp in the first place.
The only truly emotional exits of the evening were by Jessica Espinoza and a poor 12-year-old boy named Jake Garza. Jake's elimination wasn't exactly a surprise, since his Boot Camp performance of "Total Eclipse Of The Heart" (whyyyyy did he choose THAT song?) was a painful-to-watch mess. Nerves got the better of him and he totally unraveled onstage, turned as purple as his lavender-rimmed eyeglasses, and literally started crying out for his mommy. (As if we needed any more evidence that 12 is TOO YOUNG to compete on a high-stakes show like this.) But even if Jake's elimination was no shocker, it was still sad. Maybe Jake's mommy should have made him wait a few more years to audition.
Jessica's exit was more of a jaw-dropper, since she'd seemed like such a frontrunner after her first audition of Pink's "Nobody Knows," which had been good to enough to be featured in the final "pimp spot" of this season's third episode. "You are one of the only people in this competition that I remember their first and last name," judge Demi Lovato proclaimed excitedly, when Jessica appeared on the Boot Camp stage this Wednesday. But this time, when attempting to take on two iconic divas with an ill-advised and ill-fated cover of Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey's "When You Believe," Jessica was memorable for all the wrong reasons. She sounded weirdly frog-throated and out-of-breath, like she'd been chain-smoking a carton of Marlboro Reds backstage, and she rendered the Disney ballad (which was totally the wrong fit for her rough, rocker-girl style) near-unrecognizable. "She's not as good as I remembered," a disheartened Demi stage-whispered to Simon. Britney Spears said nothing but seemed disappointed as well, getting that pained, squinty expression she always flashes when she doesn't like or understand something. And so, Jessica's once-promising "X Factor" journey was over before it really even began, and she became the first real bummer elimination of the season--but surely not the last.
As for the contestants who did make it through the harrowing first round of Boot Camp, some certainly deserved to advance more than others. In fact, the night's biggest surprises of all were the singers who survived despite their rather subpar Boot Camp performances. These were the highlights and lowlights of the bunch...
Jason Brock - Jason, my beloved Liza-Minnelli-trapped-in-an-IT-tech's-body/showboater/scenery-chewer/glitter-exploder, received hardly any screentime this Wednesday. This was wrong, and some editor at Fox needs to be fired, stat. But I definitely enjoyed my tiny dose of Brock 'n' roll this evening, and thankfully, Jason survived to be fabulous for at least another day. This is a good thing. I need more Jason Brock in my life, please.
Carly Rose Sonenclar - Carly, the tween-to-beat (watch your back, Diamond White) who so memorably auditioned with "Feeling Good," continued to impress with her briefly shown performance of Bruno Mars's "Runaway Baby." Simon expressed some cockamamie concern about Carly seeming "too old for her age," but I think that was all for show, to make her seem more sympathetic and more like an underdog. Unless Carly totally pulls an Espinoza and chokes in the next rounds, there's no way she's not making it to at least the top 24.
Jennel Garcia - This feisty and fiery rocker-girl-next-door wowed me with her first audition of Grace Potter's "Paris (Ooh La La)," and I was still ooh-la-la-ing all over the place for her when she returned this week and belted out a very hot-and-bothered version of Gavin DeGraw's "Sweeter." (Earlier in the episode, the barely-18 Jennel had declared, "It's time to grow up," as she left her family for the first time and headed to Miami alone. Trust me, she's totally grown-up now.) Demi raved about Jennel's "crazy sex appeal" and Simon called her "very spicy," as Jennel tigress-prowled the stage and incorporated so much "hairography" (that's a "So You Think You Can Dance" term, by the way) into her performance, it almost looked like an Herbal Essences commercial. The one thing that could hinder Jennel in this competition is if she amps up the sex appeal so much that she alienates female voters...but I think right now, she's hitting the right sweet spot between sweet and sexy.
Lyric Da Queen - Somebody please tell me why Lyric's first audition was not aired. Like I said before, there is an editor at Fox who needs to be fired. This woman raps--from what I could hear during her brief snippet of "It Takes Two" at Boot Camp, quite well--plus, she wears a glitter eyepatch. She's the Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes of singing shows! Square Simon described LDQ as "rap I would actually buy," which was probably not a ringing endorsement for most young hip-hop fans...but there was something about her that I thought had real appeal. All hail Da Queen.
Vino Alan - This 40-year-old's scary face-and-head tattoos might turn off more conservative viewers, but his Boot Camp cover of "Bad Company" was robust and rugged, and this show needs some old-school rock 'n' roll amid all the tweeny-boppers, boy bands, wannabe MCs, and R&B babydivas. Britney wasn't so impressed ("He's a maybe," she shrugged), but Vino could be this year's Josh Krajcik, no maybes about it, if he keeps it up.
David Correy - Duffy's "Mercy" rarely gets covered by a male singer, but David definitely "made it his own," as they say in this biz. "Entertaining!" said delighted judge L.A. Reid. I'd like to see more entertainment from this guy, soon.
Willie Jones - Speaking of entertaining, what's more entertaining than a Fresh Prince/Kid 'N' Play/Kris Kross clone who sings country songs like "She Thinks My Tractor's Sexy" (and cheekily changes the line about a "farmer's tan" to "black boy tan")? Nope, it don't get much more entertaining than that. Britney said she was "not a fan" of Willie, but Simon, a guy who usually despises country music, gushed, "I lovvvve him." I agreed with Simon. Willie kind of rules.
Paige Thomas & CeCe Frey - In a Nigel Lythgoe-like attempt to manufacture a TV catfight, "X Factor" producers had these two girls, who'd both decided to sing the Whitney Houston version of "I Will Always Love You," perform back-to-back. Paige went first, with plenty of cutaways to a nervous-looking CeCe waiting in the wings, and then it was CeCe's turn, while Paige sweated it out. Paige came across as more likable (she's the nursing student/single mom; CeCe is the "Capital C-e-capital-C-e, no space" mean girl who was rude to Rizzloe Jones), and Paige also had more killer style. (Despite L.A.'s concerns that Paige looks too much like Rihanna, resembling Rihanna is still way better than having a Cracker Jack temporary tattoo on one's face, like CeCe did; besides, Rihanna changes up her style about every three days, so by the time we get to the live shows, the Paige/RiRi resemblance will likely no longer be an issue.)
But anyway, you know what? CeCe actually sang the song a little bit better. I even understood why Paige looked worried, especially when Simon told both girls, "One of you actually nailed it"--but he didn't specify which one he meant. (I suspect he was talking about CeCe, but we may never know for sure.) However, I do think there is room for both Paige and CeCe in this competition. And how much you wanna bet that producers will keep concocting some sort of made-for-TV rivalry between these two, just for kicks?
Diamond White - This 13-year-old baby Beyonce, who has the most awesome stage name EVER, tried to set the bar high by singing first AND daring to sing "I Have Nothing." (Again with the Whitney songs!) But like Jessica Espinoza, she too struggled with her tricky Whitney cover. To borrow two too-often-used catchphrases from Simon and Demi, Diamond did have both steel and sparkle in her eyes (yes, the girl has major star quality), and she certainly wasn't the epic fail that Jessica was. But the song was way too big for such a little girl, and she hit her unfair share of wonky, pitchy notes. I'm not quite sure why Demi gasped that Diamond was "AMAZING," or why L.A. was wiggling his head so enthusiastically. I will still say that Diamond has potential, and this was not a bad effort for a 13-year-old, but if she wants to make it to the live shows, she needs to be better than this. A lot better. And maybe she (along with everyone else on this show) should just steer clear of the Whitney Houston songbook, to be safe.
Austin Corini - Earlier this season, I assumed that Simon would stick Austin, a good-but-not-great singer who does have really great hair, in a manufactured boy band. And that may still happen, although Austin's snoozy cover of Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love" wasn't very boy-bandy, nor was it something that'd get the One Direction-loving girlies out there to pick up their phones and vote, so Austin may not even get that far on this show. "I didn't think he nailed the song," L.A. griped. Neither did I.
Johnny Maxwell - Another one of this show's novelty rappers-slash-singers, who gave a pretty strong audition the first time around, Johnny totally blew it when he forgot most of the words to Diddy's "I'll Be Missing You" at Boot Camp. Lyric-related memory loss is one of Simon's ultimate pet peeves (right up there with sat-upon cats and shirts that button up all the way), so I'm not really sure why Johnny wasn't eliminated immediately. We'll see if he can rebound later, but I have a feeling he'll be missing his chance to get to the Judges' Houses round. (See what I did there?)
Nick Perrelli - This pinup-pretty teen crooner with the David Cassidy hair and Frank Sinatra voice really dazzled me with his "Fly Me To The Moon" audition a couple weeks ago, but his shaky "Feeling Good" Boot Camp performance just had me feeling bad. (Apparently Nick is no Carly Rose Sonenclar.) The judges seemed as disappointed and confused as I was by Nick's sudden downfall. "He had the talent. We're not crazy, right?" L.A. asked rhetorically. As far as I could tell from the choppy editing, Nick didn't get sent home at the end of the episode, so maybe he can make a Boot Camp comeback. But he'll have to get his nerves in check if he wants to pull off that smooth, cool-as-a-cucumber crooner shtick he's going for.
Emblem3 - Argh. I cannot stand these guys. They spend every minute of their screentime rudely talking smack about every other contestant, particularly all the other boy bands (even though they swear up and down that they are NOT a boy band, okay?), but whenever they perform, they're really not any better than the contestants they constantly put down. I didn't think their odd Boot Camp cover of the Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris" was anything special, even if L.A. was bobbing and weaving his head and Britney said she "felt their energy." Really though, no matter how talented Emblem3 are or what songs they cover, their unlikability and bad attitude will come back to bite them in their saggy-pants'd behinds if they actually make it to the live shows. Viewers don't vote for villains.
Tara Simon - Speaking of villains...there's good over-the-top (Jason Brock), and then there's just plain bad. For me, Tara, the annoying, Type-A vocal coach, falls into the latter category. Sure, on paper, a drama queen belting out Queen and wearing head-to-toe leopard-print seems so up my alley, but onscreen, I didn't find much to love about Tara's unhinged "Somebody To Love" performance. (I think I preferred the circa-1999 Geri Halliwell song that kept randomly playing in the background.) The whole spectacle was just overcooked. Tara did provide one of the episode's most amusing moments, however, when she dramatically dropped to her knees (for the song's "I get down on my knees" line, natch) and Simon cocked his eyebrow appreciatively, then informed her, "When you watch that back, you're going to find that you showed us a little bit more than you expected." I have a feeling Simon may just be keeping Tara around for comic relief...or for some other, more salacious reason.
So all of the contestants listed above, the good and the bad, made it through to Boot Camp round two, along with a few early standouts of this season whose Boot Camp performances were not shown, like Reed Deming, ONE4FIVE, Jeffrey Gutt, Freddie Combs, Jillian Jensen, Tate Stevens, Nick Youngerman, Julia Bullock, Sophie Tweed-Simmons, and Beatrice Miller. Which of these surviving 60 will still be on the show after Thursday's promised and much-hyped bloodbath? And will we finally get to see more of Panda Ross??? Tune in then to find out.