When "The X Factor" Season 2's first live competitive show aired Wednesday night, most viewers surely expected the unexpected from newbie judge Britney Spears, who for the first time this season would have to perform without a net, or from inexperienced new emcee Khloe Kardashian, who had the potential to make "X Factor" fans yearn for the days of fired Season 1 host Steve Jones.
But instead, Britney mostly held it together by just sticking to her own script and calling everyone "amazing," and Khloe was surprisingly adept and proved once and for all that she is the least annoying Kardashian. Instead, the unpredictability of "The X Factor" Season 2's first live episode totally came courtesy of one of the top 16 contestants, Jason "Mr. Entertainment" Brock.
Jason, the 35-year-old former IT tech who has famously dreamed of "glitter explosions" for years, has been dubbed "Mr. Entertainment" by his mentor this season, Mr. L.A. Reid. But when Jason performed live on the "The X Factor" this Wednesday, L.A.'s arch nemesis, Mr. Simon Cowell, was not entertained.
Jason's performance (of Jennifer Lopez's "Dance Again"!) was, of course, pure theater, pure Vegas, and pure Brock 'n' roll. And pure Halloween, really. The zebra-patterned lounge-lizard jacket. The feather-headdressed showgirls. The Sprockets boys in quarter-shirts, one of which became the object of Jason's onstage affections (censors didn't cut away quickly enough from that PG-13 midriff stroke). And there was even an actual glitter explosion at the performance's climax!
And Jason even crossed lines of propriety a second sneaky time, when he got a little too close for comfort with Khloe's co-host, Mario Lopez.
Wow. It was like Rip Taylor and Liza-with-a-Z had a big glittery baby and named him Jason Brock. Come on, what wasn't there to love about this tour de fierce?
Well, according to Simon Cowell--a lot. Like, EVERYTHING.
"Jason, I like you, but that was utterly horrendous," Simon barked. "What you're wearing, the song, the dancers, the choreography, the way you walked in...everything about it was wrong. Honestly, for me, it doesn't get worse than that."
Britney--who, as mentioned above, usually tells everyone they're "amazing"--was a little nicer, describing Jason as "um, interesting" through her gritted veneers. The adjective "amazing" was not employed.
Well, it doesn't matter what Simon or Britney say. Even if Jason doesn't make it through Thursday's eliminations after this polarizing and peacocking performance, "Mr. Entertainment" is clearly destined to land his own Las Vegas revue. Brock rocked it, his way. And if Jason does advance to the top 12, Mario Lopez better watch his back, literally.
At least Jason was, to quote Britney, interesting, and at least he really went for it. The same, sadly, could not be said for many of the other contestants, who were sabotaged by bad staging, bad song choices, bad styling, bad sound, or just a bad case of nerves. Did any of them prove that they deserve a $5 million record deal? Here's how the rest of the top 16 did on Wednesday:
THE YOUNG ADULTS (mentored by Demi Lovato)
Paige Thomas - "Paige has got the looks, but she's not the best vocalist," said Demi during Paige's pre-performance intro. Ouch. And Demi is Paige's own coach! But Demi, a judge who is admirably shaping up to be as brutally honest as Simon himself, did have a point. And Demi also had a plan: 1) Buzz off Paige's hair to drum up some sort of buzz, and 2) Put her on a stage with about 57 Lady Gaga-reject backup dancers to distract viewers from her vocal shortcomings. This wasn't a bad plan, actually, but it was a shame that Paige's new buzzcut was completely hidden by her crown-of-thorns/Statue-of-Liberty headdress, and that all of director Brian Friedman's crazy kitchen-sink staging couldn't quite compensate for Paige's shaky performance. She did her best with Haddaway's "What Is Love," but sorry, I was not bopping my head, Night At The Roxbury-style, to this. The judges, however, adored it. Even L.A., who'd once accused Paige of being a Rihanna clone, had good things to say about this RiRi-esque performance, telling her, "You look like a star, it feels like stardom"--though he added, "I'm not so sure about that song choice." Britney raved, "You're outrageous. I loved everything about it. I think you're a true star!" Simon said, "The whole point of this contest is to find someone who can work in the real world...and you just nailed it." I do think Paige has star quality, but Demi had it right the first time when she said Paige isn't the best singer. Let's face it, Paige wouldn't even make it past the Blind Auditions on "The Voice."
Jennel Garcia - I've always wanted a Power Ballad Night on one of these singing shows, and I kinda/sorta got my wish when my little rocker princess did Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home." While rocking a Joan Jett shag haircut, yet. A shag haircut being blown by a wind machine straight out of a "Headbanger's Ball" music video! Yessss. I did miss some of the sexiness and looseness of Jennel's other performances like "Paris (Ooh La La)" and "Sweeter," but when she got into some seriously Reinhart-esque growly territory, she brought her sexy back. And man, she sang the heck out of this song. "I am completely surprised. I did not expect that," L.A. said, borrowing one of Britney's catchphrases. (Side note: Why did he not expect Jennel to be great?) "That was a 10. You just convinced me that you could win." Said Britney: "You rocked it out!" Simon declared, "You just defined the theme 'Made In America.'" (Second side note: That was this night's theme. "Made In America." Whatever.) "I absolutely love you," added Simon. I absolutely love Jennel too. So, can she do Skid Row's "18 & Life" next week?
CeCe Frey - Formerly brunette CeCe and her formerly bottle-blonde coach Demi seemed to switch hairstyles this week, a strategy possibly put in place to make viewers forget who CeCe, arguably one of this season's least likable contestants, was. So CeCe got a Ke$ha-esque makeover and a fleet of distracting S&M-masked dancers for her performance of "Because The Night." (Wow, Patti Smith gave permission for this?) It was actually a pretty good performance--yes, she got out of breath, but she owned her new look and owned the stage. "Congratulations, that was really strong," said L.A. "It felt like you put a lot of work into it." But L.A. did say CeCe's vocals left "a little to be desired," Britney actually agreed, saying, "Overall it was a great performance, but your vocals were a little weak sometimes." Even CeCe's own coach Demi had to concur, remarking, "I feel like you can do much better vocally." Simon, who seems to have a real thing for crazy dames, was the most effusive, saying, "You're fearless and you're interesting, and that is what I like in pop stars...I think that you are something we need in this competition." Personally, I did actually enjoy CeCe's performance more than I thought I would, but if she makes to the voting rounds, I don't think over-the-top spectacles like this will help CeCe overcome her "likability problem."
Willie Jones - Country kid Willie never had any likability problems on this show, but I am sorry, he really blew it with this performance. Gretchen Wilson's "Here For The Party," complete with boot-scootin' Coyote Ugly backup dancers and a shiny New Jack suit, rendered him totally cheesy and Vegas-y. (Jason Brock can get away with the Vegas shtick. Willie should not go there.) And the song in no way showcased what Willie can do vocally. I was almost embarrassed for him. Britney said this was "amazing" (It. Was. Not.), but L.A. called the performance merely "adequate." (Although L.A. quickly and optimistically added, "I think there's more there; you'll be around.") Only Simon told it like it was, saying, "I thought it was silly. I didn't get that. I don't think you were taking yourself seriously. It was cheap." Yep, as cheap as that shiny Color Me Badd suit Willie had on.
THE TEENS (mentored by Britney Spears)
Arin Ray - This former InTENsity member from Season 1 tried to up the intensity factor during his solo performance of "You Just Keep Me Hanging On"--but audio-wise, the most intense things about this number were the cranked-up backing vocals, the hissing blasts of dry ice fog, and the shrieking female spectators, all of which rendered his performance nearly inaudible. From what I could make out above the din, Arin sounded okay, though not perfect. "I couldn't really hear your vocals because the girls were screaming so loud, but you seemed a little stiff," said Demi. "That was a real creative and inventive song choice, but your vocal was not on par with the genius of the song," said L.A. "I think, Britney, you put too much [staging] around him," Simon began, but then he told Arin, "You have that swag, and that's what we need in a pop star. I think you really matured in a year." Britney gushed, "You were a little genius up there. It was ON." Something that doesn't need to be "on" next time? Those noisy smoke cannons. Turn those off and let this guy be heard!
Diamond White - In her intro, Diamond jokingly described herself as a "boring little child," and I admit I'd started to feel that way about her myself during the Boot Camp and Judges' Houses episodes. But I was not bored by Diamond this evening. I wouldn't have thought a Disney-pop version of Train's "Hey Soul Sister" performed on what looked like the set of the Fresh Prince & DJ Jazzy Jeff's "Parents Just Don't Understand" music video would have worked, but it actually did. Diamond looked like a little Neneh Cherry in her totally '90s gear, and I thought she was a lot of fun. L.A. said she'd seemed a little too "mechanical" at first, and Demi oddly said Diamond didn't look like she was having fun and seemed too reserved...but I agreed with Simon when he told Diamond, "You came over as a relevant pop star." The '90s are back, y'all!
Beatrice Miller - Beatrice has been my favorite Teen contestant this season, and there were definitely some moments of vocal greatness during her cover of Jason Mraz's "I Won't Give Up" that not even her weirdly crimped Lion King hairstyle could distract from. But this very young singer's nerves definitely hurt her. She was often awkward, and her pitch fluctuated in the low parts. Britney called Beatrice "amazing," of course, but Demi said, "I felt you were a little nervous, but when you came out with that rock star moment, I was impressed," and Simon stated, "There's a gap in the market for someone like you...but when you tried to push it, you had some tuning issues." L.A. was kind, saying, "The key in stardom is believability and lovability, and I believe you and love you." I believe and love Beatrice too, but I wonder if she is just too young, and if she should have waited to audition when she was old enough to qualify for the Young Adults category.
Carly Rose Sonenclar - At first I was worried when Britney announced her intention to put sweet 13-year-old Carly in a "Baby Hit Me One More Time"-inspired schoolgirl uniform, but luckily Carly stayed covered up during her "Something's Got A Hold Of Me" performance. I thought Carly was terrific, and I can only theorize that the reason why the judges were so hard on her was because they saw her as a threat. "It didn't feel like you were having fun," said L.A. "You have one of the best voices in this competition, but I think sometimes at your age, that could be a blessing and a curse. I'm worried that it's not your time right now," said Demi. Said Simon, "You could have done a much better song--but it'd be criminal if you were to leave the competition now." Carly's coach Britney, of course, called Carly "amazing." But Britney was right this time!
THE OVER-25's (mentored by L.A. Reid)
David Correy - David's voice sounded fantastic during his out-of-the-box cover of Whitney Houston's "My Love Is Your Love," but his bug-eyed chest-beating was giving me serious Stefano-Langone-from"Idol"-Season-10 flashbacks. It was all a bit too much. "I thought your performance was a bit manic, verging at times on desperate, like you were begging the audience to like you," grumbled Simon--and he was right. Demi called David's performance "pretty good," and the easy-to-please Britney called it "amazing." I do think David's got the goods, but he needs to dial down the desperation. With a voice like that, there's no need for him be so worried, or to try so hard to impress.
Vino Alan - L.A. spent a lot of Wednesday's episode slamming his fellow judges for their song choices, but he had no right to throw such stones after what he did to poor Vino. First of all, I thought the theme was "Made In America," not "Made In North America," and Vino's song, "Gotta Be Somebody," was originally recorded by Canadians Nickelback. But putting all concerns of nationality aside, this was just a terrible song for Vino. It took away all his edge, all his coolness, and it forced him to sing in a too-low key that made him sound like a drunk Eddie Vedder during the opening verse. Vino deserved better than this. Even Britney couldn't say this was amazing, instead saying, "I feel your effort, but I have to say, I was a little bored." Said Demi: "I find myself really rooting for you, because I see that passion behind your eyes...but I have a hard time seeing you as a pop star." (Or a rock star, I might add, after this.) And Simon was the harshest, grumbling, "I think the song and the arrangement was completely and utterly wrong for you. It made you into some horrible cover singer you see in bands across America. I think you shouldn't have agreed to that song. L.A., you completely and utterly c****d it up." Not even a five-second delay could keep viewers from realizing what Simon was saying--or from agreeing with him.
Tate Stevens - Amid the wacky theatrics of contestants like Jason, Paige, and CeCe, 37-year-old country traditionalist Tate almost seemed like he was on the wrong show. And I am sure he's not the type of winner Fox would like to see on a series that has clearly aimed itself at the teen market. But ironically, if all 16 of these contestants got signed and released albums tomorrow, Tate would probably sell the most records, by far. He's the very definition of "Made In America." I didn't think Tate's rendition of Craig Morgan's "Tough" was particularly fresh or exciting, but it was a capable and professional performance by a Nashville-ready singer. Britney called him (...wait for it...) "amazing." Demi said, "At the beginning I was a little bit bored, but you don't need dancers and a band behind you--you stand out on your own. I think you're going to go so far." Said Simon, "I know exactly what kind of artist you should be. You're just a good, honest man, and I think this show could give you huge break. You're a keeper."
THE GROUPS (mentored by Simon Cowell)
Sister C - At first I thought these Southern siblings' slowed-down "Hell On Heels" didn't really work, but once they revved up the tempo and got into Miranda mode, I saw their appeal. They really came across like country stars in training--and, unlike Britney in the past, I didn't find Sister C's harmonies annoying. "I wasn't expecting that," said Britney--uttering her other, non-"amazing" new catchphrase (apparently she went into this show with ZERO expectations)--before admitting that the sisters were "stunning." Buzzkiller Demi was less impressed, saying, "You are three beautiful girls, and you have a very unique sound that I think is missing right now in the industry...but you seemed really stiff." Simon once again reminded the easily bored Demi that "this isn't 'Dancing With The Stars,'" then raved, "That was a fantastic performance. The vocals were on the money, and you've really improved since the audition process." Have Sister C improved enough to advance? Well, they have serious competition from the other Groups, but if they make it to voting rounds, I think these golden girls could actually be this season's dark horses.
Lyric 145 - These guys have to win. I'm serious. This was the most fun, vivacious performance of the night, and if Jason Brock is "Mr. Entertainment," then Lyric, this group's awesomely eyepatched frontwoman, is "Mrs. Entertainment." This hip-pop trio's mashup of DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince's "Boom Shake The Room" with PSY's "Gangnam Style" made me feel like "The X Factor" had just gotten preempted for an episode of "Yo! MTV Raps," and I loved it. (Side note: This is probably the first time I've referenced DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince twice in the same article, with neither reference involving Willie Jones.) "I had so much fun watching you...I'm a little worried about this group!" admitted a competitive Demi. Britney said she was "genuinely entertained." But bizarrely, L.A. hated this. "It sounded like somebody put you in a washer, dumped in bleach, and took all the soul out of you...I'm sorry, but that's not hip-hop," he remarked. I would like to point out, however, that L.A. seems to think his signing Justin Bieber is hip-hop. And he is also the guy who couldn't define "rock" on "The X Factor" Season 1. So take his genre definitions with a massive grain of salt, that's all I am sayin'.
1432 - This girl group used to be called LYLAS, but for legal reasons (that's the name of Bruno Mars's backing group), they had to change it. Fair enough. You can't and shouldn't argue with the almighty Bruno Mars. But "1432"? Not only does that moniker share two sequential numerals with Simon's other group, Lyric 145, but it's just not catchy, and it's certainly not descriptive. I don't care if it's slang for "I love you too"--I don't love the name change. Anyhoo, their cover of the inescapable Taylor Swift's "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" was better than their name, but it was not as good as I'd expected, considering how great they'd been at the Judges' Houses singing "Impossible." It all just fell a little flat. That being said, The Artists Formerly Known As LYLAS in no way deserved the harsh critique they received from L.A. (except for the part about L.A. hating their name--he got that part right). L.A. dismissed them as "very talent show, very karaoke," and told them, "You took the greatest song in the world and turned it into karaoke. Your mentor really failed you." Britney was kind and said she was "pleasantly surprised," but Demi thought "only one of them shined." Demi at first refused to say which of the girls she meant, but then Khloe went into full-on interrogation mode and DEMANDED that Demi name names, and finally Demi singled out Camila Cabello as the group's strongest link. Dang, Khloe ought to look into getting a job moderating presidential debates. That woman could herd cats!
Emblem3 - I've made no secret of my hatred for these cocky dudes (they make CeCe Frey's "likability problem" look like nuthin'), but even I had to admit that their anthemic, show-closing cover of Matisyahu's "One Day" was good. Very good. But was it as good as the judges claimed? Um, no. "You got it right this time. That was unbelievable. I think we are witnessing America's next pop sensation," gushed L.A. "You're absolutely adorable," said Britney. "You boys make me swoon," said Demi. And then Simon declared: "Anyone watching this band for the first time, remember this night." Come on, Simon. This wasn't the Beatles on "Ed Sullivan." This wasn't Michael Jackson on the Motown anniversary special. This wasn't history being made. Chill.
So there you have it. On Thursday, the judges will decide which 12 contestants (three from each of the categories) will go through to the voting rounds. So which four will get the boot? Well, if I were to base my predictions on this week's performances only, I'd say it'd be Willie Jones from the Young Adults, Arin Ray (or maybe Beatrice Miller) from the Teens, Vino Alan (or possibly Jason Brock) from the Over-25's, and Sister C from the Groups. But I have a feeling the judges may decide otherwise. Tune in Thursday and find out!
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