Thanksgiving week was a highly emotional experience on "The X Factor," especially for two contestants, CeCe Frey and Paige Thomas, who already had terrible memories associated with the holiday season: CeCe's sister died from cerebral palsy complications at age 7 on Christmas Eve, and on another horrific Christmas Eve long ago, Paige's mother was killed in a drunk-driving accident. So last Wednesday, both CeCe and Paige poured their hearts, souls, and quite literally their tears into performances for their loved ones. (CeCe dedicated "Wind Beneath My Wings" to her late sister, Kelsey; Paige dedicated Britney Spears's "Everytime" to Colleen, the woman who adopted her after her mother's death.) And after the show, they composed themselves and spoke to Reality Rocks backstage about showcasing previously unseen, vulnerable sides of themselves to America.
"Yes, I was pegged as the 'mean girl' from day one," CeCe admitted sheepishly, when I asked if she'd been misunderstood or unfairly edited. "I think that when everybody goes into a competition like this, you're not sure how to act. You're not sure if people are going to be nice, if people are going to be friendly, or if everyone is going to be conniving and do whatever it takes to tear you down. So I just kind of went into it with walls up, keeping everybody at arms' length, because I sure as hell wasn't going to let anyone mess with me. If I made myself untouchable, it would let everybody else know, 'Okay, at the very least, we need to stay away from this girl.' So was that the best [way to act]? No. But I am so pleased and thankful that I got the chance now to really be myself and let America see who I really am."
When I asked CeCe why she hadn't mentioned her tragic family backstory before now, she answered: "Coming into this, I was extremely afraid of sharing my personal life, because that's something that's very sacred and personal to my family. And so I just didn't want to open up and give America the opportunity to judge my family, to judge what we've been through, or to judge me for it. So I thought it was better to keep what's personal to my family safe; I was just trying to protect my family and my own heart. But I'm happy that we shared that. I don't want anybody to be sad about what they saw tonight. I want people to take strength from it and celebrate [my sister's] life, because that's what she deserves."
Paige's performance last week was even more harrowing; she barely was even able to make it through the entire song. "I was trying not to [cry], but that didn't really work out!" she later said. "But I feel good about it, because each time I've come out onstage, I've come out very fierce, bold--I haven't been able to really let my guard down yet. I've gone through so many hard things in my life, and I've learned to just kind of establish a wall that goes up automatically. So it was nice to have an opportunity to let my true emotions out onstage. My emotions are very pure, very organic, and that was just how I felt. It was nice to release all that. I felt a world was lifted off my shoulders, for once. At the end of the day, I'm pretty happy [with my performance]. There are some things I could learn, though--like singing and crying at the same time!"
Paige also explained that before last week, she too was unwilling to expose her personal story for the cameras. "I just wasn't ready to share it yet. It's been eating at me. But I just want people to understand that my thing about being on this show, besides wanting to better my future, is having the opportunity to reach out to other people that have gone through this. I know I'm not the only one. If I can share with other people that I've been there, and that I've made it through, and give them hope...that's what makes me an artist at the end of the day."
Paige was voted through by the public last week, despite receiving some harsh critiques from the judges (even from her own mentor, Demi Lovato). And while CeCe was in the bottom two again--apparently much of America still hasn't connected with her--she was ultimately saved by the judges after engaging in a sing-off against Beatrice Miller. Both CeCe and Paige will compete again on "The X Factor" this Wednesday.
Check out backstage interviews from last week with the rest of the top 10--including last Thursday's castoffs, Beatrice Miller and Arin Ray--in the carousel below:
- Full top 10 Wednesday "X Factor" recap
- Britney Spears returning for "X Factor" Season 3
- PHOTOS: "The X Factor" finalists' party