The most un-fun game of musical chairs ever continued apace this Wednesday on "The X Factor," as Paulina Rubio's Boys category and Simon Cowell's Groups sang — and sometimes pathetically begged and pleaded — for permanent seats on the show's ominously X-shaped stage. Last week, the series' "Four-Chair Challenge" began with a brutal weeding-out of the Over 25's and Girls, but those rounds were as pleasant as a sunny day romping in a meadow with Simon's newly adopted Yorkie puppies compared to what went down with the Boys this week.
First was lady-killing singing waiter Al Calderon, who tried to do some weird dubsteppy/rock version of Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe." No maybes about it…this wasn't very good. This was crazy, indeed. Well, Al's vocals were fine, but the arrangement was messy and distracting, and the performance was manic, just overthought and overwrought. However, Al looked like a star ("You're not the best singer in this competition, but what you do have is great charisma, fantastic energy," said Simon), and at least he committed to the performance. So he got a chair…for now. "Please teck a sit," said Paulina.
Next up was Isaiah Alston, a likably bow-tied boy who kind of reminded me of "American Idol" contestant Burnell Taylor's little brother or a younger, hipper Urkel. But why, oh why, did he cover Whitney Houston's "Greatest Love of All"? I do believe the children are our future, and I believe Isaiah is a talented child with a future…but he won't have a future in showbiz if he keeps singing cheesy, old-fashioned balladry like this. His first audition was sooooo much better. I think Paulina should've given Isaiah a chance based on his early promise, maybe let him put his feet up and kick it for a while…but perhaps she was being merciful by letting him go right away, if she knew deep down he wasn't final-four material. Isaiah didn't get a chair.
Isaac Tauaefea had seemed like fodder from the start, and his performance of Colbie Caillat's "Bubbly" didn't improve his chances of receiving more screentime this season. He hit a horrific note midway through, so much so that when judge Kelly Rowland described his performance as "karaoke," that was an insult to karaoke singers in bars all across this fine nation. Paulina didn't pussyfoot around here, either. Isaac also went chairless this evening.
Carlos Guevara, the lovable Tourette's sufferer with a heart of gold and throat of velvet — one of the standouts of this season's auditions — gave the first truly chair-worthy performance of the night. His "Ain't No Sunshine" was impressive, despite the fact that this tune has been done to death on various singing shows and will forever be associated in my mind/heart/DVR with "Idol's" Kris Allen. Carlos did some really interesting, creative things with this age-old classic, adding unexpected runs and inflections, yet the performance felt easy and unforced. "I love the way you just allowed the music to take over you," raved Kelly. Carlos started to beg for a chair (to his credit, he insisted that he didn't want to be a "sob story"), but such an emotional display was entirely unnecessary. "Please teck a sit," Paulina told him.
I don't recall being impressed by cherub-cheeked Bieber clone Stone Martin's vocals during his audition, but then again, I could barely hear his vocals that day, since the audience was teeming with wildly banshee-screaming girlies who were freaking out as if Harry Styles were onstage. This kid definitely had the X-factor, if the X-factor is to be measured by the decibel levels of fans' screams. This week, he did Ednaswap/Natalie Imbruglia's "Torn," and he actually sounded better than I remembered. And he was as button-cute as I remembered. More audience shrieking and swooning ensued. The entire crowd...wait for it…turned to Stone. Ha. "Please teck a sit," Paulina predictably said.
And then…there was only one chair left. And five more people who had yet to sing.
Chase Goehring seemed like a shoo-in for that fourth seat. An adorable redhead who initially riskily auditioned with an original composition, he came across as an Ed Sheeran mini-me. Chase took another risk this week by singing and rapping the respective Hayley Williams and B.o.B. parts of "Airplanes," but I think he made it work. All those hours shooting YouTube clips in his bedroom had paid off, even if Kelly and Simon expressed disproportionate disappointment that he hadn't performed another original. Chase got to teck a sit.
Tim Olstad, the shy and decidedly un-edgy kid who literally had not been able answer judge Demi Lovato when she'd demanded that he reveal something, anything, wild and crazy about himself, did "The Climb" — back from the days when Miley Cyrus was decidedly un-edgy herself. I wasn't into it; this treacly ballad seriously needs to be permanently blacklisted from all singing competitions. Tim sang it pretty well, save for a couple of rough spots that could probably be chalked up to nerves, but it was hard to imagine where he'd fit in the current pop marketplace. Simon compared Tim to Josh Groban. Tim said he aspired to be someone more suave and cool, like John Legend or Ed Sheeran. Simon hit the nail on the head when he told Tim, "I think you are an artist who is going to appeal to people much older than you."
Then again, only older people really vote for these shows nowadays (which is how 37-year-old Tate Stevens won last season over a gaggle of shiny happy teens and tweens). So, despite Paulina's worrying that Tim wasn't "special enough" — a catchphrase she uttered so often this Wednesday, if I'd been playing a drinking game and took a sip every time she said it, I would've passed out before finishing this article — she gave him a seat. More specifically, she gave Tim Stone's seat. And then Stone sobbed. Sorry, tweens!
Carlito Olivero, the former Menudo member/current barista, played right into Paulina's fancily manicured hand by covering Selena's "Dreaming." Paulina immediately perked up, and she even howled when Carlito got to the Spanish lines. This was a fairly strong vocal, except for one struggling, ouchy high part towards the end, and I just knew there was a chair with Carlito's nombre on it. Carlito begged en Español anyway. And then Paulina gave Carlito Chase's chair. With Stone and Chase now out of the running, I could almost hear the unison CLICK of girls under age 14 all across America, switching off Fox in disgust.
Well, there was still 13-year-old Timmy Thames, another great teen hope. He probably should not have started off his "New Girl in Town" performance seated (remember, that didn't work so well for Drew Ryniewicz in Season 1), but maybe he did that just so Paulina would get used to seeing him in a chair. Subliminal conditioning at its finest! Soon Timmy was in one of the actual four chairs next to Al, Carlos, and Carlito. Bye bye, nice guy. Tim was toast.
I understood Paulina's thinking (Al, Carlos, and Carlito seemed more like pop stars to me), but Simon shouted that Carlito should have gone instead, and Kelly screamed, "Nooooooo!" like some sort of slow-motion action-flick heroine in a crisis. The audience rioted, practically storming the stage with flaming pitchforks. I don't know if Paulina got scared or what, or if she genuinely had a change of heart, but she called Tim back to the stage. "I am a human being and I make mistakes," she said. Tim started sweating and freaking like "Idol's" Casey Abrams did that night he was saved in 11th place and nearly hurled all over Ryan Seacrest. And then…Paulina decided to swap out Al Calderon.
And then the audience booed AGAIN. What did they want from her? It's not like Paulina could add more chairs to the stage.
The final boy was another youngster, 14-year-old Josh Levi, whose "Come Get and Get It" audition earlier this season had been one of the best of the bunch. His "I Can’t Make You Love Me" was not as hip or relevant, and it was a little whiny. But there was no denying his marketability. When he started busting out some Usher-esque dance moves, I hadn't seen Kelly get so excited since Jeff Brinkman had told her he runs a doggy daycare center. Kelly called Josh a "superstar," and the cheering audience seemed to agree. I was happy when Paulina told Josh to teck a sit. But I wasn't so happy that the final contestant to get dethroned was…Timmy. Aw. That poor kid. He looked crushed. I liked him (full disclosure: I saw his first audition, which never aired in its entirety, in person at the Los Angeles taping, and he was fantastic), and I certainly thought he was deserving of a chair.
Seriously, Stone, Chase, Timmy, and maybe even Al were the kind of kids who might have gotten other kids to tune in this season. Did the show just give up on the youth market? Maybe Simon just didn't want any solo boys on the show who could threaten his own groups — one group in particular.
And, yes, then it was time for the Four-Chair Torture — um, I mean Challenge — with the Groups. Except it was more like the Four-Bench Challenge. But other than that, it was just the same old seat-swapping ickiness.
Girl United sang first in this category, but they didn't seem all that united to me. Their performance of Chris Brown's "Yeah 3x" was more like "No 3x." It was unfocused and amateurish. Simon actually called them "well-rehearsed," bizarrely, but said, "Vocally, I've heard a lot better." However, due to their commercial viability, he let these girls sit united on a bench. For now.
Up next were Wild Thingz, the cartoonish hip-pop duo (whom Simon likened to Beavis & Butt-Head) with the potential to be "The X Factor USA's" answer to Jedward. They tore into a pseudo-metal version of LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem" that made Jedward look like Simon & Garfunkel. It certainly made me LMFAO. They did The Worm. They crowd-surfed. They swore. They rapped, sort of. "I don't think this is music; I think it is unintentional comedy," said Simon. That's where Simon was wrong. Clearly this was intentional. Wild Thingz knew what they were doing. To borrow a phrase Miley Cyrus used in "Miley: The Movement," they may have seemed like a hot mess, but they were a strategic hot mess. Really, they were THE most exciting thing that happened all night, and they provided some much-needed levity after that stressful, depressing Boys round. Simon was torn between the "normal part" of his brain (he has one?) and the "insane part." Thankfully, sweet, sweet insanity prevailed. Wild Thingz got a bench!
I had high hopes for Glamour, the talented teen girl trio that Kelly once described as a "baby Destiny's Child." But, as adorable as they were, I was disappointed by their childish performance. They just didn't seem ready for this jelly. I thought they needed a few more years to perfect their craft. I mean, even Destiny's Child lost "Star Search" when they were this young. But Simon let Glamour take a seat. For now.
Manufactured country trio Restless Road described themselves as a man band, not a boy band, which kind of made me wish I were watching VH1's "Mission: Manband" instead. (Remember that show? It was awesome. Go watch it here.) For a bunch of dudes thrown together at the last minute, they sure showed promise. As Simon might say, there's a "gap in the market" for a group like this. Simon looked so smug as the audience went wild for Restless Road and his fellow judges gave them a standing ovation. Demi even called Simon a "genius" for putting this trio together, as if Simon's ego needed any more fluffing. But, she had a point. Restless Road could be huge. They could actually win — especially without a bunch of cute young Boys getting in their way, wink wink.
So of course Restless Road got a bench, and then the episode screeched to a halt. With the other six groups' fates still hanging in the balance, on Thursday surely some of the first four seated groups will be dethroned, if only for drama's sake. I just hope that Wild Thingz get to keep their seat. I think this show needs a little comic relief.
See you Thursday.