"The Voice" and "The X Factor" continued apace last week...and more than ever, it was abundantly obvious just how different the two singing shows truly are. Over on "The Voice," it was all happyfuntimes, group hugs, and unflagging team spirit, while on "The X Factor," it was all about that series' usual stock in trade: "shocking" eliminations, icky judge infighting, manufactured drama, and just plain old bad vibes. Oh, Simon Cowell, will you ever change?
So last week was Diva Week on "The X Factor," but ironically, the two biggest divas of the entire show were voted off on Thursday. No, Jason Brock was not among them--he went home the previous week, sadly. This time, it was the awesomely eyepatched Lyric Da Queen and her trio Lyric 145--potential superstars who basically defined "X factor"--and Jennel Garcia, possibly THE best female singer in the top 12, who went home. And since it was a double-elimination week, we didn't even get to see Lyric 145, who'd placed dead last, perform for their lives--an opportunity that at least Jason got the week before. This was a shame, because win, lose, or deadlock, I know my fair Queen would have brought it.
Conspiracy theorists (myself among them) can now speculate if Lyric 145 were set up for failure. They'd been forced to change their song at the last minute for mysterious reasons, and the mashup they were still trying to rehearse in the wings only minutes before their Wednesday performance, of Katy Perry's "E.T." and Queen's "We Will Rock You," was more of a mess-up. At the time, Britney Spears, in a rare moment of insight, told Lyric 145's mentor, Simon: "I think they're a hip-hop group, and they should be doing hip-hop tracks." Interestingly, when saying goodbye on the show last Thursday, Lyric stated: "I feel like we didn't get the opportunity to show what we had. We had a hip-hop song--that got snatched from us." Hmmmm...
But you know, maybe "X Factor" viewers just don't like hip-hop. While this show has never strictly defined itself as just a singing competition, many fans in the past have complained that rappers have no business competing against "legitimate" vocalists--Season 1's Astro got the same flak. And despite Simon's insistence that "The X Factor" is somehow the youngest, freshest, and edgiest of all talent shows, the fact that cute, grandma-approved kids like Carly Rose Sonenclar and older contestants like Tate Stevens and Vino Alan continue to top Season 2's leaderboard indicates otherwise. (Tate, Carly, and Vino respectively held onto their leaderboard rankings in spots 1, 2, and 3 last week.) Hip-hop fans simply don't seem to be watching--or at least voting for--"The X Factor" in droves.
As for the other two contestants in the bottom, who did get to participate in a sing-off, they were Demi Lovato's Jennel Garcia and Paige Thomas--not her other team member, the ever-polarizing CeCe Frey, who I'd totally assumed was a goner. (Judging from the look of utter shock on CeCe's face when she found out she was safe, she'd assumed she was a goner too.) For their sing-off, Jennel belted out a weepy but lovely cover of Hoobastank's "The Reason," and although Paige's cover of Coldplay's "Paradise" was her best performance since her first audition, it was still quite clear that Jennel was the superior vocalist of the two. But bizarrely, L.A. Reid, Britney Spears, and Simon Cowell all voted to send home...Jennel.
Um, WHAT? This is how Britney earns her $15 million paycheck? This is how L.A. and Simon became two of the biggest moguls in the music business? At least Demi had some sense to try and send Paige home; she was just outvoted. Eek. That's going to make Demi's rehearsals with Paige mighty awkward this week...
Things on "The Voice" were a lot calmer, thankfully (there's only so much TV-related stress I can handle in one week), despite the fact that for the first time this season--and actually for the first time in "Voice" history--team quotas did not apply when it came to the eliminations, and the decision was entirely in America's hands. The two lowest vote-getters, regardless of coach affiliation and without any coach intervention, got the boot last week, and although I would have preferred to see someone else go home instead of Team Blake's Michaela Paige (that crazy kid had spunk, and she had real potential), overall I was at peace with viewers' decision to send home Michaela and Team Xtina's Adriana Louise. Thank gawd that Britney Spears, L.A. Reid, and Simon Cowell didn't have a say on this show, because you know they would have messed up these results as well.
Although last week's "Voice" featured several standout performances by the contestants--most notably by Scottish rocker Terry McDermott, Southern showman Cody Belew, and R&B wunderkind Trevin Hunte--the true showstopping performances were by the flamboyant coaches. Christina Aguilera, joined by Cee Lo Green, did her best Madonna-vogueing-at-the-1990-VMAs impression, then a solo Cee Lo, assisted by his funky team, did his best Disco Stu impression for a fun and cheesy cover of "Stayin' Alive." So not much has changed on "The Voice," either, I suppose: The coaches often end up upstaging the actual contestants on this show, and, come to think of it, the coaches end up being the only "Voice" cast members that sell any records.
But perhaps I am speaking to soon about those record sales. Last week, Christina released her "comeback" effort, Lotus--her first album since joining "The Voice," and her first since her massive 2010 flop Bionic--and this week, the album's sales are projected to be surprisingly low. Lotus is expected to debut at number five, with first-week sales of around 75,000 (about 35,000 less than Bionic sold in its first week). This is especially interesting considering last week's sales figures for another famous talent show judge, Steven Tyler--who recently left "American Idol" after two seasons to refocus on Aerosmith, only to see Aerosmith's own "comeback" album, Music From Another Dimension!, sell a disappointing 63,000 copies in its first week. To put this in perspective, "Idol" Season 10 champ Scotty McCreery sold 197,000 copies of his album in its release week, and that season's runner-up, Lauren Alaina, debuted with 69,000 in sales. So basically, Steven failed to sell as much as two newbie contestants he once judged. Now we will wait and see if the most recent "Idol" winner that was judged by Steven, Season 11's Phillip Phillips, outsells Aerosmith (or Christina) when his debut album, The World From The Side Of The Moon, comes out this week.
While "Voice" coach Adam Levine continues to shift jillions of units with Maroon 5; Adam's equally unstoppable co-star Blake Shelton just won the CMA Award for Entertainer Of The Year; and "The X Factor's" Demi Lovato currently has a hit on her hands with "Give Your Heart A Break," the low sales numbers for Steven Tyler and Christina Aguilera do make me wonder if, in the very near future, big-name musicians will think twice before signing on to judge talent shows, realizing that the TV exposure in no way guarantees record sales and may in fact hurt their career credibility in the long run. This would be fine by me, since I've been advocating a return to non-celebrity, industry-insider judges for some time now. Will Mariah Carey, Keith Urban, and Nicki Minaj soon regret joining "American Idol" (if they aren't already)? Watch this space...
However, at the moment, there's still no shortage of pop stars lining up to appear on these shows in one way or another, and the latest to do so is Jennifer Hudson, who will be a guest mentor on "The Voice" this week--following in the footsteps of another "Idol" superstar, Kelly Clarkson, who mentored Blake Shelton's "Voice" team last season. Meanwhile, this week "The X Factor" will attempt to undo some of its bad juju with an uplifting "What I Am Grateful For" theme in honor of Thanksgiving...but when the series airs its bizarrely-not-preempted top 10 results show ACTUALLY ON THANKSGIVING NIGHT, it probably won't feel so celebratory--especially since it looks likely that the emotionally fragile and far-from-spontaneous Britney Spears will be forced to choose between her two young team members, Beatrice Miller and Arin Ray (who keep landing at the bottom of the leaderboard). There will be tears. And that's just the way we all want to spend Thanksgiving, right? Watching some teenager sob uncontrollably and inconsolably, while we all experience Rachel Crow flashbacks? Oof. Worst. Thanksgiving. Ever. Consider this Mother England's revenge for all that Mayflower business, executed by none other than nasty Brit Simon Cowell.
But let's end things on a happy note, shall we? Speaking of Kelly Clarkson, this past weekend on the American Music Awards, the Original Idol performed a stunning medley of just a few of her many smash singles--"Miss Independent," "Since U Been Gone," and "Stronger," along with her effervescent new tune, "Catch My Breath." As the first "Idol" champion to release a greatest-hits compilation, and still one of the most successful Idols ever a full decade after her Season 1 victory, Kelly once again reminded us all that sometimes these singing shows really do create bona fide stars. "The Voice" and "The X Factor" would be lucky to one day find another Kelly...and I still haven't lost hope that one day, they will.