It took 15 minutes for "The X Factor's" Wednesday episode to even air a single decent audition, and probably the most memorable moment of the night came courtesy of a reject rap duo called Second Hand High, whose naggingly catchy "Ask Me to Dance" was basically "The X Factor's" answer to "American Idol" Season 9's "Pants on the Ground." Sadly, the truly stellar contestants were few and far between, and many of the successful auditions were inexplicably montaged, even though it was a two-hour show.
But thankfully, there were a couple auditioners on Wednesday (James Kenney, Lorie Moore) who seemed to have a shot of actually winning this season, and they redeemed the night.
Here are the standout singers who made it through on "The X Factor" this Wednesday:
Emery Kelly – This 15-year-old cutie didn't seem quite ready for prime time (I would have advised him to come back in a couple years), but Kelly Rowland fell instantly in love with him, and Demi Lovato told him, "I think that you're so cute and you have a great voice; I think you're what we're looking for." Simon Cowell didn't like Emery's song choice (I didn't either; Jason Mraz's "I Won't Give Up" was too dreary and in too low a key for this kid), but he called Emery a "little unpolished diamond." I do think Emery has potential...but I have a strong feeling that Simon is going to stick him in a manufactured boy band.
Khaya Cohen – Khaya, also cute and also 15, also showed promise, but her old-fashioned song choices were all wrong. First she did "Love You I Do" from Dreamgirls, and when that performance got shouty and shrill, the judges stopped her and asked her to try a different song. So she went with "I Put a Spell on You." Okay, then. I liked the raspy tone to Khaya's voice (however, if she keeps shouting like that, she'll have nothing left but a Patty-&-Selma-style rasp by the time she's 18), but I wish she'd done something more youthful and current, and maybe a bit more rock 'n' roll. The judges were apparently thrilled to hear her sing anything, though. "That's what we've been waiting for," declared Simon. "I am so excited to hear a voice like yours…I predict we will see you in the finals," said Demi. "You blew the roof off this place," raved Kelly. I don't question this girl's talent, but I do wonder if, like Emery, she isn't ready for this cutthroat competition. Maybe I'll change my mind about Khaya if/when I hear her sing some more contemporary material.
James Kenney – James should be a familiar face to longtime "X Factor" viewers. He was a top 32 contestant in Season 1, but was cruelly eliminated during the Judges' Houses round by his mentor, Nicole Scherzinger (even though a rainbow appeared when he was singing by her pool, which she should have taken as an extremely good omen). He's also been a guest co-host on Reality Rocks' chat show, "The Day After," a record three times. The struggling rocker and family man barely got any screentime two years ago, but thankfully this season his entire audition (a smolderingly soulful, slightly Sam Sparro-ish remake of the Porgy & Bess classic "Summertime") made it to air. He also got a clean slate, since Demi, Kelly, and fourth judge Paulina Rubio hadn't been around when he tried out in 2011. The ladies were all understandably impressed, with Demi sighing, "Those riffs are crazy. That was a pretty sexy song!" Simon, who remembered James, thought "the song choice was brilliant." James may soon face stiff competition up against last week's Jeff Gutt, another handsome thirtysomething dad and repeat auditioner. But I do think there's room for both of them in the Over 25's…or even in the finale.
Tim Olstad – This sweet, shy waiter was so nervous, just a nice boy accompanied to the auditions by his nice parents. And Demi probably only rattled him more when she grilled him, demanding to know something scandalous about his past; when Tim couldn't come up with anything juicy, she sighed loudly and murmured that she found him "boring." Poor dude. His hand was visibly trembling as he lifted his mic to sing Christina Perri's "A Thousand Years." It's a good thing that Simon wasn't around for Tim's audition (judges kept randomly, strangely disappearing all night), because Tim probably would have passed out. However, once this performance began, none of the present judges were bored anymore. Tim had a great natural voice, warm and inviting, a voice that would be perfect for country music. The ladies were instantly won over. Paulina called him a "teddy bear." "I feel like your voice came over me like a blanket of love," said Kelly. "I got the chills, and I don't get that very often," said Demi. (Side note: This is totally untrue. Demi gets chills so frequently, if I took a drinking-game gulp every time she said so, my liver would be positively pickled by now.) Demi also said, "You don't have to be edgy; you are so cute the way that you are!" I think America will love this unabashedly un-edgy guy.
Wesley Mountain – Wesley crushed HARD on Kelly, so much so that I wondered if she was going to call security when he walked up to the judges' table, panting and sweating and giggling, eyes bugging and jaw slack, to kiss her hand. For a moment there, he seemed a little, well, scary. "That was way intense. He just held my hand, and my heart is going crazy!" exclaimed Kelly. But Wesley's audition of Hunter Hayes's "Wanted" was "actually very good," as Simon put it. "At first I thought you were so creepy, but you have a really good voice, so you went from being, like, creepy to cute," admitted Demi. Kelly might need to get a restraining order later on, but right now, Wesley seems harmless enough.
Lorie Moore – Lorie is a professional football player, which means she's used to kicking ass. And that's just what she did on "The X Factor," taking on the titanic Whitney ballad "I Have Nothing." Her performance wasn't perfect, but it was damn close, and she seemed like a real diva in the making. "You opened your mouth not to sing, but to sang, S-A-N-G," said Kelly. "It was more than an audition. It was a performance," said Simon. Sorry for the bad sports pun, but this footballer scored a touchdown tonight.
There were other singers whose auditions were only shown in passing — another football player named Isaac Tauffea, a cute redheaded tween named Chase Goehring who sang an original song, no fewer than FOUR people who covered "I'm Goin' Down," and a gaggle of potential pop starlets (Celine Polenghi, Bree Randall, Primrose Martin, and Summer Reign, the latter of whom I saw personally at the Los Angeles audition tapings and recall being much better than her tiny TV snippet indicated).
Will they ever get more screentime? That's doubtful; after Thursday's auditions, "The X Factor" will turn into a Roman-coliseum-style bloodbath, with 200-plus contestants instantly whittled down to 40, and then those surviving 40 will compete in a new sudden-death "Four-Chair Challenge." Yikes.
Tune in Thursday to see it all go down. Now please excuse me while I go stick a knitting needle in my ear and try to dislodge "Ask Me to Dance" from my brain…