During the third audition episode of "The X Factor" Season 3, Miley Cyrus's pseudo-inspirational "The Climb" kept playing on a loop, reminding viewers of a more innocent time when she sang power ballads about the triumph of the spirit instead of straddling wrecking balls and sticking foam fingers where they don't belong. So yeah, that was distracting.
But it wasn't enough to distract from all the great contestants on Wednesday night. From soulchildren Josh Levi and Timmy Thames to returning thirtysomething auditioner Jeffrey Gutt, the episode was PACKED with talent. These singers came in like a wrecking ball, indeed.
Here are the contestants who made it through Wednesday night. Read and watch carefully, because I think some of them will be Season 3's most valuable players:
Josh Levi – This charismatic 14-year-old could be one of the breakout stars of "The X Factor" this year. His radical remake of "Come and Get It" by Demi Lovato's old Disney pal Selena Gomez ripped a real page of out the singing-show playbook, because he did what the best contestants always do: He turned the song inside-out and upside-down. His performance was original, it was charming, it had swag, and his vocals were stellar. It was obvious that the audience adored him. And so did Demi, who responded quite positively to his flirting, blushing and telling him, "That was AMAZING. When you started singing to me, I was not prepared for that. That was adorable." Said Kelly Rowland, "You. Are. A. Star. Hands down. There's nobody like you." Simon looked intrigued and deep in thought throughout Josh's audition, but finally said, "You turned ['Come and Get It'] into a great version that suited you. I think we could be looking at a future little star here." This kid is definitely one to watch.
AKNU – Although I thought the vocals of this brotherly trio's lead singer were slightly weak, he and his siblings more than compensated for that with their killer performance of "Valerie." (It was the Amy Winehouse version, of course. Side note: Does anyone even know that the Zutons first recorded this song?) The brothers described themselves as "throwback but not old-fashioned," and I loved their Motown vibe and high energy. I was wondering if there'd be a place for a group like them in the current pop market…but then they started dancing up a storm, and I wondered no more. This was an immensely entertaining audition. The crowd went nuts for their fancy footwork, and I could imagine an AKNU concert being a super fun night out. "You guys are so refreshing! You make everybody want to dance," raved Kelly. "There's something really special about you guys. I've got the chills," said Demi. (Side note: Demi always gets the chills. Someone fetch this girl a sweater!) Said Simon, "It's like watching Motown all over again. Normally that's the part I hate, but I think that you might be on the forefront of something new here…I thought the dancing worked incredibly well. I could watch this whole audition all over again; I liked it that much." I hope we'll be seeing these guys all over again on "The X Factor," very soon.
Brandie Love – This 21-year-old country crooner showed potential during her cover of Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain," but her performance lacked personality; she was rather wooden, with a certain blankness to her eyes. Only towards the end did Brandie (whose boyfriend is in the armed forces) seem to truly feel the song, and that is when her tears started flowing. There was definitely something there; she just might not be ready for prime time yet. The judges, however, all seemed to think she was ready, giving her four fat yeses. "You've got the X factor, honey," purred Paulina Rubio (who was absent for the first few auditions and, frankly, wasn't all that missed). "You took us to church…I predict great things for Brandie Love," said Simon. "What's so beautiful is watching you get lost in the song. We are so blessed to see you today," said Kelly. And Demi, who loved Brandie's mix of country and soul, told her, "I'm from Texas, and you just took me home." Perhaps Brandie is simply inexperienced, and with the right coach, more of her raw emotion could be coaxed out.
Carlos Guevara – The teen boys are totally raising the bar this season. Along with Josh and Timmy Thames (more on Timmy later), Carlos was a standout this Wednesday. A Tourette's sufferer who finds comfort and salvation in music, Carlos completely nailed "Gravity" by John Mayer. His performance was nuanced, heartfelt, soulful, and just really engaging. His voice and warm personality and obvious sincerity drew everyone in. And when he realized how much the audience was vibing on him and he whispered to himself, "This is amazing!"…well, that was such a sweet, natural moment. This is the kind of boy America will root for. "I don't know you, but I feel really proud of you," gushed Paulina. "You have a beautiful voice, and I can tell that you have a beautiful soul," said Demi. "It was just so magical. I'm just so grateful that I'm here to witness this," said Kelly. And Simon summed it all up with: "What I like about you is you're not a victim. You haven't let [Tourette's] stop you from what you dream of doing. And forget all that — you've got a great voice!" Simon was right. Carlos doesn't need any sob story to go far on this show.
Millie Thrasher – This 14-year-old's briefly shown cover of Katy Perry's "Wide Awake" didn't impress me much (I found her a bit whiny), but Simon said he saw "huge potential" in this girl. Maybe he saw something that overzealous Fox editors left on the cutting-room floor.
Timmy Thames – I am still trying to figure out why those Fox editors didn't show all of Timmy's audition. I witnessed this 13-year-old sing in person when I attended the L.A. audition tapings a few months ago, and I can tell you, he was a little Michael Jackson reincarnate, something very special. I still remember him so vividly from that day. Simon even said, "I always know when I'm in front of a star." This kid is just adorable, and likable, and he really can sang. His entire performance should have aired, but hopefully we'll get to see more of Timmy soon.
Yellow House Canyon – These are regular cornfed country gals next door, and I have a feeling America will fall in love with them. Not much of their audition was shown either, but they had spunk and sass; "I think you’ve got a great spirit," said Simon. With a little more screentime, they could be contenders.
Malie Delgado – I wish they'd shown more of this girl, too. This 18-year-old Alaskan's powerhouse performance of Kelly Clarkson's "Because of You" was compelling, and she had a certain hunger that could take her far. (Simon always loves the hungry ones, the ones with "steel in their eyes.") Paulina said she saw "something really special" in Malie. I would have liked to have seen more of that something special…but basically, I agreed with Paulina.
Colton Pack – I didn't think this guy was particularly special, but I have a feeling that America will eat him up. He sang Jason Aldean's "Hick Town," and it really was art imitating life: Colton actually is from a hick town, and he brought practically everyone from his speck-on-the-map hometown to his audition via a chartered bus. Cute backstory, there…but I found his audition very generic. I don't know why the judges were so keen on him. "It was pitchy at times, but there were moments when I thought you were very interesting," said Demi. "I think there's a market for someone like you, and we can help with your vocals," said an unusually forgiving Simon. Paulina just growled sexily at Colton like a literal and figurative cougar. Yikes! That probably scared poor sheltered Colton, but he better get used to big bad city women like Paulina, because for better or worse, he made it through.
Danie Geimer – Yay! My token Quirky Girl of the season has arrived. I adored this 15-year-old nerd. She came to the show with some cool glasses, a fondness for books, an endearing awkwardness straight out of a John Hughes flick, and a surprisingly strong cover of "House of the Rising Sun." Kelly seemed most surprised of all: Clearly she hadn't expected much from Danie, but Kelly's very GIFable expression quickly morphed from a skeptical scowl to a bug-eyed O-face as Danie gorgeously growled the bluesy tune, oozing with raw talent. Simon wasn't there to see this audition, for some reason (what was it with all the M.I.A. judges this evening?), but hopefully he watched the tape later. "I will totally tell Simon he missed out," Demi assured Danie. "Miss Thang, you are IT!" exclaimed a completely converted Kelly. Then the judges asked Danie to remove her hat, at which point Danie revealed that she's actually a naturally beautiful young lady. I could already see her shaping up to be this season's Cinderella makeover story. I just hope the show doesn't make her over TOO much. Danie needs to stay a little nerdy. It suits her.
Jeffrey Gutt – Jeffrey was one of last year's most robbed "X Factor" contestants. His Season 2 audition of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" was jaw-dropping (despite the fact that that song should be blacklisted from all singing shows), but then he was inexplicably cut in Boot Camp. Twitterverse outrage ensued. I always thought this handsome single-dad rocker could've won the whole show if producers had kept him in the game, so I was pleased to see him return this Wednesday — as were, I'm sure, many other disgruntled "X Factor" viewers with good long-term memories. At first I was worried that Jeff's second "X Factor" attempt might also end in tears, when Simon dismissed Jeff's cover of Aerosmith's "I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing" as a second-rate Steven Tyler impersonation. But then Jeff did Radiohead's "Creep," and it was so f---ing special, as Thom Yorke might say. I loved his rock 'n' roll theatricality, which sort of reminded me of bold frontmen like Matt Bellamy and Billy Corgan (not that those two singers sound anything alike; I'm referring to the passion behind Jeff's performance). Demi was giving Jeff a standing ovation before he was even done singing, then later told him, "I believe timing is everything. You weren't supposed to be here last year; you're supposed to be here now." (Actually, I do think he was supposed to be there last year, but whatever.) Paulina shouted, "Holy moly boly doly!" (Was that Spanish?) Simon pointed out some "bad habits" Jeff has picked up from years of gigging, but then said, "When you hit the high parts at the end, it was sensational. This is why we don't have an age limit. I am honored to have you back on the show." This could be Jeffrey's year; when his adorable son wandered onstage, it pretty much sealed the deal. (Side note: Anyone else think it was weird/funny when Simon kept claiming that Jeffrey Jr. was his own son? Clearly this audition was taped before Lauren Silverman gave Simon some big news.)
So Wednesday definitely upped the ante, talent-wise: Josh, AKNU, Carlos, Timmy, Danie, and Jeffrey all impressed. Will Thursday's show be as exciting? Let's hope so. See you then.