This Thursday, "The X Factor" Season 2 moved on to the Battle Rounds. Um, I mean, to Boot Camp. It's easy to understand why I used the wrong term there, though, since Thursday's "X Factor" episode pretty much ripped off rival series "The Voice's" Battle Rounds phase, pitting contestants against each other in singoffs as a method of whittling down the remaining 60 hopefuls. Okay, sure, there were some differences. The "X Factor" contestants weren't performing in a giant neon boxing ring, for instance. And each duo also got to (jointly) choose their battle song; they sang a cappella in an empty theater; and there was a chance for both (or neither) of them to advance to the next round.
But still. It was all kind of "Voice"-y. Come on, Simon Cowell. You can be more original than this. Seriously.
Well, putting any concerns about copycattiness aside, when it came to the Boot Camp singoffs this Thursday, there was plenty of the kind of drama that only a considerably less feelgood (read: not "Voice"-y) show like "The X Factor" could provide. Many of the real battles went on either backstage between the reluctantly paired-up contestants; between the contestants and their short-term memories, as at least half of them failed to remember their lyrics; or between the contestants' own inner demons, as they struggled to survive the show's most brutal round yet. What the episode really needed was some Panda Ross to liven and lighten things up, but sadly, she was still M.I.A. Where did Panda go?
Anyhoo, here's how "The X Factor's" Panda-free Battle Rounds--er, I mean singoffs--went down on Thursday:
Tara Simon vs. Jennel Garcia
Jennel, one of my favorites of this entire competition, has always exhibited so much fire onstage, but big meanie Tara just snuffed that fire right out. Tara insisted, inflexibly, that they sing Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide"--despite too-sweet Jennel's feeble protests that she wanted to do something more rockin' and uptempo--and of course Tara got her way. ("Um, no, we're set on this song," barked Tara.) When the two girls finally sang the song that only Tara wanted to sing, Jennel actually did better, since she understood that the sad ballad needed a little subtlety and restraint--unlike Tara, who as usual semi-shouted her way through the performance with about as little modulation as Will Ferrell's "SNL" character Jacob Silj. But neither Jennel nor Tara were at their best during their singoff, and when they were done, Simon grumbled, "I don't know why you chose this song." I wish Tara had been willing to own up to her mistake, but of course she didn't. Now, hopefully it won't be Jennel who pays the price. And hopefully Jennel, a barely-18 innocent lass who just left home, learned a valuable lesson here about sticking up for herself.
Beatrice Miller vs. Carly Rose Sonenclar
These little 13-year-olds showed a lot more maturity than 27-year-old Tara, as they seemed to get along just fine and they easily agreed to sing Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks," an interesting choice. Both girls were fantastic, but while Carly belted the tune out with a bit more force, there was something about Beatrice's warm, gorgeous voice that I gravitated towards more. She sort of reminded me of "The Voice's" Xenia, actually. However, that being said, I think both Beatrice and Carly proved that they very much deserve to advance to the next round.
Vino Alan vs. David Correy
Despite their 14-year age difference, tattooed rebels Vino and David shared a similar gruff, rugged vibe, and they therefore seemed like a perfect match for a singoff of Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On." But it sure was interesting how this battle panned out. David came out all cocky, ready to mop the stage with Vino, but really, his performance was a little wishy-washy. Meanwhile, Vino was stronger, but for some odd reason he was completely convinced that he'd screwed up, so much so that he threw his hat to the floor in self-disgust, then stormed outside and nearly punched a wall. I think Vino did enough vocally to prove he deserves to be on this show, but I'm worried that his little temper tantrum may have scared off the judges. Even though Britney Spears did say that she appreciated Vino's "rawness," she looked especially spooked by him.
Dinah Jane Hansen vs. Diamond White
Dinah is two years older than 13-year-old Diamond, but she seemed bizarrely intimidated by her pint-size competitor. As the two girls squared off on a slowed-to-a-crawl version of Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger," Dinah wasn't nearly as strong as she could have been. Her voice was lovely, but she flubbed a few words and appeared shaken throughout her performance. Diamond, meanwhile, somewhat redeemed herself after her disappointing "I Have Nothing" Boot Camp attempt on Wednesday night. If only one of these girls survives after this, it'll probably be Diamond, but I think Dinah ultimately did enough to squeak through as well.
Sister C vs. Lauren Jauregui
Family country trio Sister C had some nice harmonies going on, but Britney didn't agree: "I think Sister C's annoying!" she blurted out, in a rare moment of uncharacteristically (and amusingly) unscripted candor. I wasn't annoyed at all by Sister C, but I do have to say, all three of their voices were still no match for singular teenage sensation Lauren. That girl was just amazing.
Brandon Hassan vs. Reed Deming
Two little boys with Bieber hair and, sadly, Bieber voices, these kids were nothing special. And OneRepublic's "Secrets" was not a good song choice for them. L.A. Reid, the man who signed Justin Bieber, seemed into this, but I just didn't get it. There was no real winner of this battle, only two losers: my ears.
Julia Bullock vs. Ally Brooke
Former rock band frontwoman Julia was one of my favorite singers of the entire audition rounds, and I dug her singoff performance of "Knockin' On Heaven's Door"--but even I had to admit that her sparring partner, Ally, sang it better. "Somebody won, and somebody lost," L.A. announced. I am pretty sure L.A. thought Ally was the winner, but I hope that doesn't mean all hope is now lost for Julia. However, if so, Julia better call up her ex-boyfriend and see if she can rejoin his band.
Jeffrey Gutt vs. ????
Wow, you know you're fodder on a singing show when producers can't even bother to caption your last name during your singoff segment. That's exactly what happened to Jeffrey's opponent--I literally still don't know what the guy's name is. It's an "X Factor" mystery for the ages. So this singoff seemed set up to be all about Jeffrey--the frontrunning single dad who first auditioned with "Hallelujah"--but Simon seemed underwhelmed by Jeffrey, for some reason. "I think he's had his moment," Simon shrugged, after Jeffrey sang his half of "If I Die Young." I disagreed, and I hope this was not the end for Jeffrey on this show. I want more "moments" from him.
Tate Stevens vs. Willie Jones
Tate, 37, and Willie, 17, both sing country music, which I suppose is why they got paired up here--but that is where their similarities end, obviously. And this singoff definitely highlighted their differences, especially when it came to experience. Traditional country crooner Tate knew Kevin Sharp's "Nobody Knows" so well, it seemed like he'd written it, and he sang it flawlessly, like a pro. Willie, on the other hand, completely faltered, forgetting the words almost immediately (despite the fact that L.A. tried to help him) and struggling to hold back frustrated tears. Later, Willie admitted that he didn't know the song before coming to Boot Camp, and that Tate had convinced him to do it. "Tate hustled him," chuckled L.A. Hopefully Tate didn't hustle Willie right off the show, because (unlike Britney) I do really like the kid.
Arin Ray vs. Normani Hamilton
There wasn't really any "vs." about this singoff, one of only two coed pairings of the night, because these two were totally in sync--their performance almost seemed like a love duet. Sure, this was probably all just a manufactured showmance, but whatever chemistry they did share translated to the stage during their cute rendition of "What Makes You Beautiful," and everything worked. I am already guessing that one of them will be eliminated just to create some TV drama and a tearful onscreen goodbye, but after this, I'm still not sure which one it'll be. Both of these kids were really stellar. Hey, maybe Simon can make them be a manufactured duo, and stick them in the Groups category! Arin's been in that category before, as a member of Season 1's long-forgotten InTENsity, but I think with Normani by his side, he'd go a lot further this time.
Latasha Robinson vs. Jillian Jensen
This was a weird one. Back during the auditions, teenage bully magnet Jillian was an emotional wreck, blubbering throughout her raw performance. So I'd expected she might be the one contestant who'd crumble under the pressure of Boot Camp. Meanwhile, this Thursday, 27-year-old Latasha hit the stage bursting with confidence, announcing in the third person, "I'm here to focus on Latasha," and assuring the judges that she would easily take Jillian in this fight. So it was utterly shocking when, only a few lines into her rendition of Sugarland's "Stay," Latasha choked. She forgot the words, all of her swagger vanished, and she started sobbing, unable to even finish her turn. Conversely, Jillian "stayed strong" and capably completed the song on her own--and ironically, since she didn't cry at all this time, she sounded even better than she had at her memorable first audition. "That was horrible," L.A. said afterwards, but it was clear that he was only referring to Latasha. Jillian was great.
Freddie Combs vs. Jessie Bryant
I am not even sure what song these two were singing--I think it was James Taylor's "Up On The Roof"--because within about three seconds, they'd both forgotten all the words. More screentime was devoted to their post-performance self-flagellation than to their actual performance itself. "Simon looked at me like he was disgusted!" howled a sobbing Jessie. I think this may have been the last we'll see of both these men.
Nick Youngerman vs. ONE4FIVE
Dang. They both messed up their words too. It's a good thing these contestants weren't competing on "Don't Forget The Lyrics." They wouldn't have even made it to the first commercial break.
Jason Brock vs. Briana Wright
Once again, I was deprived of a Brock fix, since maybe four seconds of this "Titanium" singoff was shown. From what I could hear, Jason won this battle. He better have. I need to see more of him. Why must Fox keep denying me my Jason and Panda???
Paige Thomas vs. CeCe Frey
Ooh boy, here we go again. I knew the producers would do this! After Paige and CeCe were forced to face off Wednesday night in a "who sang it best?" test because they happened to choose the same Whitney Houston song, on Thursday they were pitted against each other again, this time officially, just to create more drama. As was the case with Tara and Jennel, once again a girl with a strong personality (CeCe) steamrolled over the nice girl (Paige) and insisted on a song choice (OneRepublic's "Secrets," again) that didn't suit them equally. Both girls hit the stage declaring their unwavering ambition ("I don't fit in anywhere else except under the spotlight," said Paige; "I want this as much as I want to breathe," said CeCe), but it was Paige whose confidence quickly faded: CeCe unsurprisingly took total ownership of the song and the stage, while Paige was the umpteenth contestant of the night to forget the words and nearly break down. Paige seemed like such a frontrunner at the start of this season, but after two disappointing performances at Boot Camp this week, I now wonder if she'll make it to the Judges' Houses at all. I'm sure if she does, though, the producers will force her to be roommates with CeCe. And more manufactured drama will ensue...
So there you have it. Next week, we'll find out which 24 of these remaining 60 contestants will head to those Judges' Houses, where they will spend some quality time poolside with guest mentors Marc Anthony, Nick Jonas, ubiquitous talent-show fixture will.i.am (who I'm convinced just hangs out on reality television sets until someone offers him a job), and Justin Bieber himself--and where, probably, many of the top 24 will forget some more lyrics. And if Simon keeps up all this "Voice"-mimicking, maybe we'll see some spinning red chairs, a Persian cat sitting on L.A. Reid's lap, a pink parakeet perched on Demi Lovato's shoulder, or Christina Milian just hanging out for no reason. See you then.
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