"The X Factor" headed to Britney Spears's homeland, the beautiful South, on Thursday night. And while only three Greensboro, North Carolina contestants actually made it through during the hour-long episode, they all laid the Southern charm on thick--as thick as the grits Simon Cowell was forced by "X Factor" producers to eat in the episode's opening scenes, or as thick as that terrible Southern "Hee Haw" accent Simon kept using during the auditions. The word "y'all" certainly sounded more natural coming out of Britney's mouth than Simon's.
Actually, the show started off with one contestant whose voice definitely seemed an unnatural fit for his appearance--and his audition was one of the biggest (pleasant) surprises of Season 2 so far. Shreveport 17-year-old Willie Jones hit the stage looking like Kid from Kid 'N Play (well, Demi Lovato said Willie looked like the Fresh Prince, which was also applicable)...but when he opened his mouth, he sounded more like "American Idol's" Scotty McCreery! The guy started singing Scotty's old audition tune, Josh Turner's "Your Man" (aka the "babylockthemdoors" song), and probably the only person who was more shocked than me was Simon, whose eyes popped out of his head like an old Warner Bros. cartoon. Simon has seen a lot in his lifetime, but he'd never seen nothin' like this. "This is why we came to Greensboro: I prayed we'd find somebody like you," said Simon. (Really? He came to Greensboro hoping to find a guy who looks like a '90s rapper and sounds like Garth Brooks? Okay, then...) "You are an absolute original!" declared L.A. Reid. "You're such a rock star already!" raved Demi. Well, I don't know about rock star, but Willie could become a country star. He just might be the new Fresh Prince of Nashville.
But speaking of rock stars, then there was 18-year-old Julia Bullock, who with her winged eyeliner and asymmetrical platinum hairdo looked like a negative image of "The Voice's" Lindsay Pavao. Julia had some juicy behind-the-scenes drama going on, which I am sure "The X Factor's" producers, who once worked on MTV's "The Hills," really relished. Julia was (key word: was) the lead singer of a rock band, the lineup of which featured an ex-boyfriend who was clearly still hung up on her. But Julia broke up with him, and now a breakup of her band seemed imminent, since she intended to go solo if her "X Factor" audition was successful. And the moment Julia began rocking out to "Pumped Up Kicks," her future ex-bandmates, watching her from the wings with arms crossed and brows furrowed, knew they were doomed--because Julia was great. "Hello solo career, goodbye band!" Simon declared. "I think you are really, really good. I like your image, your taste...you're one of my favorites." Said Britney, "There's a marketplace wide open for you." Said L.A., "You're exactly what I've been looking for." Wow, could a rock chick actually win a show like this, finally? I'm not sure about that just yet, but it's obviously time for her old band to put a "Singer Wanted" ad up on the Greensboro Craigslist site. Julia doesn't need those dudes.
Up next was another strong contender, 36-year-old single-dad-with-a-dream Jeffrey Gutt, who had everything going for him as far as shows like this are concerned. Handsome rocker-dude looks? Check. Relatable backstory? Check. Adorable 4-year-old son? Check. Fantastic voice? CHECK! But then he sang...Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Really? He couldn't have gotten another song cleared? Ugh. I'd be happy if I never heard this song sung on any reality show ever, ever again. But anyway, if I had to hear it one more time, I am glad it was Jeffrey doing it, because his performance was spectacular. "You have this amazing grit that changed the song completely; I never heard it sang like that. God's even rocking out right now," said Demi (who also called Jeffrey the "Josh Groban of rock 'n' roll" and apparently meant this as a compliment). "You nailed it. You knocked it out of the park. I am a fan!" said L.A. "Your voice was really soothing. I loved it!" said Britney. "I've heard that song a lot," said Simon in the understatement of the century, "and I've sat in this chair a long time, and that's one of the most brilliant auditions I've heard." Now I can't wait to hear Jeffrey sing something a little less obvious and overdone.
Towards the end of the episode, it looked like another contestant, 21-year-old hairdresser Krysten Colon, would be the fourth and final singer to make it through. Krysten appeared earlier in the episode, doing a decent but shaky rendition of Adele's "Don't You Remember"...and in what seemed to be a typically clichéd reality-show plot twist, in which an underdog contestant would be given a reprieve, Simon told her, "It's a shame that we had the Adele song, because it's very soundalike. I kind feel like we're not hearing the real you." Simon then sent Krysten off to get her nerves in check, prepare a more suitable song, and return for a second audition at the day's end.
But Krysten chose even more unwisely this time, when she went with Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing" (a song that actually ruined "Voice" contestant Trevanne Howell's chances just this week). Krysten's second-chance performance was NOT good, and it was a bad omen when, in the middle of the song, thunder and lightning rattled loudly outside. (God may have been rocking to Jeffrey, but now it seemed like God was weeping over Krysten.) "I was about to blow it!" admitted Krysten, when the rain interrupted her. "Sweetheart, you already blew it," L.A. informed her. Krysten then threw a fit and ran off into the rainy night. Lightning did not strike for this girl, except in the most literal sense.
Will figurative lightning strike for "The X Factor" during the next audition rounds? Come back next Wednesday to find out!
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- Wednesday's full "X Factor" recap