The X Factor Recap: Motown Operandi
Like that expensive cheese in your fridge that unexpectedly presents with a patch of furry blue mold, The X Factor is the reality competition that asks the eternal question: To toss the whole package into the trash compactor with a satisfying whirr — or to press the CTRL+SCRAPE+EAT button.
Tonight’s Season 3 Top 13 performance night spent two hours framing said debate: There was the awfulness we’ve come to expect from Fox’s “other” singing competition: Mario Lopez’s automatonic hosting style; the overblown production — including a premature Gospel chorus! — for selected “chosen” contestants; seizure-inducing lighting; Paulina Rubio’s comic ineptitude. And on top of it all, a new and utterly predictable pattern that any negative criticism from mentors Kelly Rowland and Demi Lovato must be followed up by some variation on Simon Cowell declaring, “I have to be honest…I lllloved it!”
But in the midst of the myriad, mind-numbing ridiculata, The X Factor still somehow manages — perhaps with an undercurrent of evil genius, but more likely by total accident — to expose us to a handful of acts who leave you thinking, “Y’know, I might actually enjoy hearing this in the real world!”
I know, I know…”the real world” isn’t necessarily a protective bubble reserved for the steadfast and the talented — oh, hi there, Ke$ha, how’d you get in here again?! — but nevertheless, The X Factor’s flirtation with commercial gold makes it an oddly intriguing exercise. (Be honest: Part of you is kinda hoping Fifth Harmony, the steely-eyed girl quintet from Season 2, conquers the world — as long as it doesn’t end in a Spice World-esque feature film.)
But enough of my internal monologue, let me assign letter grades for tonight’s performances:
Josh Levi: Jackson 5′s “Who’s Lovin’ You” — Grade: B- | Yeah, this was a vast improvement on whatever he sang last week that I’ve already forgotten about. Nevertheless, was there anything truly fresh or passionate about this performance to warrant Simon’s annual “zero to hero” critique? Which is my polite way of asking, why didn’t the show’s producers bring back James Kenney or Lyric 145 (whoops! wrong season!) instead of salvaging an act from what’s widely perceived as the weakest category in Season 3.
Rachel Potter: The Isley Brothers’ “This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)” — Grade: B- | You’ve got to give points to Rachel (and mentor Kelly) for attempting to countrify a boppy soul-pop jam that wears its ’60s origins as proudly as Simon displays his chest hair. Despite Rachel’s solid pitch and easy stage presence, though, there was something not entirely authentic about the number, like it came from Country: The Musical! instead of country: the genre. Next week — provided she’s still around — Rachel won’t be able to afford another at-arm’s-length performance; a deeper emotional connection is her only hope.
Carlos Guevara: Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” — Grade: D | Maybe Carlos got thrown by mentor Paulina announcing he was from “Lexinton, South California,” when, in fact, he’s from South Carolina. Whatever the case, the likable teen was barely audible in certain parts of the opening verse, then proceeded to make me wish he’d keep backing off the mic by going flat for most of the chorus. Worst of all, as Simon pointed out, was a lazy arrangement that sounded like Paulina ordered it up off a discount karaoke machine. And just like that, the most promising member of the Boys Team started looking like a potential early evictee.