The X Factor Recap: Unplugging Away
This just in (my brain only): Simon Cowell was so happy with the results of The X Factor‘s Pepsi Challenge — during which viewers weighed in on contestants’ songs, hairstyles, wardrobe and staging — that he wants to extend the intiative for the rest of Season 2. The first of next week’s viewer polls will read as follows:
What change would you like to see behind the judges’ table?
A. Simon buttons his damn shirt already.
B. Britney without tranquilizers!
C. Demi Lovato eyebrow topiary.
D. Paula Abdul’s back…and this time, it’s personal!
E. L.A. Reid chair-dancing exhibition.
F. A seat for Mario Lopez, so he can offer insights like “America chose Diamond [White] in a diamond, which is very clever, by the way.”
That dude is Rated I…for I Cahhhhhhn’t! But hey, at least this week’s performances were — on the whole — significantly more enjoyable/tuneful than what we endured for Top 8 night. Let’s get to the grades, shall we?
CeCe Frey: Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory” | “She’s relevant, she’s beautiful, she’s a sweet girl,” said Demi, introducing her last remaining act in the competition. And while you could say it’s telling that Demi never actually commented on CeCe’s singing ability, I’d argue she was using “relevant” as code for, “half the people on the Billboard Hot 100 can’t sing in tune, so do you really give a crap if CeCe can’t either?” The good news for the leopard-faced postal worker is that she had a better grasp on pitch than she did the last five weeks — and actually nailed the big belty notes on “the edge, the edge, the edge.” The not so good news? CeCe is always a hair or ten under the note whenever she doesn’t have her personal volume cranked up to 10. “It was one of your best vocal performances,” said Demi, but, again, that’s not saying much. A yak getting its hooves trimmed would’ve sounded better than CeCe’s “Wind Beneath My Wings” from Top 10 night. Grade: B-
Emblem3: Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” | Maybe instead of going skateboarding, Emblem3 shoud’ve stayed at home and worked on their vocals. Of course, that would’ve meant the blonde one wouldn’t have an excuse to rip off his shirt in front of the X Factor camera crew. Priorities, people! Anyway, we were promised instruments and originality, and instead we got Blondie limply holding his guitar for half the performance and singing in a vaguely British-esque accent that may have been an homage to Green Day but landed closer to Britney Spears’ new mess with Will.i.Am. (He really should stick to “rap” or “sing-speaking,” yes?) The other two kids were marginally better, but the bottom line is that given the choice, anyone with functioning ears would choose Bruno Mars’ original 100 times out of 100. Simon whined that Demi was being “incredibly dumb” with her critiques, but I thought her description of the boy band as “a downgraded version of the Jonas Brothers from five years ago” was one of the night’s most astute bits of feedback. Grade: C
Carly Rose Sonenclar: Justin Bieber’s “As Long as You Love Me” | I’ve been critical all season of Carly Rose’s ability to truly connect with material, to stir the soul as well as the brain, but maybe the real problem has been with the song choices, not the singer. Freed from the confines of Adult Diva Ballads, 13-year-old front-runner cooked up a brilliant rendition of Justin Bieber’s much whinier original, somehow managing to catch a genuine groove despite things being stripped back to a heartbeat-like drum and acoustic guitar. The refrain — “We could be starving, we could be homeless, we could be broke/ As long as you love me” — could just as easily be sung to a parent or a relative as it could a middle-school crush, but no matter where Carly Rose drew her inspiration, I actually Beliebed, er believed the kid. Grade: A
Fifth Harmony: Adele’s “Set Fire to the Rain” | I’m not sure L.A.’s had a genuine moment on The X Factor since Season 1, but tonight he had me howling when he suggested Simon Cowell’s girl group change its name to Fifth Unison. Seriously, if these chicas want to take home the $5 million prize — and I actually think they’d be a viable, radio-ready choice — they have to do more than take turns singing the melody while the other four gals quietly provide backing “oooohs.” Maybe Sister C could come mentor them next week? Or maybe they could Google the definition of harmony: “The combination of simultaneously sounded musical notes to produce chords and chord progressions with a pleasing effect.” That kvetching aside, there’s no denying Fifth Harmony’s individual members have scads of talent, and when Demi remarked that a couple members of the group really should’ve been solo artists, I wondered if she was secretly daydreaming about swapping out CeCe for Lauren or Dinah Jane. Grade: B