Overall, I enjoyed it even though it was more entertaining in terms of production than actual singing. There was humor and pathos and joy. That’s what makes a good TV show. If you were expecting to watch for the next Kelly Clarkson, I doubt you saw it.
As a judge, Britney Spears is not the disaster you might think. Demi Lovato so far seems to be a non entity but very very sweet. The judge’s panel chemistry seems better than last year (though that’s not saying much.)
Simon Cowell chose the hot group he created on the U.K. “X Factor” to introduce the new season of the U.S. “X Factor;” One Direction. Smart move. Though season 1 $5 million winner Melanie Amaro has yet to release an album (and has only an oddly overly Auto-Tuned single available), Cowell then features three stars from his homeland “X Factor.” Besides One Direction, he has Cher Lloyd and Leona Lewis under his belt.
The intro tells us about the new judges Demi Lovato and Britney Spears long before any season one contestant was featured. Rachel Crow who? Astro what? It’s about the judges, right? Oh, wait, there are singers, too.
The show is interestingly going without a host during the auditions. You only hear the voices of people involved. I would say this is a challenge for the editors but definitely a different way to approach things. Having a narrator/host is much easier. The contestants have to tell their own story minus the host. Stylistically, it’s intriguing.
What’s slightly annoying is that it takes 14 minutes before we hear a single singer. First up in Austin: Paige Thomas tries to channel Mary J. Blige (I’m Goin’ Down”). I can’t say her look is terribly distinctive. I’m not that impressed with her voice either. It strikes me as a bit thin and lacking control. But the judges and audience (standing o!) are mesmerized.
‘You’re so bright and confident on stage. You’re flawless,” Britney says in her first critique. “You’re a star,” L.A. Reid burbles, comparing her to Rihanna. (What?) “Your stage presence is absolutely amazing,” Demi Lovato says.”You’ve got a good pop sound,” Simon says. And she has a cute three year old daughter to boot.
Interestingly, there was nocomment on her rather so-so vocals. But Rihanna is hardly a great vocalist either. They think of her in package terms: personality, looks, stage abilities. This is very much the “X Factor” trademark at this point. Pop, pop, pop.
Here’s a quick review of the next contestants:
- Shawn Armento, 50, baggage handler. He claims a lot of vocal and dance training. He sings an original song “Candy Girl,” not to be mistaken for the New Edition song. It’s a train wreck. The guy looks like he just stepped out a local neighborhood bar and attempts to, um, sing. Britney looks like she’s just seen someone pee on themselves. “You’re like a mouse trying to be an elephant,” Simon said. “It’s just wrong.” When Demi takes him to task and say she shouldn’t be up there, Shawn gets all child-like petulant, saying that she uses Auto Tune and he doesn’t. So nah nah nah nah nah. Britney says she’s “uncomfortable” with this creepazoid on the stage and wonders why he’s even up there. (So the judges could insult him! That’s how “Idol” worked, right?”)
- Then we show Britney’s “bad” side by watching her reject bad singers: To Chad Mosby: “You need to practice a little bit more.” Amy Gibson: “I thought it was kind of bad.” Josh McCoy: “It wasn’t very nice.” Will Thomas: “You need a new teacher to teach you to sing.” Then a bunch of slightly more original one-liners: “I felt like you were Alvin in the Chipmunks.” “I think you’re like Vanilla Ice meets Lauryn Hill meets West Side Story.” ‘The song was in the wrong key.” “You’re really off key.” I don’t think you have the ‘Wow’ factor. I think you’re confused with your direction.”
“And everyone thinks I’m the mean one,” Simon says.
Clearly, we won’t really know how ‘witty” and “mean” Britney can be until we see the live show. This was what we learned about Steven Tyler. His bag of tricks was pretty darn small after all.
- Reed Deming. He’s a Justin Bieber-ish 13 year old. He tries “It Will Rain” by Bruno Mars. He’s too nervous and Simon asks him to sing another song. He tries another Bruno song “Grenade” and is a bit better. “You’ve got steel in your eyes,” Simon says. “I want better vocals from you.” (I agree.) “You remind me so much of this other little kid,” L.A. Reid says. “Who?” “I don’t want to fall in that Bieber stereotype,” Reed says. He has personality and that’s what matters here. “Too cute,” Demi says. He goes through anyway.
After the commercial break, we hear Demi telling Simon she won’t date for a year and he warns her away from Niall Horan of One Direction. Did they kiss? She says no. But how honest is she being? The banter is actually kind of fun, even if it has zero to do with the competition.
And we keep hearing this annoying blond girl Kaci Newton and her equally annoying sister. She has way too much makeup on. “I want to be a legend,” she says. She opts for Katy Perry’s “Firework” and she is all over the place. Terrible. She needs vocal training – seriously. No range. All shakiness. No depth. “It sounded like you were dying,” Simon says. “Mercy” was no better.
At the 50 minute point, we go to San Francisco to see a bunch more of bad singers. “A raving lunatic,” Simon says of one of them. “You sang like a dog trying to lay an egg,” he told another.
- Quatrelle, a man dressed as a wedding dress, looks like a joke. (Hey, Britney. Nice glasses!) He works his Lady Gaga and is … not bad. He’s hardly a $5 million act but perfectly fun at the local gay bar. “You were off key a little bit but for the most part, you’re really entertaining,” Britney says. Spot on. Demi loves his lipstick. “If you imagine Madonna, Bobby Brown and Dracula had a child, it would be you,” Simon says. “I quite liked it.” They all put him through. “Sometimes, I have to embrace the madness,” Simon says.
- Emblem3, a trio of teen “brothers,” meet Vincent Thomas, a youthful looking 22 year old. I sense a combo coming, don’t you? He gives Emblem3 advice as the “vet.” Vincent looks appealing but he’s just okay, no great shakes, no emotional resonance. So clearly, the editors wanted to show Emblem3 didn’t need the advice from Vincent. The teen girls are hot for them before they utter a note. They opt for an original song “Sunset Boulevard.” It has a passable pop/rock feel (if not much of a hook) and gets the audience on their feet. Demi is smitten. L.A. vibes. “Can’t wait to hear you on the radio,’ Demi says. They’re through, of course.
- Don Philip. The saddest story of the day. He’s 32 and looking worse for wear, trying to break through in the business. He even dueted with Britney ten years ago. (Back story!) He tries Halo and he’s not even remotely good. Britney looks deeply pained. Simon tells him his voice isn’t good. Britney echoes him. Afterwards, he says he felt he disappointed Britney. It’s a truly sad moment for him. Poor guy.
- Janelle Garcia. This lady has some rock moxie. Vocally, she’s good, if not great. She has potential and a fearlessness the judges (especially L.A.) love. “I’m so feeling you,” L.A. says. “That was absolutely incredible,” Britney says. “You have such a cute face. You’re really likable then all of a sudden, you’re on fire,” Demi says. “I literally wrote on my notes, ‘Popped!’ ” Simon says the pop charts needs a young Pat Benatar.
- At the 1:42 point, we hear a gratuitous bad singer, then Jillian Jensen, who was bullied in high school and is a Demi fan. She gets tearful backstage talking about it. She brings her emotional weight behind her singing, an interesting grittiness even if she is no Adele. She cries on stage. Demi embraces her – literally. “You are so strong,” she tells Jillian. It’s a great TV moment. Does this have anything to do with finding the next great vocal talent? Not really. But does it matter? The editors really stretch this baby out a bit too long, though.
By Rodney Ho, Radio & TV Talk