As I sit down to watch tonight’s X Factor, hundreds of Penn State students are spilling out into the streets to protest the firing of Joe Paterno, and Rick Perry has just spent a full, agonizing minute trying to remember the last of the three government agencies he would blithely torch in his presidency. America, you are straight up freaking me out right now, and I can’t remember the last time I’ve needed to turn my brain off this badly.
The fact that the show starts at the premiere of what Steve Jones calls “Adam Sandler’s new romp Jack & Jill” tells me I have come to the right place.
It’s movie night! The remaining eleven will be performing songs from famous movies, and I will spend every second dreading “My Heart Will Go On.” By the way: I did a sketch show at Second City last weekend, in which one of the cast members had to sing a snippet of “My Heart Will Go On,” and he had never heard of it. We played it for him and everything, but he was like: “Nope. Not familiar.” I seethed with jealousy.
By the way, there is yet another voice-over guy! Is this going to become a running joke, like Murphy Brown’s assistants? Anyway. The judges enter to the Star Wars theme, which is fitting, because the original two are the only ones I can tolerate. (Just kidding! L.A. is great.)
The top eleven get to walk the red carpet for the Jack & Jill premiere and mingle with stars like Adam Sandler and for some reason Jane Seymour! David Spade asks the Stereo Hogzz: “Why do you look so much cooler than me?” Thanks for bringing that up, David. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about it. It is because they dress their age.
We are treated to some clips for the movie, which I now realize will be as creepily CGI’d as it is unfunny and misogynistic. Drew calls it “the funniest movie [she’s] ever seen” in the least convincing way possible. Thanks for playing along, Drew.
Stacy opens the show with “Queen of the Night” from The Bodyguard, which is perfect for her because it is all shouting and runs. It’s more fun than we’re used to seeing from her, which is a nice change of pace. But Paula hits the nail on the head in her comments: “Every time you sing, it’s like you’re singing for your life.” That’s the problem exactly! All I see when Stacy performs is a person who is desperate to be a star. (Paula meant it as a compliment, which is a brutally revealing look into her value system.)
The producers of this show are trying very hard to make Marcus Canty have a story, and they have settled on this: His mother has given him two years to have a singing career, and then it’s back to ... mowing lawns? This show hasn’t convinced her to give him a six-month extension? He is not a grown man who is capable of making his own choices? Phooey! He sings “I’m Goin’ Down,” and the combination of a silver-lamé jacket and an overactive smoke machine makes him look like he’s on fire. Not the good kind of on fire! More the smoke-inhalation kind! Also there are massive animated playing cards on the screens behind him for some reason, and he can’t seem to get out of his jacket. Other than that, he’s great!
Let’s make fun of Nicole at this time. I have been watching this show fairly closely from the beginning, and there is no way she’s not working with a professional writer. Her comments about the performances come off like audition monologues and have absolutely nothing to do with what has happened onstage. “You were a queen from within.” “You were the vessel for the love in that song.” “Two words: Ma. Gic.” Knock it off, Nicole.
Drew will sing a song from the classic film You, Me & Dupree. Simon promises that she will be taking a risk! Doing something you wouldn’t expect! And then she ... does what she’s been doing all along. I guess the big shock is that Coldplay’s “Fix You” is already slowed-down and self-important? L.A. provides what may be the first critical comment of the season when he says her performances are getting a little monotonous, which is true, so of course the crowd goes all Penn State on him. (Topical humor, you guys.)
Oh, but here’s the best part: Drew is wearing something that looks like something you would make in Katamari Damacy, and when Paula points out that her dress is hideous, Simon reveals that Drew designed it. “Yyyyeah,” says Drew. It is a moment of such awkward deliciousness that it just won the James Beard Award. For real though: nobody mentioned to Paula that Drew made her own clothes? That’s not in an info packet anywhere? What do these judges do all day?
Also, the choreographer is dressed this way, presumably on purpose. “Yes,” he said, “Today I will look like an urban gay superhero leopard from 1992.”
Leroy does U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” which I guess counts because they did it in Rattle & Hum? He is kind of all over the place with the lyrics, and since the backup singers have to repeat what he sings, they all look confused. But they manage to incorporate their shrugs into their dance moves. It’s good overall, though.
From the timeless How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Lakoda Rayne sing some country song I’ve never heard. Their harmonies work! They’ve probably learned each other’s names by now! I give them the Most Improved award! L.A. calls them “my favorite girl group in the entire competition,” to which Paula replies “There is only one.” Yes! Yes, Paula. You see, that was the joke. Paula Abdul: comedy detective. She then piles praise on them for a few moments too long, and Steve Jones cuts her off in the best way possible: “Fabulous. Fabulous comments.” Steve Jones trying to wrap things up is the best thing on television right now.
Of course Astro is doing “Lose Yourself,” to which he adds his own lyrics. And they’re good! He mentions Joe Frazier, which just happened! A Rick Perry “oops” reference would have sent this performance right over the top, but that’s nitpicky. I think it’s the performance of the night, and the judges agree (though the judges aren’t doing much in the way of judging on this show). Simon tells Astro “You’re like the cat who’s got the cream,” and Astro gamely pretends that’s a thing Americans say.
Melanie Amaro does Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror,” which counts as a movie song because of This Is It. “Movie songs” really could not be defined more broadly tonight. Melanie has a sore throat! I immediately suspect the producers opened a petri dish in her hotel room. She does her typical good job, but the stars of the show are the words on the screen, which dissolve as she sings. Poverty! Illiteracy! Despair! Get out of here, bad things! L.A. tells Melanie she’s doing the same thing over and over. He’s not wrong, but the judges are doing the same thing over and over, too, which is kicking this poor woman.
At this point in the show, I decide to switch on the news for a moment to see if the Penn State kids have started with the fratboy in the mirror, had a moment where they realized that even though their guy was very good at telling large people where to throw footballs, he had a responsibility to keep children safe from sexual abuse that he blew off, and gone the fuck home. Nope. Now they’re throwing rocks and turning over news trucks. Steve Jones, take me to Wales and leave me there.
Steve introduces the Stereo Hogzz, from what he calls HOOSTON. They do Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man,” which is described as “a song from Get Smart.” Which, okay. Freed from Xtina’s screeching, the song is actually pretty good. Their harmonies and choreography are tight, but they’re struggling to connect; the screen behind them projects their individual faces and names, which they have correctly guessed we haven’t learned.
Josh Krajcik is doing a song from Across the Universe, the Beatles movie, and it turns out to be “With a Little Help From My Friends,” which Nicole calls a Joe Cocker song. Movie Night is defined so broadly it might as well not even exist. Plus it’s a poor choice of song: Josh is a little too Joe Cockery to begin with, so why give him a song that you can’t sing without doing a full-on Joe Cocker impression? Simon criticizes the staging, and Nicole seals her place on my shit list when she replies “Simon: don’t hate, just congratulate.” Can we have Cheryl Cole back, please?
Chris Rene does Stevie Wonder’s “Pastime Paradise,” which was sampled for Coolio’s “Gangsta’s Paradise,” which was in Dangerous Minds. Man. Though you know what? The looser the definition of “Movie Night,” the less likely we are to hear “I Will Always Love You,” so maybe we should be grateful. Chris, hand tattoos and Tic-Tac teeth notwithstanding, is actually charming and kind of sexy. (Which, of course, is what allowed him to be a drug addict.) He does his usual half-rapping, half-singing thing, which is starting to wear just a little thin, but he’ll survive another week.
At last we have reached our final singer! Our big shock! Rachel Crow does a song from Cadillac Records, which Simon promises will be a game-changer. And ... it’s a big song with a lot of big notes, which is, as I understand, what the game is and has been all along? But whatever. She continues to be adorable and charming and I’ll bet you dollars to doughnuts she’ll be playing Gay Pride festivals before she’s out of high school.
And there it is. I think the Stereo Hoggz and Stacy Francis are in trouble, and I still have no idea how we’re getting out of this before Christmas. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to fly to State College, Pennsylvania, and give some kids a disapproving look.