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The X Factor Recap: Whoops, the Judges Forgot It Was a Singing Competition Again!

Marcus Canty on The X Factor.

At the end of tonight’s whooshing, self-important intro package, Simon smugly tells us: “Tonight it’s not about the judges, it’s about the singers.” And thus begins two hours in which the judges bicker among themselves about their own song and wardrobe choices, and almost completely ignore the noises coming from the stage, which — honestly you guys? Were sometimes the wrong noises. Simon, to use one of your favorite criticisms from back when you were critical: I think when you watch this show back, you’re going to be very disappointed.

One quick point of order: Tonight is the first night we here at home — in America! — will get to vote for our favorites, as we are told no fewer than eight times in the first four minutes. And then tomorrow night ... one act will be eliminated? Weren’t they going to wrap this up by Christmas? They might have to sneak some double eliminations in there, but I’d be more likely to believe that Fox is adding four extra weeks to December.

Let’s meet our judges, whom this is not about, but who are bathed in heavenly light as they take their sweet-ass time sashaying downstage to their Pepsithrones. As her name is called, Nicole presses her palms together in prayer position and gives a shallow bow, the least-convincing gesture of humility since Jeremy Piven’s Journey of a Lifetime. Still, at least Steve Jones and Simon don’t open the show by calling each other gay for twelve minutes, so I guess we’re making progress.

First up, the Stereo Hogzz, who are spelled with one G and two Zs, not the other way around, like I’ve been doing it for the last month. I’ve been spelling their name wrong wrong! Paula hypes them to the crowd thusly: “Coming up now! Get ready! Hold your seats! The Stereo Hogzz!” Hold your seats, everyone. Unscrew them out of the floor and grip them tightly to your chests. I will remind you that Paula earned around $11,000 for each of those words.

ANYWAY. We’re shown some footage of the Hogzz rehearsing, which is notable for only one reason: One of the guys is wearing a T-shirt that simply says “YUMS.” Now, I’m sure it’s a labored acronym for some hip-hop collective or youth center or something, but I choose to believe that he just thinks everything is very delicious and he wants the world to know it. Yums! They do Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation,” dressed in what would happen if there had been a Project Runway challenge to bring the Buckingham Palace guards into the 21st century. It’s fine. But:

- These live-show performances are kind of grand: choreography, backup dancers, sets and pyro and the whole bit. They are awards show performances, with everything good and bad that that implies. This is a big deal, and it seems like something someone should have mentioned before we got to this point. It’s not like there wasn’t time.
- Though most of the Hogzz are on point, there are missed steps all over the place, a couple of janky harmonies and bad notes. Nothing huge, but certainly some opportunities to give some individual Hogzz some constructive criticism. But you wouldn’t know it from the judges’ comments. Simon goes so far as to say “There is not a band in the world who are as good as you.” Not even Hot Chelle Rae?
- “Hogzz” is somehow ten times harder to type than “Hoggz.”

Chris Rene reminds us that he just got out of rehab. (Did you guys know he just got out of rehab?) In his rehearsal package, he is dressed like a lilac-scented cholo air freshener: huge baggy purple-plaid shirt and shorts with knee socks pulled up all the way. What is with the socks pulled up all the way, cholos? Are you aware you all look like you work at Long John Silver’s? Also, L.A. Reid is wearing Bonne Bell Lip Smackers, in “plum.”

Chris does a version of the Carpenters’ “Superstar,” which doesn’t really come alive until the generic hip-hop beat kicks in and he can add his own lyrics, which are — surprise! — about how he doesn’t need drugs because you give him the best high. I wish him the best of luck, I really do, but I have to say it: Sometimes people who just got sober are exactly like people who just took a wine class.

The judges love it. You will be reading that sentence ten more times tonight. Nicole manages to sum herself up in eight words when she tells Chris, “I have so much mad love for you.” Oh yeah? You have so much very much love for him? There’s the trouble with Nicole: She’s trying so hard to be everything that she ends up being nothing. Also, she’s wearing some bejeweled thing that is between a bracelet and a ring. Literally between; it goes around the center part of the hand. It is ... a handlet? Settle down, Nicole Scherzinger.

Oh, but she won’t, because her mentee Leroy Bell is up next. She assigns him a terrible song: “Already There” by Lonestar or Angelwing or Wheatfield or one of those faceless Country, Inc. bands whose songs get turned immediately into Hallmark Channel movies starring Crystal Bernard and John Wesley Shipp. It does him no favors. The judges, as you know by now, love it. Simon comes as close to criticism as he does all night by saying he thinks Leroy lacks confidence, and the audience boos him. When did we get so nice?

What happens next is in no way Rachel Crow’s fault. She does a perfectly good job of “Walking on Sunshine,” the lyrics of which Simon has inexplicably rewritten. Now, instead of going to the mailbox, the song’s protagonist goes for her cell phone. Can today’s children not relate to the experience of checking a mailbox? Nicole calls Simon on it and doesn’t even do that correctly: “I liked the original lyrics: ‘I’m walking on sunshine and it’s starting to feel good.’” Those are, of course, not the lyrics at all, but I do like the idea that, in Nicole’s world, walking on sunshine would at first be a deeply unpleasant experience.

Whatever. Rachel is adorable and she sounds great and I’m worried about her, but at least this is a healthier experience than the performing-arts high school she would inevitably have ended up in.

I should point out here that most of the judges’ banter follows the IT’S CALLED template:
- “I didn’t like their outfits.”
- “It’s called COLOR.”
- “I thought that was too quiet a song for you.”
- “It’s called LESS IS MORE.”

Listen, judges, I’m not saying this needs to be the Algonquin Roundtable, but you guys are getting paid eleventy billion dollars a season. Could you at least not make me feel like I’m in a Supercuts?

Paula has decided to dress the four members of Lakoda Rayne up as the four seasons. Can you tell which is which? Because I sure canNOT.


They sing “Landslide” and smile through it, which is a pretty good indication that they aren’t paying any attention to the words. There is a hair fan that is set right at the “obvious hair fan” level. Also, the singing is terrible. Simon is the only judge who is remotely judgmental, but only about their dresses. Yes, it did look a little Lawrence Welk, but it also sounded like bad sounds, which nobody bothers to point out.

Nicole continues her streak of poor song choices by saddling Josh Krajcik with the grim “Jar of Hearts.” Here is my policy on this song: If you did not write the lyric “You’re gonna catch a cold from the ice inside your soul,” you are released from the obligation of singing them out loud. He does what he can with it. Also, he looks and sounds like someone who would have been famous in the seventies, before we knew what our rock stars looked like.

Hey, you guys: Did you know Melanie Amaro almost didn’t make it to the live shows but then Simon changed his mind? You are free to push this knowledge out of your head, because you will be reminded 80 more times. Simon assigns her “Desperado,” making a point to thank the song’s writers, who almost didn’t give them permission to use the song, perhaps because they knew that it is the opposite of a song that needs the big-belter diva treatment. Paula offers this critique: “Your voice is like the fine china. Just bring it out for the very special occasions. And this is a special occasion.” Thanks, Mrs. Holland.

Hey, then it’s time for some fun, unscripted judge banter! Simon displays the new Verizon X Factor app, and then compliments Verizon on their commercials (which, you see, he is in!). Paula does a spit-take that goes on so long I become concerned she is actually vomiting, and says, “That’s because you’re IN THEM!” Comedy!

Astro does a mash-up of “Hip Hop Hooray” and “Get Ur Freak On.” I was a junior in college when “Hip Hop Hooray” came out, and one of my friends made the discovery that my name fit perfectly into the chorus: “DAVE! HOLMES! DAVE! HOLMES!” It caught on kind of quickly, and now every time I hear it, I get a kind of draft-beer PTSD moment. But that’s not Astro’s concern. He does his thing, which I still kind of wonder why it belongs in a singing competition, and everyone loves it, and if you see Suge Knight dangling Simon Cowell by his ankles off a hotel balcony in the coming days, this is why.

By the way, if there was an “L.A. Reid Listens to Things” channel, I would watch it all day long.

InTENsity does “Kids in America,” because of course they do, and I think it’s okay, but there are so very many of them that I can’t tell who’s a backup dancer and who’s in the group. It’s cute. I can’t tell who did what. This is why there are very few ten-person vocal groups.

Drew tells us, “My parents told me never to hide what I feel,” so I have just learned that Drew was not raised Catholic. She does Nelly’s “Just a Dream,” which she starts on the ground surrounded by fake flower petals, like American Dream, but with an actual 14-year-old, which makes a big difference. But Drew actually gets to show some oomph tonight, and I’m starting to come around on her. Nicole reveals that the song is “one of [her] favorite Nelly songs.” Really, Nicole? It is one of your favorite songs by a guy who has three songs? Stop. Stop talking right now please.

Marcus Canty is the last of the boys, and his version of Bobby Brown’s “Every Little Step” is very good and comes complete with backup dancers posing with pickle buckets. If I could sum The X Factor up in one image, it would be: fake pickle-bucket drummers. Marcus is great, but he’s so polished he almost doesn’t make an impression. You would think the judges might offer him some criticism in that regard, but of course they spend their time talking to each other about each other. Occupy Judges’ Row.

Last up is Stacy Francis, whom Nicole promises will sing an inspirational, spiritual song, and I actually say out loud, “If it’s ‘Drops of Jupiter,’ I am carrying my television out to the curb.” It isn’t. It’s some gospel song that Stacy shouts all over. Stacy is one of those people who doesn’t think she’s sung a song unless she’s hit every note in the universe. It’s like when people say “penultimate” when they mean “ultimate,” because they figure “more syllables equals better word,” even though “penultimate” means “second to last.” That’s it exactly: Stacy is a good singer the way people who only use very big words are smart. I’m finished with you, Stacy.

So there we are. Drew finally showed some spunk, Lakoda Rayne will almost certainly get voted off, the judges all wrote themselves some fancy ways of saying “you sing good” and were not going to let the actual singing stop them from reciting their script, and we will be at this until late 2012.

Tonight, they stretch the elimination out to a full hour! I hope we get to spend some of this time learning about the judges.

Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FOX