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The X Factor Recap: And So We Begin Again

THE X FACTOR: Demi Lovato in part-one of the two night season premiere of THE X FACTOR airing Wednesday, Sep. 12 and Thursday, Sep. 13 (8:00-10:00PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: David Moir / FOX

The X Factor is back, you guys! In just a few months, Earth (the best planet!) will have a new superstar, just like whoever won this thing last year, whose name is never uttered once in this whole two-hour season premiere! In the intro package, The X Factor is introduced as a GLOBAL PHENOMENON, which is totally true, because I believe in American Exceptionalism.

Anyway, it’s back, and so am I, so let’s just get into it.

They’ve made some changes. Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger are out as judges. I said plenty about the both of them last season, so let’s move right along to their replacements, Britney Spears and Demi Lovato. I find it interesting that Britney and Demi are trying to help regular people achieve stardom, because I feel like stardom has maybe not been the very best thing for either of them. Demi Lovato got famous on the Disney Channel and then went to rehab for cutting her arms off. (I might be unclear on the details here.) Britney Spears ... well, do I really need to walk you through it? The shaved head? The listless VMA performance? Kevin Federline? Britney’s humiliations are well-documented. (Except this one: you know how the New York Post has little nicknames for people? Like Alec Baldwin is “The Bloviator,” and Monica Lewinsky was “The Portly Pepperpot”? At the height of her trucker-hatted, Cheeto-dust-encrusted ignominy, the German tabloids called her a name that translated into English as “Miss Dixietoilet.” And you thought your early 20s were rough.) Fame has not been particularly good to either of these women, yet here they are, batting their glittery eyelashes and waving new victims through the door. They’re like the street kids in Slumdog Millionaire. “Sure, our eyes got scooped out and their sockets filled with candlewax, but maybe it’ll turn out differently for you! Who’s to say? Join us!

Oh, also Steve Jones is out as host, and has been replaced by ... so far, nobody. And since there is no host to introduce us to the new crop of hopefuls, they have to do the job themselves. If you think most of these people stink out loud at singing, which most of them consider their vocation, wait until you see how they tackle this job they do not want. (Spoiler alert: less well than you might expect.) We get vignettes of auditioners strolling toward their hometown stadiums, having clunky conversations about their dreams and journeys, telling their parents implausible things like “I’m here to show ‘em what a 14-year-old country girl can do,” never acknowledging the microphones attached to their lapels. It is clumsy.

So are the heavily produced moments of backstage drama, which start immediately. Twenty-one-year-old single mother Paige Thomas freshens up in front of a tiny corner of a full-length mirror, compelling mean girl Kaci Newton (who has already told her sister she’s “gonna kick the competition to the curb,” as people naturally do in these settings) to ... ask her if she can also use the same giant mirror. Paige says yes. This story unfolds over around nine minutes.

Paige is our first auditioner of the season, and she sets the tone perfectly: When asked what she’ll be performing, she immediately cries and the crowd goes bananas. This is what we’re doing now. She goes on to tell us that she’s tabled her singing ambitions in favor of nursing school, because she needed quick money to provide for her daughter, and you can go ahead and reread that, but I promise it won’t make any more sense the second time. Like 80 percent of singing-competition auditioners, she goes with Mary J. Blige’s “I’m Goin’ Down.” Her voice is fine, she’s got stage presence, she’s working kind of a Harajuku Janelle Monáe thing, she gets four YESes. Kaci sneers.

Kaci does a lot of sneering and side-eyeing and unfavorable comparing other singers’ talents to her own. She’s kind of a Greek-yogurt chorus for the first hour.

Oh, but where are the goofballs and the malcontents? Fear not, for here comes 50-year-old Shawn Armenta, who sings his original composition “Candy Girl” while popping and ... should we bother calling it “locking” if nobody is trying to get in? Whatever — you have seen this guy eleven times per season on every show like this. You have sat next to him in an airport Chili’s. He is the old guy in your improv class. Why are we encouraging this behavior? There are no winners here.

Indeed, Shawn kicks off the season’s first Loser Montage, which serves as a Britney Spears Lucidity Medley. She has some decent things to say! She speaks in sentences! She might just make it after all. Expect a lot more people to marry their agents in the coming months.

Much is made over 13-year-old Reid Deming’s resemblance to Justin Bieber, but it’s all in the hair. Facially, he’s very Cynthia Nixon’s wife. Vocally, he’s whiny and hiccupy, but apparently that’s what the people want these days, because he’s unanimously through.

We get a snippet of conversation between Britney and Demi, and they are talking about tattoos. “I love tattoos,” says Demi, “I want to get another.” “Me too,” Brit replies, “like a star or a heart or a flower.” You guys, when I heard these two were going to be judges, I closed my eyes and pictured this exact conversation.

At last, Kaci is up. She is not good. Simon tells her she sounds like she’s dying, and she responds “I don’t want to hear that,” and you just know that she has never heard anything she didn’t want to hear. Kaci gets four NOs, and there is thundering applause as she shlumps off the stage. It’s cruel, but in this case I will allow it.

For real though: Is Melanie Amaro in some kind of witness protection program? She is the George W. Bush to The X Factor’s Republican National Convention.

A lusty young auditioner surveys the line and tells his father, “There’re some hot girls out here.” And then we discover that one of the girls he’s been ogling is — get this — ACTUALLY NOT A GIRL AT ALL BUT RATHER A MAN! Can you believe it? Jesus, you guys.

The deceitful transvestite seductress is Quatrele Da’An Smith, who is dressed in a bridal mini-gown and who sings “Born This Way,” as the occasion dictates. He’s got a decent voice and a winning personality, and he makes it to the next round. As he exits the stage, “I’m Every Woman” plays. Are you near a calendar? Does yours say it’s 2012 too?

To compensate for the lack of a host, the producers are clearly setting disparate auditioners up together and goosing them into awkward conversations. Such is the case with young Vincent Thomas, who waits backstage alongside Emblem3, a band of boys that denies being a boy band. “Just relax,” he tells them (unsolicited), “I’ve been in a boy band too, and done shows all over the world and you’ve just got to be yourself.” They stare back at him with dead eyes, which may just be their regular eyes. It gets more awkward, which makes Vincent talk more, which makes the boys stare more, and then HEY VINCENT IT’S TIME FOR YOUR AUDITION. Vincent fails, as he has been set up to do. And then Emblem3 come out and do some rock-mass kind of song called “Sunset Boulevard,” which is catchy enough. Their energy is infectious, they’re good looking, and as much as they bristle at being called a boy-band, they serve up some serious LFO. (I mean it kindly.) They are through. Demi seems attracted to all of them.

I like this Demi Lovato. I was going to get into it here, but I’m going to save that for tomorrow night’s episode so that I will have something to write about tomorrow, because there is no show in this show.

Except when there kind of is. Don Philip did a duet with Britney Spears ten years ago, and since then, from the looks and sounds of things, has been doing white drugs and stuffing his mouth with hay. You should see this guy. He is giving a real A&E effect, if you know what I mean. He hits the stage, Britney kind of recognizes him, he immediately starts crying, then starts demanding his second chance, then makes sounds with his mouth that are unpleasant. He’s pushing, he’s raspy, he seems to have something loose in his actual mouth and it might be a live snake. He gets four NOs (even from Britney!) he registers surprise in a way that makes me think the producers are popping balloons right near his face, and then he crumples into tears backstage and begs a producer for Britney’s forgiveness. Every anti-meth PSA can call it a day, because Don Philip has got that shit covered. Wow. It’s some compelling television, and I bet about 40 percent of the people who tuned in at the beginning made it far enough to see it. (Read about the bit of the audition you didn’t see on last night’s show here.)

Janell Garcia is the Alison Iraheta of this season (of this show). She tears into Grace Potter’s “Paris” in a charming, believable way, and although she didn’t give the producers enough phony backstage drama to get more airtime, I’d keep my eye on her. If only there were some kind of host to draw out her personality with some kind of interview segment. You guys, I am right here.

The show ends with Jillian Jensen, who officially brings our culture to Peak Anti-Bullying. You see, Jillian was mocked and pelted with garbage for being different, and she took that anger and isolation and put it into her music, and you have heard this story a hundred times, enough times that telling it must make a person feel a little dirty by now, but not our Jillian. She sings an original song, which you have correctly guessed it is about believing in yourself, everybody cries, and she goes through and there are probably some kids out there who are thinking of taking up bullying because of its retro appeal.

Tomorrow night: Everyone sings and everyone goes to the hospital, or something.

UPDATE: I've been notified that Jillian Jensen sang Jessie J's "Who You Are." I'd assumed that her song was an original, based on the fact that I had never heard it and it seemed wildly over-ingratiating, two qualities I should immediately have identified as hallmarks of a Jessie J composition. In my defense, I will remind you that by this time, I had sat through nearly two hours of The X Factor. 

Photo: David Moir / FOX/FOX