The X Factor’s premiere-night ratings are in, and they are as underwhelming as the show itself. Not terrible, not great, just kind of there. Nielsen has conclusively proven that The X Factor is a television show, and that’s about the best Fox can claim at this point. To me, this says less about the marquee value of Britney Spears than it does about the fact that these early episodes are some bullshit, and even a child knows it. You’ll see some bozos, you’ll see aerial footage of long lines, you’ll catch a couple of good singers with the good fortune to be orphans or single mothers or victims of bullying. You’ll check your watch and sigh wearily, and then some years down the road you will die. So let’s get on with it.
We begin as we did last night, with some faux-naturalistic, documentary-style footage of young hopefuls asking each other whether they’re nervous. Sixteen-year-old Johnny Maxwell pulls up into the parking lot with his mother (who is your age!) and they talk at length about his talent and his dream and his journey, as they must. If you are like me, you will wonder how they drove up to the audition already miked, or how they managed to pull into their parking spot in such sharp focus, or how any of this is any better or easier than just having old Steve Jones bring his weird Welsh accent back. But you won’t have time, because before you know it, young Johnny is up on stage singing his original song “All These People” (which is about his talent and his dream and his journey, because rules are rules). It’s this year’s “Young Homie.” Demi says he has swag, Britney calls him “adorably cute,” all the judges put him through, and Johnny says: “Demi Lovato said I have swag,” which future historians will agree is the most 2012 sentence of all time.
Another contestant battle royale is set up between Lexa Berman and Paige Stroobach. They meet awkwardly, as Lexa reveals that Paige is her middle name and Paige replies, “That is so weird,” with genuine shock. These people know they need to be giving big reactions at all times. Lexa gives off a strippery energy; Simon tells her she’s “Jersey Shore meets the Kardashians,” and she says “I’ll take it,” which DON’T. She sings Alex Clare’s “Too Close,” she stays on one note throughout, the judges pass on her, and she responds with the most aggressive hair flip this side of Ash on Gigolos. Don’t even talk to me if you’re not watching Gigolos.
How does Paige stack up? We don’t know and we never will, because handsome young Dylan Osborn and Ezekiel McCarter bring us right into into our first Loser Montage. Tonight’s theme is Hot People With Bad Voices. An endless parade of singers have pleasing faces but make terrible mouth-sounds. It is very long and it seems very longer. I’m starting to realize I can’t make a connection to shows like this until there’s a contestant I have a crush on. I am 41 years old.
Oh! By the way, I neglected to point out something important from last night’s show. Sure, young Jillian Jensen may have been the victim of bullying, but her life has to be pretty sweet: Her grandmother is Maxine from the greeting cards!
Jo Ann Worley doppelgänger Jason Brock promises that “if Britney is hungry, she is going to get a filling of talent tonight,” and I cringe, because SyCo Entertainment has yet to meet the gay man it couldn’t humiliate. The audience braces itself too; we get crowd shots of skeptical faces and “get a load of this swish” eye-rolls. But Jason is undaunted. He tears into Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” and it is exactly the kind of thing I generally hate — too many runs and growls and curlicues — but his voice is actually pretty strong. (Though the first line in his version is “Sometimes in the movie stars of a fancy cars ‘cuz I’m limousine,” which I think is apocryphal.) He’ll go far, and I think I like him, but I look forward to the repeal of the Ross Matthews Act that requires every effeminate man to be Extra Sassy.
And then we’re off to Providence, Rhode Island, where a local bakery is hurriedly putting together a cake for the judges. “We gotta get this cake DONE,” says a bossy pastry chef, and ... do we? Why? Does literally every single moment, even the frosting of a fucking cake, have to be played for maximum drama? I wish them the best of luck as we move on to our first auditioner, 20-year-old Patrick Ford, who has the crazy eyes. He is a Britney super-fan, who wants to be famous so he can have “a nice-ass car and a nice-ass house and a nice-ass girlfriend ... who is Britney,” and while I’m skeptical on that last wish, he deserves a shot as much as anyone else. He brings a giant vase of flowers out for Britney, and we see that she is immediately not having it. This is going to be awful. He sings Britney’s “Circus,” and he is toneless and off the beat, but God knows so was she at this stage. The crowd immediately boos, the judges all deny him, even Britney, who gives him a simple, cold-ass “Nnnnnno,” and he leaves and he cries, and maybe I was imagining that the last fifteen minutes of the premiere were a long meditation on bullying.
But you know what else? I also wonder how in on the joke some of these kids are. In our youth, we mimic our idols with a mixture of reverence and mockery. It’s a proprietary blend that only the kids can whip together. Maybe on some level he was having a goof himself.
Or maybe he’s on the autism spectrum and his idol handed him his ass on television. Hard to say.
Bringing up the rear is 13-year-old Carly Rose Sonnenclair, who sings “Feeling Good,” and warms my heart by attributing it to Nina Simone rather than Michael Buble. She is quite good, even though tiny children trying to be jazz greats kind of give me the heebies. But the judges are thrilled. They send her through unanimously, with Demi adding that she’s “obsessed.” As they’re leaving, Carly’s mom says “I can’t believe Demi Lovato is obsessed with you,” but ... Demi was a cutter, so that’s actually pretty plausible.
You will be pleased to know that the cake arrives. Simon smushes some into Demi’s face, like some kind of douche groom. The two of them are developing some kind of flirty dynamic that the producers are going to hammer into your skull once the live shows start, so enjoy it while it’s still relatively subtle. Also Britney takes a bite, and you notice that even when she is registering the simple pleasure of a mouthful of free cake, there is still obvious pain in her eyes. Britney has been in the shit, people.
Next week: more of this. So much more of this.