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The X Factor Recap: A Sad Britney, a Missing Panda, and 1997 Throws Up on You

Contestants

You guys! After what seems like twelve years, it’s time for BOOT CAMP! The hardest challenge a singer will ever have to face! For, you see, it entails ... singing songs. We’ll get into that explosiveness later. 

We start with more of these poor singers having to become poor actors. Willie Jones, the country hi-top-fade guy, has a tender, candid scene with his father. A scene that took no fewer than 90 minutes to light, mic, and script. "Willie would like to win this competition" is the takeaway.

Jennel Garcia would also like to have $5 million. “It’s time to grow up,” she tells her father as they casually fix a car or whatever. One cannot fully settle into adulthood without massive, Melanie Amaro–level fame.

And then we meet some of our other new favorites: Vino Alan! Nick Perrelli! All of Emblem3, with their shirts off! The lead Emblem tells the other two: “Tomorrow, we are literally going to be on another beach at the other end of the country.” Literally!

And he’s right: Boot camp takes place in Miami for some reason, where we are reunited with sassy Tara Simon, precious Diamond White, and bullied, ugly-crying Jillian Jensen. This is like the beginning of a sloppy sequel to an ensemble movie. All your favorites are back — 120 of them, half of whom will be cut by the end of the night. Good. Let’s do this. 

It’s going to be the most intense week of their lives. And the intensity starts right away. The first challenge of boot camp is to ... SING A SONG in front of each other. Diamond White is up first, with Whitney Houston’s “I Have Nothing,” a song that is kind of a drag and is also way too old for her. But she sings the shit out of it. She will go far. 

Immediately, all I can think about is the misery of these poor contestants, sitting through 120 goddamn songs on the floor of the stage. Freddie Combs may be extra-morbidly obese, but at least he gets a proper chair.

Up next, blond dreamboat Austin Corini, with “To Make You Feel My Love.” It’s okay. I stand by my assessment — he’s going to be in the boy band Simon is starting. It makes so much sense that now I’m starting to think it might not happen.

Tatted-up adoptee David Correy does Duffy’s “Mercy,” poor young Dinah Jane Hansen sings Mariah Carey’s “Hero,” and Lyric da Queen, who I have literally never laid eyes on until just now, spits Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two.” Who is this Lyric da Queen, and what has she done with Panda Ross, who is NOWHERE TO BE FOUND?

Carly Rose Sonenclar sings something or other, and Simon wonders aloud whether she might not be too old for her age, and I holler aloud at his image on the screen: "YES." 

Allison Iraheta–manqué Jessica Espinosa sings a version of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston’s “When You Believe,” which is so raspily delicious, I actually think, Hey, what is this song that isn’t awful? But somehow the judges are NOT HAVING IT.

In fact, Britney wears a "NOT HAVING IT" face throughout all of tonight’s episode. She looks as though she’s smelling something rotten at all times, even when her words say that she’s enjoying herself and her eyes are big brown vacancy signs. I find that I am concerned about Britney in a new and unique way with each episode.

Jennel Garcia is in boot camp alone because she is 18 and, therefore, a legal adult. And although Demi makes much of the “crazy sex appeal” she brings, she still seems very much like a child. She’s a Maria trying to be an Anita, this Jennel Garcia. I am making West Side Story references because my brain wants me to have musical memories that don’t bum me out.

Vino Alan is the 40-year-old with all of the face tattoos, one of which seems to be a child’s doodle of the Amnesty International logo. He sings Bad Company’s “Bad Company,” and it’s all very rough and tumble and whatever, and he’s probably this year’s Josh Krajcik, but if he was going to do a song that’s named after the band that performs it, I think we’d all prefer “Living in a Box” by Living in a Box. Better luck next time, Vino.

Johnny Maxwell does Puff Daddy’s elegy to Biggie Smalls “I’ll Be Missing You,” and if you’re wondering how a deeply personal, highly specific, and slightly opportunistic obituary for a rapper who’s been dead longer than Johnny Maxwell has been alive translates to a 2012 singing competition, the answer is POORLY. 

Simon prays that it doesn’t get any worse than Mr. Maxwell, but oh, you guys, IT TOTALLY DOES. Little Jordyn Moppetface sings ... I honestly don’t know what she sings, but it is so sharp my speakers are bleeding. Bad news. Trevor Project Moran does “Starships,” and although it’s exactly the same thing he sold them with “Sexy and I Know It” just last week, the judges are gripped with buyers’ remorse. Sweet crooner Nick Perrelli mumbles his way through “The Way You Look Tonight,” and you can tell his nerves are doing a number on him. And then sweet Jake Garza, whom I do not recognize at all, just straight-up cries at the beginning of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” and never recovers. Oh, it is devastating. Britney makes a sad face and tells her fellow judges, “I’m SAAAAD,” and it’s already been turned into a GIF, and the GIF has been purchased by CBS as an Anna Faris comedy vehicle for next season, and I’ll see you all at the Emmys.

And then we’re on to the groups: L3vel. Citizen. Jetset. None of them make much of an impact until Emblem3 comes forth with some kind of Sublime-meets–98 Degrees take on the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris.” In the future, someone will make a period piece set in 1997, and it will look and sound exactly like what Emblem3 does here. The judges are delighted. Simon decrees that the “guy in the hat is the best singer,” and I speculate that he’ll poach that kid for the FrankenBoyBand.

Here is where we can tell that The X Factor is a U.K. production: Tara Simon’s music cue is Geri Halliwell’s “Look at Me.” A,nd indeed, Ms. Simon does want your attention. She jacks off all over Queen’s “Somebody to Love” in a way that makes you appreciate the subtlety of a Freddie Mercury. She will go far, and it will be for none of the reasons that she thinks she’s going far.

At last, Willie Jones gets his moment. And ... he doesn’t bring much to it other than being a black guy who sings country. Britney’s not feeling it!

And then we get another one of these phony-baloney sing-offs. It’s single mother Paige Thomas versus reality-show automaton CeCe Frey, with both singing Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.” Paige seems a bit nervous, while CeCe claims: “This is m’jam,” with a wholly contrived snap of the fingers and those goddamn cheetah spots still on her head. Paige is up first, and she’s okay, if a little shaky. CeCe gives us this: “How confident do I feel, on a scale of 1 to 10? How about a 25? I’m about to bring the CeCe Thunder.” Ugh. How about you go on the Real World/Road Rules Challenge, where you belong? Wouldn’t Johnny Bananas and CeCe Thunder make a charming pair? CeCe does her thing, which is a thing I hate, and Simon says, “One of you nailed it,” and he probably means her, and oh this is going to be a very long season.

Simon explains, in the MOST REVEALING SHIRT EVER — honestly, people, it is a forest of Grecian Formula’d chest hair — that there will be two groups, and one will be sent home. It’s go time.

Group one includes Paige Thomas, Jason Brock, Jenell Garcia, Carly Rose, and a few other people who we’re just never going to bother to meet. Simon informs them: “It’s bad news ... you’ll have to work harder tomorrow. You’re through!” People still fall for these fake-outs. God bless America.

The second group features white rapper Rizzloe Jones, apparent disappointment Jessica Espinosa, plus Jake and Jordyn and Trevor and who cares who else because they’re going home. It gets better, Trevor Moran.

And Simon doesn’t know what he’s talking about, because there is a third group that contains CeCe, Country Guy Tate Whatever, Great Big Wheelchair Guy Freddie, and Johnny Maxwell, and they, too, are through!

Did Emblem3 make it? What about Owen With the Girlfriend? Where is Panda? WHERE IS PANDA? These are mysteries, but we will get a whole ‘nother hour tomorrow to settle them. Let’s enjoy these precious pre–Mario Lopez/Khloé Kardashian moments while we can.

Photo: FOX