The X Factor Recap: Scream, Shout, Stall

Photo: FOX
Episode Title
Top Finalists Perform Live Show #4
Editor’s Rating

So we are down to our top eight here on The X Factor, yet the performance shows are still two hours long. How do they fill the extra time? Tonight is about 80 percent dead air provided by Mario and Khloe. So much dead air, you guys. This is a direct quote by Khloe Kardashian at the top of the show: “It ... Carly Rose ... was ... finally got ... to that No. 1 spot, but really ... Simon ... it’s a free game for everyone ... to get ... to ... there. That spot. Isn’t that right, don’t you think?” It’s just great hosting. (For the record: Simon agrees that it is anybody’s game.)

Oh, but tonight there is a whole new reason to be irrationally excited, because it’s time to debut Britney’s new video with Will.I.Am! Here’s how she feels about it.

Photo: FOX

Genuine, unambiguous pride. Khloe presses, as a journalist should: “Are you ... are you excited about us premiering your new video?” Britney’s answer, in full: “Yes.” Great. Britney is about four feet north of ambivalent to show her new video. Can’t wait.

Diamond White is singing “I Wanna Dance With Somebody,” which is good as it should push her out of her recent ballad doldrums. And ... it’s a ballad version. Or at least the first half is, but when the beat kicks in, her energy remains low. Now, listen: I like this girl, but her performance is totally flat. L.A. gives her a B. Demi agrees that it was time to see a bubblier side of her. Simon gives her credit for “hitting the right notes at the right time,” which is a thing I have always called “singing,” which I was under the impression was the minimum requirement on a show like this. I smell trouble.

Vino Alan does “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling,” and he’s coached by a vocal trainer named Li’l Eddie, who looks like he’s playing Bruno Mars in a Lifetime movie. Vino sings just fine, there is great warmth and character in his voice, but unfortunately that voice comes out of a package that looks like Ed Asner joined the Crips. And also he gives us a lot of JEAHS. Stop with the JEAHS, everyone. Ryan Lochte used up all the JEAHS. There are none left. The judges aren’t into it, but I think he’ll be safe because third place is for heavily tattooed lifers like Chris Rene and Vino Alan.

Back from break, Khloe is in the MOSH PIT, interviewing X Factor superfans! Lost-looking Woman reveals that she has voted for Tate 157 times. Gay Boy loves CeCe because she is relevant. Sensible Girl is voting for Emblem3, because she is right. It’s all very rehearsed and very filler-y. Khloe and Mario are not serious enough to make this look like a high-stakes show, nor smart or snarky enough to lean into the show’s campier elements, so they’re stuck in this middle area where they just say “amazing” a million times. I assume they are there because Fox couldn’t get an actual bowl of rice pudding to host this show.

Paige Thomas wants to DANCE! Demi wants Paige to NOT DANCE. It’s a HUGE CONTROVERSY. They settle on Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up,” and I’m legitimately thrilled to hear what she’ll do with it, but then ... I have been ballad-version-roll’d! I fear her slowed-down take is going to be joyless, but it ends up being playful and sexy and fun. There is personality, at last! Listen up, Mosh Pit Gay Boy: This is relevance. The judges love it.

Fifth Harmony have a couple of hours to kick it on their own and relax on Robertson Boulevard, except also be perfectly lit and followed by cameras. Oh, and Ally’s grandfather died today, which is legit SAD. She’s going to go on with the show, though, because that’s what he would have wanted her to do (and what a coincidence: She is also contractually bound under penalty of death). They do Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger,” and it makes you appreciate Kelly Clarkson’s voice when you hear how much thinner the song sounds with five whole singers. Plus, they just stand there. Listen: It’s hard to criticize a girl whose abuelo is freshly deceased, but this is weak sauce, and the judges agree.

Carly Rose is doing “Rolling in the Deep,” which makes me say UGH out loud, and not just because I’ve heard that song enough for twelve lifetimes. Here’s the deal: It’s bad enough that it was originally written and sung by a 21-year-old with that level of weary wisdom; I don’t think I can handle a 13-year-old doing it. She is indeed a prodigy, but so what? There is a reason we don’t allow even the very best children to drive cars or vote. I don’t want to see a tween who smashes cupcakes into her big brother’s face turn around and sing about laying my shit bare. Sorry — I just don’t. Anyway, of course it’s flawless. I have a complicated relationship with this little girl who doesn’t know me.

Tate dropped from No. 1 to  No. 2 last week, and we’re supposed to believe that’s a huge problem, as if his whole career isn’t already being plotted by suits in Nashville. He chooses “Somebody Like You,” which was written by a friend of L.A.’s, and all these music industry egomaniacs can’t pass up a chance to drop each other’s names. It’s an uptempo number, and while Big Ol’ Softie is more his brand, it’s nice to see him have a little fun. He’ll still be in the top three tomorrow.

Here is how disconnected from her own host copy Khloe is. At the end of her spiel about how you can vote for your favorites, Khloe saves her highest level of enthusiasm for “standard data charges may apply!” All right!

CeCe Frey has decided that she has no choice but to bring back the unlikable early CeCe Frey. The cheetah spots are back on the face, but now they’re crystal and fake pearl. She does “Lady Marmalade,” but it’s the Moulin Rouge version, which somehow sounds ten times more dated than the LaBelle version ever did. And I’ve been trying for a long time to come up with a succinct description of her backup dancers, and this is the best I can do: Pastel Sex Oompa-Loompas. Performance-wise, CeCe’s timing is all kinds of off, she’s out of breath, she’s getting desperate and she knows it. L.A. tells her “You’re going down, but you’re going down fighting,” and she replies: “Oh, REEEally?” like she thinks he was coming on to her. Simon tells her to pack a suitcase. He’s right. Now kick rocks, Frey, and let me see what Emblem3 are going to bring to the table.

No, first, we must endure this Britney and Will.I.Am video.

Photo: FOX

Are we sure we want to do this? It seems like maybe Britney doesn’t want us to do this. We do it anyway. The song is your typical Will.He.Is thing where he has six half-baked ideas and just flits from one to the next. The verses feature Britney speaking in a ridiculous British accent, and yet it is still boring. It is playing right now at the worst gay bar you can think of.

Finally, we are rewarded for our patience with a performance by Emblem3. Their pre-song package is all about them getting recognized at the Grove; guys, if you need a clever disguise, just cover Drew’s shoulders and you will be totally unrecognizable. Drew’s shoulders are the Jennifer Grey’s nose of Emblem3. They perform “I’m a Believer,” but they follow the template of the Smash Mouth version, which is a Guy Fieri sandwich in musical form. But, hey, they’re back having fun. Sweet exuberance of youth! The male judges love it; the ladies are ready to see another side of these boys, which they promise is coming next week. I’m less convinced that they are going to win this thing now, but I am more certain than ever that they will have a career. They, and not the ill-fated Playback, are the American One Direction I was predicting.

Tomorrow, it’s a double elimination! I think Diamond and CeCe are in trouble. I also think there will still be too many people left in this thing at this time tomorrow. But I know there’s one thing we can all get excited about: Standard data charges may apply.