I’m not saying the gender roles on The X Factor are archaic and stuck forever, but I will say this: In tonight’s introductory montage, each female contestant is shown in the pose you are currently picturing. Head thrown back, eyes squeezed shut, uvula fully visible. All the boys are looking directly into the camera, usually playfully swinging an arm. Boys be flirtin’, ladies be beltin’.
Tonight’s theme is “Songs by the Divas.” Let me grab my X-Factorese-to-English dictionary. Oh, here we go; that means “songs sung by people who have sung songs.” They play a little fast and loose with the rules on this show, is what I’m saying: Freddie Mercury and Katy Perry are divas. Gay people can’t sufficiently entertain you. Khloe Kardashian is a television host. This is the most unconventional show on television, in its way. Unfortunately its way is not “fun.”
Jennel Garcia kicks it off. She is a children’s dance teacher back in East Wherever, and having seen her dance moves, I would be reluctant to send my daughter to dance classes in East Wherever. She has a Skype conversation with her class, who ask if she’s nervous when she performs. She replies: “Yes, it’s just like when you go to competitions, except mine is in front of Britney Spears.” True, but come on, Jennel — these kids have almost definitely performed for some drowsy young mothers themselves. Jennel tries “Proud Mary,” which as of tonight I will tell you conclusively cannot be done in an original way. It’s just been done so many times, and it can’t help but feel like a tribute to Tina Turner, and if you aren’t Tina Turner (which only one person is) or you can’t do it better than Tina Turner (which no person can), it comes off like something that would happen at Knotts Berry Farm. The judges love it, and declare her back in the game. I throw my hands in the air. Because I do care.
Tate Stevens’ twitter handle is @tatestevensctry, which I guess is supposed to mean Tate Stevens Country, but it looks like Tate Stevens Cry, which Tate Stevens always looks like he is about to do. He does “From This Moment On” for his wife who is backstage. They are in their late 30s, I am assuming based on the fact that she has not yet adopted the severe lesbian haircut and sweatshirt with a bird embroidered on it that so many women from Missouri adopt upon their 40th birthday. Resist the encroaching sexlessness, Mrs. Stevens! The song is nice, I suppose. The judges love it. The judges are pretty easy on the early acts, and pretty crabby for the later ones, which might mean this show is too long. Whatever, it’s positive feedback, and Tate Stevens tatestevenscries.
Khloe reminds us to vote thusly: “Just a few clicks of your finger or some thumb action can keep your favorites from going home. Ha, ha! Thumb action.” Yeah, I guess saying the names of fingers is pretty funny.
Can we talk about something? How far is Britney Spears sitting back from the table? Each other judge seems to sit up straight and talk right into their microphone, but Britney is always, like, leaning forward from the third row to deliver her one line. And it always is one line. Usually the same line! She kind of picks a critique and sticks with it, whether the situation does or does not warrant. Tonight it’s “amazing” or “I didn’t get it.”
Diamond White says thanks Britney for putting her back in the show, adding that when she thought she’d been eliminated, “My spirit was crushed.” When she says this, the producers opt for a close-up on Britney, whose eyes accuse: “Oh, you think so?” She does Beyonce’s “Halo,” which is a tall order, and it’s good! She manages to make it sound fresh, which is helped by the fact that it hasn’t been done ten million times before. Yet.
Oh, and like Beyonce, Diamond has a performing alter ego, Karian. Khloe tells her she does too: “Khlo-Money. You don’t want to see Khlo-Money.” It’s true, Khloe! We also didn’t want to hear about her.
Beatrice Miller is stressed out because she feels like The X Factor is her only chance to provide for her family, which is some pretty heavy shit. Britney chooses Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” for her, and while it’s a decent fit for her voice, it stays on the same level the whole time. Plus it starts with her sitting on the stage all wistfully again, for about the millionth time in a row. When Simon criticizes the monotony of the whole thing, Britney gets up the gumption to interact! “Simon,” she says from the mezzanine, “She has more talent in her little pinky finger than you do in your whole contestants’ bodies.” Okay, sure! A little unnecessarily vicious and in need of a second draft, but it’s a start. Oh, and again Beatrice is wearing seventeen flannel shirts and a winter hat that says YOLO on it, and it is indeed ridiculous, but I will remind you that she is 13, and there is a 41-year-old man on this show who has YOLO tattooed on his hands, so let’s all calm down.
Lyric 145 are a perfect example of why hip-hop almost never works on shows like this. You either have to rewrite songs completely and add your own rhymes, as Astro did last year, or you’re just doing a cover version, and there is a reason there aren’t more rap covers. They get some kind of medley of Katy Perry’s “ET” and Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” which I guess were chosen because the verses have the same tune, which is none. So these three — who I like! — just end up yelling the words. The resulting sound is what old white people think hip-hop is. The judges don’t like it. Lyric da Queen just laughs at the critiques. She has lost her mind. I love it. They’re in trouble. When I say “they,” am I referring to Lyric145 or the judges? I am actually not sure.
Arin Ray can’t catch a break. First of all, Mario calls him “Erin Gray,” and I get my hopes all up to see how the female lead of “Silver Spoons” is holding up. Next, there’s a sound mixup and his performance of “Crazy For You” starts with the stompstompCLAP from Lyric145’s performance. But he takes it in stride and doesn’t let it make his performance interesting in any way. The judges don’t like it! Demi says he lacks soul, which has got to be hard to take. He handles the bad comments a lot less gracefully than he does the technical difficulty.
Paige Thomas finally starts to look like she’s having fun, with a glittering take on Donna Summer’s “Last Dance.” Really glittering; she has, like, a thousand red Swarovski crystals glued to her mouth, which you would think would make it hard to sing, but no! She’s a little hard to hear at times, which may be a sound problem or may be the arrangement being in too low a key, but she’s enjoying herself, she’s in a catsuit, she’s working it. Oh, and her mother died young in a car accident on Christmas Eve. So we are back to a baseline fun level for Paige Thomas, which is zero fun.
Fifth Harmony try “Hero,” and while I cannot imagine a more played out song, they actually manage to make it sound new. There are fewer vocal histrionics than in the original, which of course there are, because the original is by Mariah Carey. These girls voices blend well, and this is a nice, unfussy situation. A clean stage, monochrome outfits, simple, strong harmonies. The judges love it! Through this whole show, when she likes something, Britney expresses enthusiasm in the least enthusastic way I’ve ever seen.
I know I’m being hard on Britney. I kid because I wish someone would give me $15 million to say twelve sentences a week.
Carly Rose does “My Heart Will Go On,” and of course it’s flawless, but I can’t hear this song when it’s on anymore. I lived through The Titanic Wars of 1997; it’s just very white noise to me now. The judges agree that Carly is a young Celine Dion, and if that’s true, then Carly already knows the man she’s going to marry, and that man is 39-years-old. Let’s savor that morsel.
Vino Alan has his 18-year-old son with him backstage, and as they chat, there are some pics of the two of them in the mid-nineties when the son was a baby and Vino had that bleached-yellow hair you used to see at Lollapalooza. Now it’s 2012 and Vino is at Tattoo Level Durst. Vino Alan has a long history of unfortunate decisions. But the son seems nice! Vino does “Let’s Stay Together,” LA advertises it as “sung by the diva Tina Turner,” which is true, but it’s a pretty faithful cover of the Al Green version, so I’m calling shenanigans, which nobody is hearing because they’re sitting on thousand-foot stacks of cash. It’s a decent version, though the judges are lukewarm. Khloe tells him, “Vino, you got some mix from the judges,” then just straight up bungles the part where she gives the voting info, so irreparably that she is forced to admit “I just stumbled.” Blame it on Khlo-Money, Khloe! We already like her better!
There they are! There’s my Emblem3. They take on Alicia Keys’ “No One,” and it involves less aggressive yelling and more actual singing than in recent weeks. They came in 6th in the voting last week, but I stand by my prediction that they will win this thing. Picture their Pepsi commercial. They’re shirtless on skateboards, taking huge, joyous gulps, smiling their massive, oblivious Huntington Beach smiles, cooling their sweaty brows with the ice-cold cans. Every child in America comes to the unavoidable conclusion that Pepsi is the key to Emblem3-level happiness, Pepsi sales go through the roof and stay there, and a new era of Cola Peace begins. You and I both know this is exactly how it’s going to go. The judges love it, the girls go nuts, Drew straight-up bear crawls across the stage to interact with the fans. That Drew has a screw loose, and it’s the best. Emblem3 4evs.
CeCe Frey takes us home after a show-long attempt to repair her tarnished image. Seriously, through this whole two hours, she shows up in other people’s packages, listening intently to their sob stories, as if to say: “Look at me having friends!” And sure, I bet she’s nice. Her version of “All By Myself,” though, is not. Pitchy and over the top. The judges aren’t kind. LA pretty much insults her, and he and Demi have a nice playful moment of banter; Demi says “Sorry she’s so much better than your Vino!” Then when Britney says “I didn’t get it,” the fourth time she’s said that very thing tonight, Demi says nothing. LA asks Demi why, and she replies, “You don’t talk to the queen that way,” which is a pretty decent dodge for “If any of us so much as sneeze around Britney Spears without having cleared it with her conservator and rehearsed it three times, she will pull all her hair out and start dating Hunter Moore.” Anyway, CeCe isn’t great, but I feel like she’ll get some sympathy votes from having been at the bottom last week.
Tomorrow: results! I think Arin, Lyric145 and Jennel are in trouble. And Taylor Swift will perform, and I can already tell you that the first single from her next album is about Drew from Emblem3.