Tonight’s X Factor used inspiration as a weapon. And not a good weapon, either; a cheap, flimsy butter knife they keep jabbing into your side. Tonight was one long story of triumph, one garish flower after another busting out of some perfectly nice concrete. I think they’re trying to life-affirm us to death.
We start in Kansas City, and as usual, the show begins with hugely contrived banter among perfectly lit townspeople. One kid in her bedroom says to her sister: “they’re supposably doing X Factor auditions in Kansas City!” Oh, so this is the first time you’re hearing of it? Then why are you on camera with a microphone on your shirt? Also: The word is supposedly. Honestly, if Mitt Romney promised to address “supposably” in his first 100 days, I would vote for that dude in a heartbeat. We could tackle your/you’re in a second term.
Oh, also, Simon is out sick. Britney delivers the news, and I assume that it’s the setup to some kind of practical joke, because Britney is as mysterious as the Sphinx now. You can really feel her acting in these behind-the-scenes moments; she’s clearly trying to recalibrate her image, but it’s like she’s changing strategies with each new shoot day. It’s weird. I love it. Anyway, Louis Walsh is filling in for Simon, and he’s some guy or whatever. We kind of never learn much about Louis Walsh.
We start with baby-faced Rizzlow Jones, who describes himself as a “high-powered ADD animal,” which is the kind of thing one only says about oneself, and only when one is the kind of person who would put oneself on a show like this. When L.A. asks him if he has the X factor, he replies, “Yep, I got it when I learned my ABC’s and I learned the word X.” So that’s what we’re dealing with here. He reveals that he is going to rap, and the crowd makes the kind of skeptical faces they generally reserve for effeminate gay men. Anyway, he freestyles, which is to say he says UH, YEEEAH a million times and works the judges’ names in. He also says what I think is “marshmallows yeah BMX sports,” but don’t quote me. Britney says “I felt like you were a young Vanilla Ice Ice Baby.” He is through.
CeCe Frey has painted cheetah spots on her face and I feel like that’s all I’m ever going to need to know about her. She tells us right up top that she “is not here to make friends,” which can pretty much be assumed by now, and she’s pretty unpleasant besides, so don’t worry, CeCe. She sings “Unchained Melody,” which she promises to “CeCify,” which apparently means “make into a dirge.” It is a terrible choice for her, and L.A. stops her cold and demands a new song. She comes back with Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man,” which is a much better fit, which is kind of a bummer, because I don’t like her. She even covers her mouth on the “badass” lyric, in faux-shock, like she’s not the kind of girl who’d say “ass” in polite company but is the kind of person who’d have cheetah spots on her face. She makes it through. She will haunt us through much of this season, I fear.
It’s L.A.’s birthday! And Britney presents him with a cake and the most plaintive version of “Happy Birthday” you will ever hear. Seriously: We are in Carey Mulligan–in-Shame territory here. It’s all runs and fancy vocal tricks, but she’s flat and can’t get any breath behind her vocals. I voice my disapproval and my boyfriend counters “oh, she’s nervous.” Okay, fine, then don’t sing “Happy Birthday” all fancy! Nobody in history has ever wanted a fancy “Happy Birthday.” Lead the whole room in a mirthless singalong like everyone else, Spears, you big weirdo.
Vino Alan has tattoos all over his head and is doing it all for his son Sky-D, and those two facts fit together pretty perfectly. Despite his taste in face decor and child-naming, he seems like a good soul, and he can actually sing, and if those last two ding-dongs get in and he doesn’t, I’m going to be in a terrible mood. Luckily for us all, he earns this season’s first L.A. Reid Stank Face, and he is through.
DeAngelo Wallace is a mischievous, effeminate African-American teenager who “has the X Factor, no ifs ands or booties about it!” He is essentially made of sass. He sings some Chris Brown song or other, and all the judges simply get up and leave. Backstage, DeAngelo is not having it. “I think that they all worship the devil, so they all devil worshippers,” he tells us. And then he steals their mike, which might have been the plan all along, and is arrested, and is even somehow sassy about that.
Santa-cheeked Tate Stevens feels like an underdog, because he’s “the only one in a cowboy hat.” He brings along his lovely wife and children, and he sings a country song as his hat telegraphed, and you know he’s making it through but it’s still nice when he actually does. The judges really gush, and backstage he says “I’ve been waiting my whole life to hear that from people who matter.” So suck on that, anyone who ever said anything nice to Tate Stevens before tonight.
And then we’re in San Francisco, where we’ve already been, in this hair and wardrobe, two other times. And Simon is back, so all the good feeling is about to run out. Citizen, a gayish boy band with Palinesque names (“Hi, I’m Brussel! I’m Monsignor! I’m Lugnut!”) Their whole thing is like how the Village People would look if they just modeled five different outfits from Target. Citizen elicits the first disagreement of the entire season! Simon says no, the rest say yes. They won’t last. Sorry, Vinegar and Endtable.
A young lady named Adriana Lemus sings Adele’s “Rumour Has It” and gets NOs, which she takes so politely I want to find her and give her a trophy and a cash prize of $50. She deserves something. By the way, has our honeymoon period with Adele diminished to the point where I can say that “Rumour Has It” is a bullshit song? You know I’m right.
Keep an eye on Diamond White. She is a delightful 13-year-old, which is an achievement in itself. In her Triumph Package, she says “My dad doesn’t really … associate hisself with me,” which is the most heartbreaking thing I’ve heard on TV maybe ever. She takes on “It’s a Man’s World,” and is somehow spunky, and yet it works. I like this Diamond White.
Ally Brooke is not worried about double entendres as she sings a devotional song called “On My Knees.” She loves the Lord, and if her song and her delivery make it sound like she really wants to, you know, love the Lord, then that’s just your dirty mind (and mine, and Simon’s). She has a lovely voice, which she continues to use long after the music stops. Like, she just barrels right on through. For a long time. I download and install iOS6 in the extra time she takes in her audition. She makes it through to boot camp. Probably at some point someone will explain what boot camp is? I wonder what poor auditioner that job will fall to.
And then some more groups! Sister C are real sisters with names that begin with C, which you already knew. They are country, and you get the sense that Simon’s trying to get a country act this time around, because at least those reliably sell. Britney says “The fact that you guys are sisters is, like, really beautiful” and sends them through. Another sibling act, Jeremy & Josh, bring a Jason Mraz–lite effect to the proceedings. Were you aware that “a Jason Mraz–lite effect” could be produced? I wasn’t either. They too are through. I have been asleep for 25 minutes.
And then we get to Panda Ross. Panda is conservatively 300 pounds, and she was in the hospital for pneumonia, but she broke herself out to sing. None of this is advisable. Either way this goes, we’re getting a Dr. Phil episode out of it. She walks out onstage to the Condescending Britney Smile, a tightening of the lips and a schoolmarmish narrowing of the eyes that you may remember as Michele Bachmann’s “Look No. 2” on the campaign trail. Also, Panda (PANDA.) has a huge crush on Simon, which a lot of big black women do, and I’d love for someone to explain that to me, but not now.
She sings “Bring It On Home,” and I am relieved to tell you that she is fucking great. A booming, soulful voice, a delightful personality. But if you’ve seen any of the promos for this season, you know she gets strapped to a gurney and sent right back to the hospital. When it happens, it’s actually worse than you’ve been made to expect. First, she makes it through, and the mere fact that this woman — this powerhouse — needs the approval of Demi Lovato and Britney Spears is a mini-tragedy. Then she goes backstage, gets out of breath, and says over and over, “Ooh, girl — I gotta spit!” It seems she’s “still got some o’ that pneumonia,” which I will remind you is a thing that people die of — kind of a lot! — so the paramedics come and take her away. “You got four yeses, though, so that’s good,” they tell her. Even the paramedics are keeping tabs on the contestants.
Anyway, Panda: I am officially pulling for you to go all the way here, so help me out. Take your antibiotics. Get yourself on a treadmill. Do it for us.
We end with Jessica Espinosa, who grew up poor and lived through some kind of trauma that she never really names. Oh, I’m sure it’s coming. And we’ll see a lot of her, because she has a super-great rock voice. She is sent through, and even gets the Simon “I didn’t like it … I LOVED IT” fakeout. Seriously, she falls for it. Dude’s been doing that for twelve years now, Espinosa. Learn it.
I feel like I’ve spent a year locked in the graduation section of a Hallmark card store. I am drunk on cheap, homemade inspiration and I think I’ve gone blind. Tomorrow night there will be more of this.