Mario Lopez starts tonight’s show like this: “WelcometoTheXFactorlet’sgo!” And … then they don’t go. No, they kind of just stand there, telling us things about the show that we already know, like that tonight is going to be the first week when we — the viewers at home! regular folks like you and me! — have the power to vote for our favorites. And without alienating too many readers, let me just say this: Today, I am less pessimistic than usual about what a popular vote might bring. We Americans get it right once in a while, we really do.
But we could still just give the whole thing to Emblem3 right now and throw ourselves a lovely party with the money we’d save.
Anyway. Mario promises a piece of news, which Simon will deliver, and which I wearily say out loud before he has a chance: Diamond White, whom Britney cast off last week, has been brought back to compete. It’s a top thirteen now, instead of a top twelve.
So let’s talk about it. I have a theory about why Mario was such a stickler about Simon saying the name of the act he’d be sending home last week, and here it is: The producers are terrified Britney is going to screw this thing up. I think they’re afraid she’ll say “I’m sending you home” to the person she’s actually sending to the next round, unless you give everyone clear instructions not to, and even then it might not go off the right way. Either she did it wrong, or she just has awful taste — either way, it was Britney’s first actual, legally binding act as a talent judge on live television, and the producers just straight-up erased it.
Or they were just giving Diamond the Melanie Amaro treatment and all of this happened on purpose. Hard to tell. Moving on.
Tonight’s theme is Songs From the Movies, one of those themes that is defined so broadly that it is essentially meaningless. Still, Mario delivers it with gusto, waving his hand across his face, like he’s picturing it in lights on a marquee: “Songs from the MOVIES.” Any song that was playing in someone’s car in, like, White Chicks counts as a song from a movie. Settle down, Lopez.
As is now tradition, the mentors introduce their acts, reminding us that each one is “one of my favorites,” as though their presence in the top twelve were not ample evidence. The first performer is from Britney’s team. Here’s how the intro goes down:
Khloe: Our first performer is one of the teens, who will be introduced by their mentor, Britney Spears! Britney?
Britney: [Silent, vacant smile.]
Khloe: So. Who’s performing, Britney?
Britney: Excuse me?
Khloe: Britney, which one of your acts will be performing right now?
To review: Khloe had to take the lead in that exchange. That’s where we’re at with this show. I will remind you that Britney made more money during this two-hour episode than I will all year.
ANYWAY. Arin Ray was in that super-kid-group InTENsity last year, who were the first to go home from the top twelve. The worst part of losing? “Going home to be, like, normal,” he says with a genuine shudder. I feel you, Arin. He needs to get out of his tough neighborhood because “two streets over from me, someone gets shot, like, often.” Is it the same person? Maybe it’s that person’s fault. Shoot me twice, shame on me.
He sings “American Boy,” which you will remember from having been used in a scene from the Beyoncé–Ali Larter classic Obsessed. He’s a charismatic guy, and his voice isn’t bad per se, just not terribly memorable. I think he might be in trouble. I also think his dancers were from the Wachowskis’ Speed Racer movie.
Paige Thomas descends from the ceiling in an outfit that is very Winged Victory of Samothrace for her version of “Take My Breath Away.” It’s all very theatrical, but she doesn’t make much of an impression otherwise. The arrangement of the song just kind of sits there; she can’t get much breath behind her voice. Not great.
You know what’s accidentally sort of fun about The X Factor? Demi and Simon’s interaction is believably human! I wonder how they snuck that in.
Vino Alan claims that the military wouldn’t take him because of all of his tattoos, which sounds fishy to me — are we well enough defended that we are making aesthetic decisions about who can enlist now? He does “When a Man Loves a Woman,” which obviously Percy Sledge wrote for the timeless Andy Garcia–Meg Ryan movie of the same name. Listen: Every year, some guy like Vino has to trot this song out, and this year’s version is pretty decent. At the very least, it is not Nickelback. Demi thinks he doesn’t look like a pop star, to which Vino replies “I ‘preciate you” in the most menacing way possible. Simon, in defense of Vino’s face, brings up Susan Boyle’s sales history. That’s going to leave a mark. And the thing is, tattoo tragedies aside, Vino’s actually not a bad-looking guy. He’s no Drew, but still. (Drew is the blond guy with the superhero posture from Emblem3. When is Emblem3 up? I’m getting ansty.)
Oh, here they are. As if they didn’t have this thing sewn up, their intro package reveals that Wesley and little brother Keaton’s mother is about to be evicted from their childhood home. Can you believe the good luck? Even Dick Morris agrees these guys are going to walk away with this thing. (That’s called topical humor, you guys.) They do a number from what Simon calls “the movies My Girl and Katy Perry,” which ends up being a medley of “My Girl” and “California Girls.” Neither one is a song from a movie, this is a flagrant violation of the rules, and I don’t care because Drew is tanking it, bro, and his shoulders are absolutely astonishing. Looks aside, what I admire about these guys is that despite all the bro-y-ness, they are unabashedly pop. They’re not even trying to be too cool for this! L.A. says, “That was perfect,” and lead guy Wesley replies, “That? Was seriously? So amazing of you to say.” I am loving every minute of this.
It is only fair to warn you: My Emblem3 thing is not going to get any less creepy as the season goes on.
Beatrice Miller is the child of two moms! This is such an Obama second term world already! I really like this kid. She projects an aura of cool, her voice has raspy honesty, and I kind of wish they’d work her into Glee somehow, because the rest of her adolescence is going to be fascinating. I worry about her chances on this show, though, because she’ll always be compared to Carly Rose Sonenclar, who is exactly the kind of flawless young belter who does well on a show like this. You have to work harder to appreciate a Beatrice. But it’s worth it! Her version of the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” is so good, I don’t automatically tune the song out. Again, Britney seems to have run her through the wardrobe room and put everything on her.
Jennel continues her streak of not wowing me with her version of “I Love Rock & Roll,” which is apparently something Britney sang in a karaoke scene in the movie Crossroads, but I had to look that up on the Internet because nobody mentions it because you are not allowed to interact with Britney until she gets more comfortable with live television and that somehow doesn’t disqualify a person from a $15 million television job.
“Representing the working class,” which sounds like a lot of work in itself, is country guy Tate Stevens. He does “Wanted Dead or Alive,” and while it doesn’t make much of an impression on me, the judges go nuts. Was this song in a movie, or did Jon Bon Jovi’s brief film career grandfather all his songs into this category?
Khloe is backstage, where she says, simply: “IT IS TOTAL CHAOS BACK HERE! BACK TO YOU, MARIO.” And she is standing in front of … nothing. It’s beautiful.
And then we get to Lyric 145, who do a hip-hop take on “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious,” no, you heard me. And you know what? I respect it. On a night of people bending the theme to what they were already planning to do, these guys bent themselves to the theme and created something totally unique. No “I Love Rock & Roll” for these guys. They went straight for a high degree of difficulty — Lyric da Queen even does the backwards part right in L.A.’s face — and they pretty much nail it. (As much as one can be said to nail a hip-hop version of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.”) I would have gone with a “Mistadobalina”/early nineties Native Tongues vibe on it instead of the Black Eyed Peas treatment they serve up, but that’s nitpicky. Well done. Weirdest thing I’ve seen on TV in some time.
Diamond White is back, which is good news, but she’s also back to doing grim, played-out ballads like “I Have Nothing,” which is bad. She’s got a phenomenal voice, she has a bubbly personality, she is clearly being groomed for stardom, I just wish she’d chill out and be a 13-year-old girl, even if that means more Train.
Mario finally gets around to asking CeCe how to pronounce her last name, and she says FRY. He ad-libs “like FRENCH FRY?” (Or, dear God, I HOPE that’s an ad-lib.) She replies, “Yeah, I’ve never heard that before.” Mario, a woman with cheetah-spot appliques on her head is calling you out for being corny. Take a moment and think about your choices. Anyway, she sings “Eye of the Tiger,” and she comes off like a pop star who’s about to be murdered on an episode of The Mentalist.
Carly Rose does “It Will Rain” from one of those Twilight movies. I don’t understand those movies, and though I acknowledge that she is viciously talented, I don’t understand Carly either, and I don’t think those two things are unrelated. Carly Rose is the Bella Swan of this show: remote, chilly, old beyond her years, the favorite because everyone keeps saying she’s the favorite. She does well, but she just doesn’t connect for me. Whatever: Bella and Carly Rose and Twilight are all doing fine without my support. Do your thing, boring girls.
acts out the first twenty minutes of Auntie Mame and sings “I Believe I Can Fly” from Space Jam and it does him no favors. There is a sweet spot with this guy, and if last week took him too far into RuPaul’s Drag Race territory, this week is too small-town karaoke. Here’s hoping they can find the right thing for Big Gay Jason. We need a nelly superstar. (Here’s also hoping they can stop making him wear uphostery. Note to the stylists: We get that he is gay. You need not dress him in fuchsia to get this point across. Message received.)
Last week, LYLAS became 1432, and this week, 1432 became Fifth Harmony via some kind of Internet contest that was apparently called “Make This Girl Group Sound Like an Item on a Thai Menu.” They close out tonight’s show with “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri. Though the harmonies (all five of them!) are strong, the song is joyless. Not their fault. They will survive.
So that’s it! Boy, that felt like a trip to the Museum of the Moving Image. I think Arin and Jennel are in trouble, and I know I just followed @emblemthree on Twitter. Help.