"The X Factor" threw viewers a few curveballs on Wednesday night's (September 28) episode. Having been weaned on years of gag auditions from "American Idol," we've been trained to pick out the phony contestants from the contenders.
Or so we thought. But J. Mark Inman -- a 31-year-old philosophy student who compared his life to "the algorithm for pi" -- threw a wrench into that system with his bizarro take on Radiohead's "Creep."
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Backed by a stuttering electronic track he made himself, Inman -- who looks exactly like the kind of person who would compare his life to the algorithm for pi -- seemed as out of place as Mark Zuckerberg at a karaoke bar but had a magnetic, inexplicable confidence about him. As he took on "Creep," he shuffled across the stage with his mock Usher moves and somehow, his subdued, off-kilter take on the alt-rock classic simply worked. Said L.A. Reid: "It sounded so bad, but felt so good." Inman was sent through to the next round, and he seemed as shocked as anyone.
Josh Krajcik, a self-described "burrito slinger" from Columbus, Ohio, also looked far from your typical pop singer, with his scruffy beard, laundry-day attire and long, greasy hair. But when he sang a deeply soulful version of Etta James' "At Last," the 30-year-old took the judges by surprise and was passed through to the next round. "You need to give the slinging-burritos job to somebody else," Reid informed him.
Meanwhile, producers initially presented 14-year-old Drew Ryniewicz as a bubbly Justin Bieber obsessive (she gazes at pictures of him in her bedroom and knows that his favorite colors are purple and red) and nothing more. But when she sang a down-tempo, piano-driven version of Bieber's "Baby" that brought out an undercurrent of sadness and longing in the song, she won over even Reid, who has helped mold Bieber's career. "You are special," Reid told her, while Paula Abdul called Ryniewicz "commendable, original, daring and bold." We'll see her again in Boot Camp.
And sure, Skyelor Anderson seemed odd enough; as he said himself, "You don't find a lot of young black teenagers that sing country music." But the 16-year-old Mississippi native showed real tenacity, singing a cappella when his backing track unexpectedly dropped out on him. The judges loved his resourcefulness and his Southern manners and sent him through. As Anderson himself said, Git-R-Done!
Among the more traditional contestants introduced on Wednesday's show were Makenna and Brock, a 22- and 18-year-old singing duo with a secret (he has a crush on her, she doesn't know it -- well, until she watched him admit it on national television, that is); Arin Ray, a 15-year-old whose "Ain't No Sunshine" earned him four "yes" votes from the judges; 4Shore, a quartet whose version of Boyz II Men's "End of the Road" had even songwriter Reid on his feet; Elaine Gibbs, a 53-year-old grandmother who took the judges to church with her gospelized "You've Got a Friend"; Tiger Budbill, a 42-year-old wedding DJ who might have the best name in the competition so far; Phillip Lomax, a 21-year-old self-described "hipster" with a 1,000-watt smile; and 17-year-old Francesca Duncan, whose version of Mariah Carey's "Hero" earned her unanimous passing grades from the judges.
The night's biggest drama came from 19-year-old Tiah Tolliver, a deli clerk who auditioned with Shontelle's "Impossible." Simon Cowell and Reid let her through, but when Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger both passed, citing problems with her key, Cowell reacted by throwing a minor hissy fit and tossing his pen from his hands. Before she was dismissed, Reid convinced her to sing one more song, and Tolliver's "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" was good enough that Scherzinger gave her a pass, allowing her through to the next round and making Cowell happy. And on this show, that may be the most important thing of all.
What did you think of Wednesday's "X Factor"? Let us know in the comments!