After a relatively sane four audition episodes, "X Factor" got down to business on Thursday night (October 6), when the second evening of boot camp helped cull the herd down to the semifinal contender class.
While some early favorites such as Siameze Floyd and adorable not-yet couple McKenna and Brock cracked under the pressure, others, including Chris Rene, Josh Krajcik and cutie brother act the Brewer Boys, survived the group competition and punched their ticket to the next round.
The two-night boot camp episode reduced the 162 contenders to 32, with eight in each of the four categories: boys, girls, over-30s and groups. After 62 acts were lopped at the top of Wednesday night's show, half of the remaining singers were put into groups that got help from vocal coaches, stylists and choreographers. Their challenge was to work with their peers while shining on their own on songs by U2, Radiohead, Jay-Z, Marvin Gaye, Rascal Flatts, Whitney Houston, Nina Simone, the Eagles, Five for Fighting and Snow Patrol.
One of the show's early standout stars, hard-luck story and recovering addict Chris Rene, singing alongside his soulful sister Gina, shone again on Gaye's "What's Going On," which also put R&B crooner Marcus Canty back in the spotlight. Twangy country singer Tim Cifers delivered again on the Flatts tune, and Bieber-esque teen sibling duo the Brewer Boys were in the pocket again on Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars."
By midshow, the cuts began, with one group going home in tears, and another, which included the Renes, perpetually on-the-bubble Tiah Tolliver, the Brewers, adorable 14-year-old soul singer Crow and Prince-like wildman Floyd making it for one more day.
The bad news was that the 64 remaining acts had to turn around, pick another song and do it all over again to make the final cut ... in front of an audience of 3,000. Crow went somber with a piano-assisted cover of Beyoncé's "If I Were a Boy" that showed off her preternaturally powerful, growly range and brought judge Nicole Scherzinger to tears. Shaggy burrito-maker Krajcik, 30, got all Ray LaMontagne gritty on Kelly Clarkson's "Up to the Mountain," bringing a smile to judge L.A. Reid's face and praise from Simon Cowell for his song choice.
One of Cowell's early favorites, the perky, confident Simone Battle, 22, took a chance with an R&B tumble through Elton John's "Your Song," but fell flat on her face when she forgot almost all the lyrics. Almost-lovers McKenna and Brock blew the words on a dusty country try at Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," and Floyd turned the judges off with his caterwauling.
Model-cute Brennin Hunt, 26, promised to do a totally unique version of Alicia Keys' "If I Ain't Got You," reimagining it as an acoustic guitar folk shuffle. But Cowell hated hearing the tune without a piano, and it sent him into a snit about the singers trying too hard to change up the arrangements with "weirdo" versions.
One of the strongest groups, the smooth vocal quintet Stereo Hogzz, brought doo-wop swagger to Ella Fitzgerald's "Cry Me a River," while rapper Brian Bradley, 14, made Reid grin with his cocky delivery, and Chris Rene's feathery falsetto killed it again on the Police's "Every Breath You Take."
After putting up one of Cowell's all-time favorite auditions in Los Angeles and flaming out in the first round of boot camp, 42-year-old stay-at-home mom Stacy Francis shared the news that her father had died on the first day of camp. She (sort of) dialed back the drama for the standard "Summertime," making a joyful noise with a controlled, rich voice and a yelp at the end that Reid said telegraphed her deep pain.
The apple of Cowell's eye, 20-year-old Tolliver promised it would not be her last performance, splashing on an extra dose of sultry sass, 14-year-old Drew Ryniewicz jazzed it up with Corinne Bailey Rae's "Like a Star," and glammy rugby coach Caitlin Koch went minimal with spare ukulele and piano on Fitzgerald's "Cry Me a River."
Among the over-30s, 59-year-old singer/songwriter Leroy Bell did not act his age during a gospely, simmering cover of Adele's "Make You Feel My Love" that seemed to stamp his ticket.
After contentious deliberations, the judges finally made their decisions, with only eight acts in each category making it to the next round. The girls were first, with Koch, tattooed firecracker Tora Woloshin, Battle, Ryniewicz, Crow, big voice Jazzlyn Little, judge's crush Melanie Amaro and Tolliver surviving.
For the boys, it was Hunt, Bradley, black country singer Skyelor Anderson, Elvis-esque Nick Voss, Cifers, jazz singer Phillip Lomax, Canty and Rene. The group competition will pit the Hogzz against 2 Squared, 4Sure, the Brewer Boys, Illusion Confusion and the Anser, marking the end of the line for McKenna and Brock. The judges later took 14 castoffs and put them into two groups to round out that category.
Among the over-30s, the nods went to soul woman Elaine Gibbs, wedding DJ Tiger Budbill, Bell, James Kent, Krajcik, hairdresser Christa Collins, former Skid Row dweller and James Brown imitator Dexter Haygood, and Francis.
Once that business was done, the judges found out which groups they would mentor, with Scherzinger somewhat elated to be working with the over-30s, Reid predicting he'd already won by drawing the boys, Paula Abdul overwhelmed to be working with the groups and Cowell smugly confident about shepherding the girls.
The survivors will visit their mentors' homes next week and the real competition will begin when they start working with their industry professionals and the final 32 are cut to 16.