When the judges opted to save CeCe Frey on last week's "X Factor" Thanksgiving episode, the MTV News comments section lit up with some not-so-nice adjectives to describe the polarizing singer, including (but definitely not limited to) "phony," "hateful," "obnoxious," "fake," "tone-deaf," "arrogant" and "off-key."
Despite that vitriol, the wannabe pop star has made it this far, even landing at #5 out of 10 contestants on the previous week's leaderboard. So what is behind Frey's inexplicable staying power?
When MTV News caught up with CeCe's mentor, Demi Lovato, she confessed that it even took her awhile to understand the appeal of the formerly leopard-printed vocalist.
"When she came into the competition, I wasn't crazy about her, to be honest," Lovato admitted. "When I had her at my judges' home ... I wasn't planning on having her this far in the competition.
"But when I got to know her is when things really changed," she continued. "I'm very emotionally invested in her, so I want her to do so well. She's one of the sweetest girls here. She wants this more than she wants to breathe, literally, and she would do anything to make it. And I think that's the most important thing, is you have to have that drive and determination inside of you."
TVLine senior editor Michael Slezak doesn't think it's a coincidence that Frey's "character arc" has evolved from hate to tolerance to, seemingly, support.
"They sort of created this interesting story for CeCe, like tough girl, really cocky, works at the post office, has to be humbled by her mentor in order to get into the top 20 and now is sort of, quote-unquote, overcoming the odds," Slezak told MTV News. "Everything with her just sort of seems like it's this carefully crafted story. It's like a romantic-comedy situation, like she has to be humbled before she can realize her dreams.
"Whether it's real or concocted, it's sort of made her into this person that you want to root for," he added. "Although I liked her a little bit better when she had more of a bitchy edge to her; I feel like she's lost some of that spunk along the way, whether it's the aggressive hair coloring or the constant attempts to get her to weep. ... I'd love to see it back. But I think that's the focus of her appeal, really, is that, more so than her singing."
The question now is whether CeCe becomes a legitimate contender for the $5 million recording deal or just a season-two footnote. After weeks and weeks of outsize ballads (Celine Dion's "All By Myself," Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You," Bette Midler's "Wind Beneath My Wings"), Slezak thinks Frey should take a few steps back and tackle a diva her own size.
"Don't pick Celine Dion, don't pick Whitney Houston, don't pick Cher," Slezak said. "Cover a Kylie [Minogue] song, cover a Britney song, cover a Demi Lovato song, maybe cover a song by a male artist. Not everyone expects every singer to be able to sing 'The Greatest Love of All.' And frankly, not everyone wants to hear that. She should really be mining the pop-tart territory of people who have slightly smaller voices than her.
"She does have some talent," he added. "It's just paired with songs bigger than her that makes her seem almost impossibly bad. It's like going to climb Mount Everest while dressed to scale the small hill in your hometown on an afternoon hike. ... She's not dressed for Everest; she's dressed for an afternoon hike. Go for an afternoon hike!"
Frey is clearly doing something right, since she's made it all the way to the top eight, surviving back-to-back double-elimination episodes to sing yet another day. And while the anti-CeCe movement is a vocal one, her detractors clearly aren't getting out the vote, and MTV News reader Hank says that makes all the difference.
"For those of you who are complaining so much about CeCe and who should or should not go home, it's very simple: VOTE!" he wrote. "No vote, no complaint. Oh well, those are the breaks."
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