The first live performance show for The X Factor occurred Tuesday – a two and a half hour marathon that reduced the field from 17 to 12, with the four mentor/judges making the sole call without any input from those troublesome voters at home. As a result, it was fairly easy ahead of time to predict who would get cut (the only real drama came from the groups), since there were some fairly bad singers who were advanced to this stage, and the mentors have a vested interest in keeping the strongest possible team together.
The added emphasis on the mentors and their strategic squabbling – the notion that the competition is among them as much as it is among the singers – is one of the elements that sets this show apart from American Idol, and not for the better. Another is the sheer amount of spectacle (dancers, flashing lights) surrounding most of the performances, an element of showbiz that Idol has typically not gone for, especially as it has become friendlier to “authentic” acoustic singers. It’s becoming clearer that America’s Got Talent is closer to Simon Cowell’s vision of the perfect show than Idol ever was.
Here’s how the competition went down:
The Boys: Yes, this is the show’s term for all males under the age of 30 (“the girls” come up later). Brian Bradley, the teen rapper now rechristened as Astro, did an energetic take on the ‘90s kiddy hip-hop classic “Jump.” He ran out of breath (must have been all the jumping), but he does have obvious charisma. Chris Rene stumbled noticeably on “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore,” though the judges pretended not to notice. Crooner Phillip Lomax stepped out of his comfort zone on “I’m a Believer,” but wasn’t very believable. Marcus Canty was shaky on “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” though it might have been the offbeat song choice more than the performer, whose potential is clear.
Eliminated: Phillip, who is derivative and outside mentor L.A. Reid’s usual comfort zone. Chris might have deserved it on the (de)merits, but The X Factor has invested a lot of time in his recovering addict backstory.
The Groups: The major question about this category was whether The X Factor would show favoritism towards the two groups put together by the producers. The answer appears to be yes, because one of those groups, the countryish chicks of the awfully named Lakoda Rayne, isn’t good at all but made it through anyway. If their unironic take on “Come on Eileen” indicates what we have in store, they could be good for some laughs, at any rate. Stereo Hoggz is trying to bring back the R&B band sound that’s been absent from the charts for a generation, and while they certainly have an uphill fight there, they were no doubt mentor Paula Abdul’s easiest yes. The other tossed-together group, InTENsity, still looks like the Mickey Mouse Club to me.
Eliminated: The Brewer Boys, who probably never had a chance, as the show didn’t create them and they aren’t as good as the Stereo Hoggz. Yes, they actually play their own instruments, but Paula no doubt cared more about the fact that it’s no fun to choreograph for just two guys.
The Over 30s: There was no way that Dexter Haygood had any chance of surviving this night, and he made it official with his performance of a medley of “Womanizer” and “I Kissed a Girl,” the latest evidence that he’s 51 cards shy of a full deck (and he may have company there with his now ex-mentor, Nicole Scherzinger). I hope everyone with the show is happy about holding this fellow up for national ridicule. The others all did very well, although Stacy Francis’s very last century approach to oversinging might not be America’s cup of tea in the end. Leroy Bell is so good it makes one wonder how he could have gone undiscovered all this time, and Josh Krajcik stood out with the night’s most stripped-down performance on “Forever Young.” Mark my words: despite his, er, non-starry appearance, Josh has many of the qualities that have proven popular on Idol in recent years.
Eliminated: Good luck, Dexter. Seriously.
The Girls: This also seemed like a foregone conclusion, since no one in America believed Tiah Tolliver and Simone Battle deserved to get this far (Simone didn’t even sound good on her first audition), and neither could survive a public vote long. Rachel Crow sounded fine for a 13-year-old, but her new look is sort of bizarre, and I really question whether a middle schooler can be marketed as an Adele-style retro artist. Drew Ryniewicz has dropped her last name (we knew that was coming, especially considering this is Simon’s group), but has retained all her ability. Did we have any idea that an unadorned version of the ultimate cheeseball song, “Flashdance,” could sound this good? No, we did not. Melanie Amaro, the closest thing to a traditional diva in the competition (and thus Simon’s true favorite, even though he’s continuing to sell the storyline that she’s some big underdog), brought the house down for a fitting conclusion. She’s a true star, if her mentor doesn’t saddle her with outdated Leona Lewis-reject material.
Eliminated: Simone was utterly horrible in what sounded like the worst Glee production number ever. Tiah was actually adorably nutso on “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” but as we saw in the final preliminary round, Simon doesn’t go for eccentricity, and there was no way he could cut any of the other three anyway.
Starting next week, America will have its say – and you’ll be able to vote on Twitter!