In a wise move, The X Factor devoted much of its debut week to celebrating the fact that pop princess Britney Spears landed at its judges’ table. Most segments revolved around auditioners hoping to please Britney most of all, freaking out at seeing her, and/or terrifying the audience with their undying love for the megastar. For week two, the intensity of the spotlight softens slightly so that the other judges are given chances to pipe up a bit more. Still, the two-night affair feels like a steep drop-off from last week’s splashy debut and ends up carrying an altogether sleepy air about it throughout its whopping three-hour total with little talent to show at the end.
Rewinding first to Wednesday night’s auditions, there are a few notable mentions who bring varying charisma levels to the stage. But before any untested talent can take to the stage, the audience both at home and at the auditions in Kansas City, Missouri learn that judge Simon Cowell is too sick to make it and has sent a puffy, English cloud named Louis Walsh in his place for the day. This makes for one of the episode’s most gratifying moments when we see Britney, Demi, and L.A. supposedly “chatting” candidly in the green room about the fact that Simon won’t be judging—a jarring reminder of why Britney’s acting career derailed so immediately. There’s also a nice, jokey shot of the entire stadium cheering and applauding when they, too, learn Simon won’t be there to judge for the day. If anything, the whole bit is testament to how persistent the whole character of Evil Simon has been over the 11 years (!) he’s been in the judge’s chair and how well its fueled his ascent to mega-stardom.
First up is Rizzloe Jones who definitely falls in the “curveball” category with his geeky, pipsqueak look so not syncing up with his swagger-heavy, hip-hop hopes. He chooses to freestyle for his audition, mostly throwing around the word “oh!” and saying the judges’ names repeatedly in a blur of sound. The little fella, who looks like a modernized version of Hermey the elf from the classic Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer movie, woos the judges. He’s on to boot camp as the audience cheers him and Britney tells him, “I felt like you were a young Vanilla Ice Ice Baby.” Yeah, she just went right ahead and turned the rapper’s name and song into one name. She can do stuff like that.
Let’s pause to talk about what is happening with Demi’s look on the show. I completely get that she needs to represent the “youth” vibe or whatever it is that she and the producers have decided she’ll reiterate every so often to make her place at the panel make sense. But the whole look is completely overwhelming her this episode, with shellacked hairdos and crazy thick eyeliner. Last week she was weighed down by a slicked top-bun and now she’s peeking out from under a retro-inspired ducktail. Meanwhile, her oversized, geometric jewelry is combining with the studs on her leather jacket to create the feeling of aesthetic armor that’s overly dramatic and unnecessary. Also she must catch those pointy rings and assorted baubles on every damn thing around her all day long. I realize I sound like an out-of-touch aunt but I just worry!
Okay, back to it! Next is confident Cece, who struts on stage with her Kat Von D-inspired, animal-print face paint after talking a biiiiig game backstage. I love her insistence that this whole thing is basically small potatoes to her and “just another day at the office,” as if pop stars regularly audition for celebrities and thousands of people who have no clue who they are as part of their daily routine. Her pitchy and decidedly weak voice can’t handle her first choice, “Unchained Melody” and she’s given the chance to come back at it with a hipper song more in her wheelhouse, Christine Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man.” She’s noticeably looser and able to keep the crowd entertained but she overreaches like nobody’s business on nearly every note and scream-talks half the song, too. Surprisingly, she gets a “yes” vote by all four judges who likely voted her in for a good dose of arrogant drama to come.
If you’re looking for evidence of a generational divide among pop princesses, my favorite moment is when rootsy rocker dude Vino Alan takes the stage. Before he delves into his rendition of Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble,” he’s asked to pull off his knit cap and expose a shaved head covered in thick, black tattoos. Britney cringes immediately while Demi bursts forward in her chair to shout “That’s sick!” I’ve learned this means “cool” and “bold” in Demi-speak.
Speaking of a wild child, there’s a nice interlude with a spazzy little maniac named Deangelo Wallace who stinks up the stage with a nightmarish rendition of “With You” by Chris Brown before storming off stage and trying to steal his mic pack. He’s quickly caught by the local police and thrown in the back of a cop car, appearing unfazed and excited to have nabbed even more screentime.
After being blown away by a skilled country singer named Tate Stevens (already the perfect name!), the judges hop over to San Francisco and bring Simon back in the fold. And just to remind audiences that he’s, you know, mean mean mean, there’s a helpful montage of him immediately shunning auditioners one after another from the hot seat. I’ve come to already enjoy his more creative rejections for cruddy performers. My favorite has to be “You’re a bit like a singing candle. You just stand there and melt.” I mean, the visual on that one alone!
Sweet, little Diamond White wows the crowd and the judges with a soulful rendition of “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World” that has Cowell noting she “tore the roof off the place.” Like little Carly Rose Sonenclare from last week, the switch flip of seeing a young girl open her mouth and burst a tremendous voice out onto the crowd doesn’t get old.
Jetting to yet another location, the gang sets up shop in Austin and it feels like a whole different level of talent comes out of the woodwork. First, there’s pretty Ally Brook who is a dead ringer for last season’s judge Nicole Scherzinger. Britney rightly pegs her voice as more Broadway than pop and she wows the crowd with a powerful set of pipes. Still, she almost burns through all the goodwill she endears by choosing to sing her song to the very finish although the track has been stopped, as it is for all contestants. Not only that but her extra turn on the mic becomes a wild melisma-fest that has her channeling Mariah and every other diva who has held a mic. I couldn’t stand her, naturally, but she made her way through to boot camp with little surprise.
Two family acts stroll up next and charm the stadium and judges. First is the pretty sister trio known as Sister C who smartly modeled themselves after The Dixie Chicks and deliver lovely, country harmonies with gorgeous looks to boot. They’re followed by brothers Jeremiah and Josh, whose handsome mugs seem to entrance Britney enough to mention she’d like them to “wake her up in the morning.” It’s an endearingly clueless moment and the quick cutaway to her fiancée Jason—whose purpose otherwise on the show seems to be shepherding her around backstage and carrying her purse—and her red cheeks makes for a nice, unscripted moment.
Before wrapping up Wednesday night, we also meet the cheeriest, most endearing woman alive—who happens to also be named “Panda”—as she rocks the crowd with “Bring It On Home.” Unfortunately, she has to make a detour to the hospital before boot camp due to residual effects from just having had pneumonia days prior. My God, the fortitude of these people!
Lastly, young Jessica Espinoza shines on stage and brings it home in the way I’m learning the show likes to do. Her vague story of having grown up in poverty on the South side of San Antonio is hammered numerous times to the point of irritation, but it doesn’t matter because her performance registers as exceedingly genuine. It also doesn’t hurt that her singing voice is capable when it’s not wavering between gravelly or blown out. But you root for her and cheer when mean ol’ Simon tells her “I didn’t like it, I loved it. I love everything about you.”
For Thursday night’s continuation of auditions, the gang scoots from Austin to Greensboro, North Carolina where the talent is mixed overall and the excitement is scarce. The biggest to-do of the night comes from a thunderstorm and a hairdresser losing her marbles after rejection.
The first standout is little Willie Jones, who nails his ’90s-inspired look with an awesome flattop and cut-off jean jacket. And in true curveball fashion, he surprises everyone by covering the countrified “Your Man” by Josh Turner. That and his sweet demeanor send him straight through to boot camp. Then comes pretty, Gwen Stefani-inspired Julia Bullock. There’s an obnoxious, tiny story shoehorned into her audition—involving her breaking away from her band in order to become a solo artist—but the whole thing couldn’t fall more flat. Luckily, she’s likeable enough to root for without the silly backstory and makes her way on through to the other side.
The big drama of the night is the thunder and rain beating down on the Greensboro arena, complete with cutaways to supposed news shows and weathermen covering the pelting storm. In fact, it brings the most free-spirited moment of the whole two-night affair when Britney is scared so much by a jolt of thunder knocking out some of the power that she yells out, “That’s fucking scary as fuck. We’ve got to get out of here.” And then, after recovering, says to Demi, “I spit all over you. I’m sorry.” It’s a gem and even with the bleeps, a rare and candid moment from her. While we’ve been treated to nice shots of Britney golf-clapping, guffawing, and politely turning down auditioners, it’s fun to get to see her react like a real human to something jarring. More please!
Speaking of reactions, the night culminates in an embarrassing freakout that’s not even particularly fun to watch when hairdresser Krysten Colon returns to the stage for a second attempt at wooing the judges. Simon had issued the rare decree to redo her audition with another song after slaughtering Adele’s “Don’t You Remember,” and asked her to return with a “classic” song more suited to her voice. Mostly, it seems to have to do with Simon’s hatred of hearing auditioners perform Adele, which I can imagine must be tiring. Still, Krysten’s return is a rocky one and after stinking up the stage for a second time and being denied bootcamp, she goes on a rampage backstage that has her throwing water bottles and chairs at the cameras. Eventually, she runs off outside in her towering stilettos into the rainy distance while her mom apologizes to the cameras and the whole thing is a disheartening bummer for the most part. Here’s hoping there’s more than rain and angry freakouts waiting for week three. And, of course, way more Britney swearing.
- The Pepsi taste test inserted into the show has to be one of the most awkward and terribly justified in-show advertisements I’ve yet to see. I know American Idol is pretty bad with the Coke stuff but sheesh.
- Britney sings “Happy Birthday” to L.A.! While carrying the cheapest little cake you ever did see!
- I thought the extended scene of Citizen in the bathroom was honestly going to be a plug for hair gel. Turns out it was a PSA for not being the worst, most annoying men you can possibly be.
- Simon’s buttery grits. That’s all.