We're in the home stretch, and while it feels like I've died and been reincarnated several times since the first X Factor auditions back in late September, all I have to do is see one American Idol spot during the commercial breaks to remind myself to count my blessings. I don't know if I could make it through four months of The X Factor with any kind of sense of humor about what it's done to my mental state; three is just fine, thank you. I watched all 90 minutes of the show, voted for Josh Krajcik five times on Facebook, watched some videos of puppies, read all of The A.V. Club's year-end TV lists, made a cup of coffee, and now I'm sitting down to write a recap. I am fulfilling my end of the bargain, X Factor. As long as you continue to exist, I will try my damnedest to care and to write about what I think of you.
I knew going in that tonight's show wouldn't offer much in terms of contestant-based drama; what I didn't foresee was how suddenly dated it would seem. This show has flirted with moments of inspiration in making a big spectacle reality competition feel current and relevant, and tonight all of that was swept away. The first of the two songs the contestants sang were their “superstar duets.” While I suppose in terms of historical record sales and hits, Alanis Morrisette, Avril Lavigne and R. Kelly could be called “superstars,” out of the three of them the one with the most recent charting songs is better known for a sprawling song cycle most frequently used as accompaniment for gnarly bong rips in dilapidated twentysomething apartments where the only food you can find is a two year old box of Frosted Mini Wheats (I know, where do I come up with this stuff!?) I would have rewound the DVR to see if I had missed the part where Steve Jones said tonight's theme was “Where Are They Now?” but I didn't want to prolong this evening any more than I had to.
And it doesn't really matter because there's not much to say about the superstar performances: they were all pretty lame, and all three contestants struggled to find balance with their artist. Chris and Josh are respectfully soft and gruff vocally, where Lavigne and Morrisette both have the kind of clear, cutting voices that can overshadow just about everything their paired with, like barbeque sauce on white rice. Melanie simply suffered from not being in the sweet spot of her vocal range, as correctly observed by LA. After each performance, Steve asked the guest singer to talk about how much they loved the contestant they were paired with, and the responses ranged from the sweet (“He's a very soulful man,” said Alanis of Josh,) to the oddly flip (“Ohmigod Chris is AMAZING, I think everyone should vote for him!” said Avril while rolling her eyes and trying not to crack up. Uh, what? Being disingenuous is a bad look for someone whose biggest claim to fame these days is
marrying dating Brody Jenner, only futher confirming that he and Kristin Cavallari didn't get back together in the series finale of The Hills (Do you like when I make references to The Hills, you guys? Because I can dial it up or down, depending on your comfort level.))
Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think I enjoyed the superstar performances better than the show's back half. I just remember laughing more, really, and at this point, isn't laughter the greatest gift X Factor can bring us? Well, that, and hilariously poor art direction decisions, by which I mean actual showers of gold glitter raining down on R. Kelly's head during "I Believe I Can Fly." And liquid gold geese. Was the art team too young to remember as far back as 2002? And if so, can they switch places with Nicole or Simon or whoever is choosing the songs? Just don't get rid of L.A .Reid, who was hilariously hyperbolic tonight and declared “I Believe I Can Fly” to be “one of the most important songs of the last fifty years:” a mere twenty minutes after revealing that Jagged Little Pill was his favorite album of all time. Sometimes, even L.A. Reid just likes liking things. I can totally picture him doing the bobblehead to “Hand In My Pocket.”
After Round One (Which I guess… goes to Melanie? I think? Am I really supposed to pick someone here?) we're treated to another show-hijacking by the Michael Jackson-inspired Cirque du Soleil Show Immortal, a performance straining so hard to be as awful as possible that for a second I wondered if some internet scoundrels like Anonymous or Vote For The Worst had temporarily taken the wheel. Briefly: An army of discoball robocops, dollar signs, question marks, Josh Krajcik trying to march in time with the music. The song: “They Don't Care About Us.” Do I get one “I can't” in my whole run of X Factor recaps? Because I can't. Seriously. And here I was thinking that the golden showers joke wrote itself.
On to Round Two, whose theme I also didn't catch but which might as well have been, Teletubbies style, “Again! Again!” For some reason I just find it so disappointing to have the final song be an encore, even though it doesn't really matter – at this point most everyone has picked their favorites, and one more new song isn't going to change that. Josh's acoustic version of “At Last” was the only one of the three that felt like something I hadn't seen before from the performer, and as Simon says, was gutsily low-key. It wasn't a game-winning performance, but I liked it and found it comfortable, in that if I came home for Christmas and my mom was playing it on the stereo, I wouldn't worry about her state of mind. “Music loves you, America loves you!” says Nicole, who, it seems, found it necessary to say those words out loud.
For the third time, we are treated to Chris Rene's “Young Homie,” and at this point I call foul. Yes, it was his best performance of the song so far, but maybe that's because he's gotten to rehearse singing it in front of 12 million people two times already? Does he really have no other original songs to bring out at this point? I guess the biggest problem I have with this is that I feel like Chris has this competition locked up, and by letting him sing a proven crowd pleaser again the producers are doing nothing to throw that into any kind of doubt at all. Needless to say, the Teletubbies at that shit up with a spoon, with Po nearly hyperventilating and Tinky Winky praising Chris' impeccable character and not-on-drugsness since at this point he's run out of compliments for “Young Homie.”
Melanie's reprise of Beyonce's “Listen” is somehow more stodgy and easy to tune out than her audition version, which I remember taking me by very pleasant surprise. I think I heard more of Lady B in that performance than she ended up utilizing, and now all I hear in Melanie's voice is the next Leona Lewis, which is a lot less exciting. She's given the full church-diva treatment, fog and white silk and a big shiny white tuxedo jacket, and the end result is that she looks and sounds less relevant than Avril Lavigne and Nicole Scherzinger combined. Simon says that after tonight's performance, nobody is ever going to make fun of her again. (Do you see what I did there, Simon?)
And there you have it. One of those three people is going to have five million dollars before taxes tomorrow. I think the competition belongs to Chris, but who knows how America has been voting all this time. So come back tomorrow for my final, exhausted recap, at least three more repeats of “Young Homie,” and seven more Carmina Buranas with maybe some Duel Of The Fates thrown in if we can get the rights from Lucas. Oh, and 50 Cent will be there, hopefully not because of anything having to do with this.
- Tonight's show was also being watched by each finalist's hometown cheering squads, who we checked in on at the end of each performance. One group was in a bar, one on a college campus, and one in a superchurch. Guess which was which!
- Speaking of, most of my laughter tonight was the cold, mirthless, hateful kind, but I'm pretty sure I was laughing with Josh's goofy hometown friend with the baby who was shouting “This is totally awesooooome!!” at Steve.
- Melanie looks super disdainful when she cries, which made for an amusing visual when Nicole was giving her her critique. “You made me feel like I wasn't alone!” (eyeroll.)
- Finally, maybe this goes without saying, but I am personally offended by Nicole Scherzinger's boob window and the assumptions it makes about what I or any other living person wants to see.