Well, so much for finding the next pop superstar! Between this week's two episodes, The X Factor auditions have so far proven to be about as bleak and fruitless as a Goodwill clearance rack, and the handful of winning performers last night did not make up for the industrial-sized volume of garbage. What was even more aggravating than the auditions themselves, though, was the very intentional decision to weigh the episode so heavily towards the awful. The X Factor did itself no favors last night, especially on the heels of a disappointing premiere. (It nabbed 12 million viewers, after Simon Cowell had specifically said that anything less than 20 would be a failure.)
Hey, X Factor “fans”, let's do some math! By my count, we saw about ten hopefuls pass on to the next round last night. Ten. In two hours. The premiere also saw roughly ten, bringing the total to 20 wins in four hours. One win every twelve minutes. I'm going to very scientifically estimate that each audition segment takes an average of four minutes (we have long sagas like Stacy Francis, and shorter snippets like 2 Squar'd.) That's a 1:3 ratio of time spent on good auditions to bad. And for someone like me, who has a hard time even liking the “good” on a show like this, the ratio feels a lot smaller. By my (also very scientific) Twitterverse sampling, the primary complaint from viewers of the premiere that there was not enough talent on display, so I'm sure there was a great moment yesterday afternoon before the episode aired when the producers took one look at the final cut, looked at each other, and uttered a super slo-mo “ohhhh shhiiiittt” in unison.
Listen, I realize I didn't have too many bad things to say about the talent on the premiere, but to be honest, my focus was more on gauging the overall vibe of The X Factor itself than the stars it would supposedly launch. Last night, fully acclimated, the actual talent and lack thereof was that much more in the spotlight, and it didn't help that the show was going out of its way to tell me that everyone sucked.
I know I'm about to shatter a lot of people's worlds here, but this stuff is orchestrated from the get-go. The auditions we see are actually the second time these people have been on the stage, the first time being the untelevised audition for the producers, who cherry pick the good, the bad and the ugly to be trotted out before Simon and company. So Miami hopeful Ashley, whom I'm assuming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org should you want to air your grievances, has already done her unintelligible Janis Joplin act for somebody, and that somebody has made the conscious decision to put her in front of America's eyeballs. Same goes for all the stinkers in the first half hour of the show, a losing streak supposedly so bad that Simon had to take a breather backstage where he expressed his doubts that this whole crazy endeavor was worth it. Guys. Guys. This is all made up. This is a problem that was professionally engineered and executed. We don't love your show yet, so don't start manufacturing the narrative that it's a sham this early in the game. We are more than eager to believe you.
There were so many bad auditions tonight that there were bound to be at least a couple that were halfway interesting, I guess. We're prepared for Kaitlin Curtis, a perky sixteen year old with a big, happy entourage of friends and family, to be the ray of sunshine to break through the dire Miami “situation.” She sings a piano version of “Firework,” and she's not very good, but she's the sort of auditioner that might have gotten through if the judges were feeling somewhat more charitable; she's certainly not worse than John Lindahl, the Bieber knockoff that they threw all the thirteen year old girls at in Los Angeles. She gets four Nos, but they're all very supportive Nos, with all sorts of encouraging “give yourself time to develop, you're young,” messages attached. I could have done without Paula crawling up on stage to give Kaitlin a PaulaHug, because it just seemed to make the poor dear cry even harder. But all in all it was an engaging bit of deliberation. We need more middling or very close auditions if we're going to have to sit through so many stretches of failure; its a far more interesting process to watch.
After that fakeout, and a weird emergency peptalk from Gloria Estefan, the actual savior of the Miami auditions turns out to be 21-year-old Nick Voss. He tells us that he lives in a 3 bedroom house with seven people and in a surprise twist he reveals that he wants to win The X Factor so that he can support his family. God, so many people are spitting out real estate stats in their intro packages that I'm having flashbacks to my summer as a census taker. Anyway, he does a rendition of Elvis Presley's “Trouble” with lots of moonwalking and scratchy howls. I was having trouble telling whether or not he was a good singer, but then I realized that every time he sang a line that was more than two seconds long he kind of reminded me Tom Waits doing “Walking Spanish” which was definitely completely unintentional and therefore hilarious to see all the suburban Florida moms and daughters going nuts over in the audience. Congratulations, Nick, you saved Miami! I will be rooting for you for all the wrong reasons, I assure you.
Who else fared well tonight? Melanie Amaro, whose segment ended up in the final aired version of tonight's episode rather than the version of the premiere that was given to the press, was even better on second viewing, and is the first audition so far that I would dare to call flawless. Caitlin Koch, a pretty, blonde female rugby player, sings a cool, understated version of “Stop in the Name of Love,” and Simon happily tells her her rugby days are over. Psst – rugby is not the same thing as bussing tables, Simon! I'm pretty sure she plays rugby because she enjoys it! Both ladies get four yeses and hit up HeavenBox (which we are informed is officially called the X Factor Pod, which makes me just want to call it the Xbox as a compromise. What do you think, readers? Hot-button issues like these are the reason The A.V. Club has such an active and vibrant commenter community.)
And then there's Dexter Haygood. Oh, Dexter. Let's see, how do I make this sound anything less than totally, abandon-all-hope depressing? Dex used to play in a band that toured with Hall & Oates in 1981, but something went awry, and he has spent the last thirty years honing a James Brown impersonation that would go down very well at one of those fancy senior homes Dan & Venita were talking about. I'm not kidding, it is a very good James Brown impression! But, as Simon says, after hearing his rendition of “Sex Machine,” it's completely expected. We're about to send Dexter on his way when – surprise! - the 2nd Unit camera crew interrupts this audition to bring us late breaking news from Memphis: Dexter Haygood is homeless! Et tu, Simon?
Well, Dexter gets a second chance, of course. And even though he sings another James Brown number (“It's a Man's World”) and pretty much does the same schtick, this time we are told he has brought his individuality to it, which, let's be honest, is just code for we found out you were homeless. Four yeses for Dexter! The X Factor judges can all sleep soundly tonight knowing that they've saved another lost soul through the power of music. But what about twelve million of us who just had to slog through those two hours? We need to know this will all be worth it, Simon. If you think that over the course of four hours you've established a spectacle that we can't look away from, I assure you, we can, and if this goes on for much longer, we will.
- I feel like maybe if I don't write about the bad auditions they will go away. If you want more in-depth coverage of the lamesies, speak up, otherwise, I'm going to continue this strategy unless something actually interesting happens with one of them.
- The episode closes out with Xander Alexander's audition, which is a lamesie that I have written up, but it's in the premiere recap since it was originally featured in that episode.
- There's an extended bit about how Nicole Scherzinger starts saying y'all when she's in Texas, which is more proof that Nicole Scherzinger is a more or less human-shaped void masquerading as a sentient life form. Remember how excited she was about her birthday, i.e. how much she tried to convince us that she had been born like people? Ugh. Can we have Cheryl Cole back please?