Two more hours! I don't know about y'all, but cannot tell you how thrilled I am to be delivered from X Factor audition hell so that we can finally move on to X Factor boot camp hell. And hey, for what it's worth, it seems that the producers might have heard the cries of the internet, because tonight's contestants were not nearly as terrible as last week's Miami/Dallas fiasco. Sure, they weren't exactly thrilling, either, but I only yelled at the television three times tonight, so, progress!
Before we get any further, I'd like to take a moment to talk about X Factor's opening title sequence. This show's liberal use of hyperbole and Carmina Burana in its promo packages was enough to make me suspicious about its sincerity, but watching an electric “X” rocket through the solar system and crash land on Earth like some invading spacecraft from the gas giant that is Simon Cowell's ego? Are they serious with this? Somebody in the know needs to tell me right now if this whole show is secretly just a very expensive exercise in high camp, so that the small part of me that is still attempting to take it seriously can go take a much needed nap.
But until I get that memo, let's dive into the shimmering array of Talent! we saw on tonight's show. We open with Steve Jones still at the helm of the X Factor caravan en route to Chicago. We should be excited about this stop, he tells us, because Chicago is home to Kanye West and R. Kelly. Here's my issue with that: I feel like The X Factor, and any other singing competition for that matter, is like the OK Cupid of actual talent. The logic is that by holding a huge open call and rounding up as many hopefuls as possible, you may find someone unforgettable that you would never have met otherwise, until you remember that all the people you've ever really liked would probably never deign to try online dating/reality show talent searches. Can you really picture Yeezy slapping a number on his chest and trotting out on stage in hopes of winning the approval of Nicole Scherzinger? We hear the judges say over and over again that confidence is a part of what makes the “X Factor,” but I feel like shows like this actually tend to attract people with very low confidence whose self-worth relies on the approval of Simon Cowell.
We start off the evening with what I suspect is a perfect examples of this: Brock and McKenna, a boy-girl duo of bland country singers who come with their own pre-packaged “Will they or won't they” storyline. As soon as the platonic nature of their relationship was called into question, it was pretty clear they were getting through – why else would we be asked to care about these boring kids' love lives? It all felt rather Hunger Games-ish, and the cynic in me wondered if the two had agreed ahead of time to establish this unrequited love thread in order to engender sympathy and votes.
The duo gets four yeses, and that early victory means its time for – you guessed it – another Fail Package! I know there's only one audition episode yet, but they need to stop doing these things; we all know that as long as the selected Fail Theme is still playing, nobody's getting through (not even you, crazy lady who wants to be on the judging panel.) I understand that this is The X Factor's way of telling us that very few people “have” the X Factor, but why not do this through more close call auditions? Any show would send home Kim, she of the pseudo-operatic rendition of “Firework.” Not every show would send home 21 year old Peet (like the coffee place, which I know because he was kind enough to spell it for us recappers,) who was totally untalented but made the girls in the audience giggle.
Peet was actually the rare reject in a show with a lot of head-scratching passes. Skyler Anderson, another boring country singer, gets through, it seems, simply because he kept singing even when his backup track got cut off. That kid better send a big bouquet of roses to the sound engineer responsible for that fumble; all four of the judges clearly said they were sending him through based on his determination to sing, never mind his ability to.
Another odd pass was “J Mark,” a philosophy student at an undisclosed “school in Europe” who sees himself in ten years at “the helms of a renaissance.” Sorry for all the scare quotes, but this guy is the kind of shifty weirdo that they were invented for. They play Owl City's “Fireflies” for him as he takes the stage, I guess because that's the national anthem of shifty weirdos. He sings “Creep” by Radiohead and does a little moonwalking and he's just awful, but L.A. Reid proclaims that “It sounded so bad but felt so good.” And everyone else seems to agree! What?
As has been the case every night so far, I did have one legitimate like from this crop of hopefuls, and I actually quite like this one, rather than feel pummeled into lowering my critical instincts as I did with Chris Rene. The winner of tonight's “Hey, I Didn't Hate That” Award is Josh Krajick, the 30 year old burrito slinger with the oddly young-looking stage mom. He gets a “Really?” from Simon when he says he's going to sing “At Last” by Etta James, but then turns around and kills it. The dude's got major character; with shades of Casey from last season of Idol, but much better vocal skills. I was grinning from ear to ear by the time he finished, something X Factor had made me forget I knew how to do.
But as soon as Josh leaves the stage, the sun retreats, the clouds return, and we're subjected to such horrors as “Planet Paula,” a segment which attempts to make light of the semi-coherent ramblings of a recovered substance abuser. It's this sort of thing that makes me morbidly curious about the subset of people that The X Factor assumes exists somewhere, who gather around their television sets and bite their nails in anticipation as soon as they realize that another one of those hilarious judges montages is about to start. “Wanda Sue, are you in the bathroom? Get in here, they're doing another Simon vs. Paula color piece! I'll make sure the VCR is recording!”
The auditions return to Seattle for their second half, presumably because America wants more overweight, bespectacled mother-daughter duos (Three on this show so far, by my count) to point and laugh at, and because Simon's hankerin' for some lukewarm talent to lead on for another few weeks. The miserable 4Sure sing a tone-deaf rendition of “End of the Road” by Boyz II Men and are lauded by all four judges (including LA, who penned the song); possibly retarded 14-year-old Justin Bieber fan Drew is told her slowed-down version of “Baby” is even better than the Biebz, even though from where I'm sitting she was consistently flat. There is also no way that girl is not really a 22 year old actress from Los Angeles.
If anything, tonight's auditions were evidence that The X Factor really shouldn't be considered a singing competition. Enough people have gotten through by now on the merit of their charm or stage presence, and told to work on their vocals between then and boot camp. It makes one wonder how exactly this ragtag bunch is going to be polished off as they vie for a spot in the live shows; you can teach someone how to control their breath, but you can't teach them charisma. I'm fine with X Factor if it wants to be that show, more interested in finding an all-purpose megastar that happens to sing than the Best Singer in America. But if the show is truly about having the “whole package,” then why are all of the vocally acrobatic divas getting such easy ins? I'm sorry, but crying girls doing melisma are kind of a dime a dozen on TV these days. Does one look at Stacy Francis' mascara streaked face and immediately want to buy her record? There's something more innately appealing about gap-tooth oddball Tia, who couldn't stay on key to save her life but had a strong tone and a memorable look. Aren't people like her why they have autotune?
Last week we were told we were in the middle of a talent drought, this week we are told there's a flood. But in all honesty, the people taking the stage don't feel all to different than those up there last week. The judges say that this supposed “X Factor” they seek is indescribable, which is perhaps problem: maybe the contestants don't know what they're supposed to be giving – and the judges don't know what they want.