Wednesday night’s episode of The X Factor really threw itself into a tizzy with all the shocks!!! it dispensed in the final round of auditions, making for a comparatively much sleepier Thursday night. The first of the two nights features a goofy cliffhanger, an uncomfortable appearance by an older woman in a sailor outfit, and a celebrity cameo by the mysterious and floofy hair monster that lives on top of Gene Simmons’ head.
There are even attempts to incorporate more “comedy” into the show (those quotation marks are being very generous, by the way), as evidenced by Britney and Larry Rudolph's running straw-hat-turned-tiara bit, which falls as flat as a bit can possibly fall. It only proves just how hard the producers are working to make week three burst with excitement with results that just end up bordering on nutty.
It’s vital we discuss the most simultaneously puzzling and magical occurrence on X Factor, so far. I’m not talking about when Britney puts on her actress hat and mugs for the camera. Nope, it’s when terrifying zombie-man Gene Simmons of the band KISS and his L.A.-personified wife Shannon Tweed arrive and appear to wait in line for their 19-year-old daughter Sophie’s audition. Because, uh, sure! That seems totally normal for the lead singer of one of the biggest bands in the world to stand in line for a competitive singing show with his daughter, who also wants to be a singer,. I’m sure there was simply no other way for young Sophie to find her way to the stage without standing in line with the thousands of plebeians whose fathers have normal-length tongues. Sophie complaining about being known only as Gene Simmons’ daughter while she stands next to her famous dad during her whole story arc becomes so perfectly stupid. Her singing voice turns out to be strong and full of potential, as the judges duly note, and she makes it through, seemingly on her own merit. Most glaringly, Sophie manages to address Britney as “ma'am” when thanking her for her “yes” vote. Even her mom backstage blurts out “Oh my god. She called Britney ‘ma’am.’”
Oh, and for all of you on the edge of your seat since Wednesday night’s cliffhanger about little Trevor Moran... you can exhale! I’m sorry for leaving you hanging this long! The hammy youngster turns out to be totally fine after collapsing backstage at the end of Wednesday night’s episode and even musters the strength to get on stage and perform LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” Let me just say this: If you don’t feel like you’ve done enough cringing this week, try watching the performance and telling yourself it’s just a joyous expression of exuberance. I dare you to not feel squirmy while taking in Moran’s bombastic Broadway voice and sassy-sexual dance moves, as if we're not witnessing early stage puberty right before our eyes. Simon hits the nail on the head by noting “I’m not really sure that was age appropriate.” Still, he makes it through to boot camp after managing to lure the audience into his wacky groove.
One terribly overproduced yet delightful storyline centers around Owen Stuart, 16. The hunky heartthrob is truly, madly, and deeply in love with a fair maiden named Tori. Owen recently moved from their hometown to North Carolina (where the auditions are taking place) and laments this Romeo and Juliet-style separation to the cameras with an earnestness never before seen on The X Factor. “Being away from Tori is the absolute worst pain I’ve ever felt. No physical thing could ever make me hurt that much.” Sure enough, he dedicates his performance to her and wows the judges with a rendition of B.o.B.’s “Airplanes.” Just remember, America, “This one’s for Tori.”
Just in case you feel like the show isn’t belaboring the whole underdog angle enough this episode, there’s the story of Freddie Combs. He managed to lose over 400 lbs after weighing it over 900 lbs just a few years ago. He’s still wheelchair-bound and has to be pushed onto the stage via a ramp and six stage-hands, which is a tough visual to take in amongst all the rest of the show’s air-puffed storylines. He sings an impassioned version of “Wind Beneath My Wings” and dedicates it to his wife, Kay, who wheels her husband out on stage and greets the judges. Reminiscent of soul great Solomon Burke during his last years, Freddie manages to pipe an unbelievable amount of soul out of his relatively immobile body. It’s a relief given his heartstring-tugging storyline and it’s little surprise he’s given a round of “yes” votes.
Oh, don’t dry those tears yet. It’s time for some emotional dad scene stealing to keep the waterworks flowing. Lauren Jauregui, 16, strolls out with her flowing mermaid hair and absolutely destroys with a rendition of Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You.” It’s a tricky song choice for most and as daunting as a Mariah or Whitney number might be, but her capable pipes deliver a fiery performance that razzle-dazzles the judges and the Greensboro crowd. While it’s coy and obnoxious to reference, it certainly does feel like one of the few performers who has that actual X factor that makes it a joy to watch her perform. Clearly, her adorable dad feels the same way as we cut back and forth from her on stage and him backstage bawling his cute little eyes out. L.A. calls it a “perfect audition,” and Simon notes “that’s how you do it.” Britney, meanwhile, falls into her default go-to when judging and responds in total mom mode, declaring “You were so, so good, sweetie.” Aww.
Now that the auditions have wrapped, it’s time to hit the ground running and begin boot camp in Miami. Personally, I have only the vaguest idea of what this entails, but the previews hint at an unending parade of meltdowns that will surely separate the “men from the boys,” as Simon notes. I’m hoping it also separates the girls from the true divas. Most importantly, there better be someone prepared to slap little Sophie Simmons-Tweed on the spot if she ever calls Britney “ma’am” again.