You know what would be a really good twist for The X Factor to have? What if they made good on all that “I'm putting everything on the line, I'm banking on us finding a star,” stuff that Simon says every week, usually from the back seat of armored vehicle, and revealed that they might not necessarily pick a winner? Like, it could come down to the final two, and the votes are in and the winner is decided, but then Simon could be all “absolutely dreadful” and then we don't get a star like we were promised! And everyone goes home sad and bitter and questioning who they are and what they live for. You guys, it would be so fun, like Joe Millionaire!
But then LA Reid has to go and dash my dreams by announcing to the 162 acts that made it through to boot camp that “someone has to walk home with that check.” Has to, LA? Is there a law? What kind of wordage is in those contracts? Ah, well, screw it, let's watch some kids sing and (maybe!) win some money.
So this is boot camp, which looks suspiciously like Idol's Hollywood Week in setup, but also has the painfully awkward stage antics of The Voice's battle rounds. Over a third of the contestants are eliminated in a series of execution style lineups (if the executionees were also forced to dance as a group before being shot,) and the remaining acts are set up in groups to perform a randomly selected song together, with the help of some choreographers and vocal coaches. And this is the part of the review where I confess that I think boot camp might be impossible to recap. Like Hollywood Week, there are still so many contestants, and each is given such a teensy-tinsy amount of stage time, that to attempt anything even close to a blow-by-blow commentary would be insane, not to mention kind of pointless. The real question is, what is
Hollywood Week Boot Camp trying to tell us? How does it fit into X Factor's overall narrative? The episode proposes several possibilities in its typically shouty opening, but in the end it came off merely as a series of rapid-fire bullet points, near impossible to keep up with or care about if you didn't remember someone from auditions (or if it took longer than five seconds to call them up from your memory.)
But let's try to visit the highlights, shall we? First off, I think everyone was surprised to see that Chris Rene (the trash-hauling recently sober guy) had a sister, who also made it through auditions, and both made it to the the top 100. But do we get to see her sing? Not really (though from the 2 second clip they showed, she seemed to be good.) Do we see them interact as siblings at all, or do we find out how she felt watching her brother deal with his drug problem? Nope. But Chris has a sister! Interesting!
Brian Bradley, the 14 year old rapper from Brooklyn, still has a major case of 'tude, which is understandable coming from any teenager, but looks especially unattractive on a little unsmiling squirt who decides he should perform with shades in a competition that still largely hinges on connecting with the judges. Brian refuses to dance during the group training session, and while I respected that decision from Melanie Amaro, I haven't seen Brian be able to back it up with enough talent. He's basically doing nothing to please the judges and producers, and by the time he's done with his group performance, he's lost his former supporter L.A. Reid, who calls him “too young.”
All of the blondes are melding into one, and it didn't help that we didn't learn anything new about any of them. I guess Simon likes the one called Paige, proving that he really is the greatest talent scout of our time because I didn't even notice her. It's a problem when all of the talking head interviews with the contestants are so repetitive: “I want this more than anything. I didn't come this far to go home. I don't have anything else, this is my life.” One of the blondes really needs to tell us that she wants to win so she can start a hedge fund or something; that would at least be memorable.
Also, why is Skyler still there? The country singing teen whose music went out during auditions got through for his willingness to “keep singing,” so I imagine that was canceled out when he actually stopped singing while the music (and his groupmates) continue behind him. You'd think the judges would call that out, but the post-performance sequence is so rushed and hushed that we don't even get the satisfaction of confirming that so-and-so sucked and so-and-so was great.
We do hear such a judgement on Dexter, the homeless James Brown impersonator, and it would be unanimously in the negative if not for Nicole Scherzinger's defense of him, which amounts to “Aw, I like Dexter.” Lady, saving a homeless man for a couple extra weeks on a reality singing competition does not equal saving him IRL. Bonus points though, to whoever made the hilariously inappropriate decision to have Dexter literally creep toward 14 year old Drew during their group's performance of Radiohead's “Creep.” That was a spectacularly uncomfortable five seconds that I will not soon forget, so thanks, X Factor.
At least one person doesn't make it through to the Top 100 who definitely shouldn't: J Mark, the philosophy student who moonwalked to Radiohead during the Chicago audition. He fabulously screams “I HAVE NO LIFE! I HAVE NO LIFE!” repeatedly in the hallway after being eliminated. Somebody, quick, go get that guy a show now, I've never seen someone so preternaturally good at giving a sound clip.
Were you worried about Brock and Makenna, the country duo who were best friends... and possibly more? Good news! “There is definitely the possibility of a relationship coming very soon,” Makenna announces in a talking head interview as if she's reporting to a board of directors, which she kind of is. Unfortunately, she and her possible relationship-mate Brock fumble their bit of the group performance, so they may be doomed to have a relationship outside the glow of the X Factor lights, a hardship no couple should have to face.
Tiah, the girl with the big red lips who couldn't stay on key and whose divisive audition led to several objects being thrown by Simon (pro-Tiah) and Paula (anti Tiah) has her big chance to prove herself in the group performance, and what do you know, she does! I actually like Tiah quite a bit, she's got crazy eyes (though apparently she wants to be know as “The Girl With The Steely Eyes,” which sounds like a kind of shitty Stieg Larsson ripoff novel, but okay,) and when she's given background music her tuning issues aren't really a problem. I must say though, I would be kind of pissed off if I was in the group that performed “I'm Feeling Good” with her, since it was so obviously the Tiah Show. (I kind of giggled when Steve asked them how they felt after the performance and some blonde kid behind Tiah tried to answer, but Steve didn't even bother to point the mic at him.)
There were, of course, other acts of note, and I'm pleased to report that my personal favorite Josh Krajcik did us proud tonight, so I'm not worried about him (except I would like a mailing address for him so I can send him a bottle of shampoo. C'mon, dude, we remember that you used to work at a burrito stand, no need to carry the memory of it in your hair.) Tomorrow the remaining groups perform, the Top 32 acts will be chosen, and then an old man in a white room (God???) will call each of the judges to carry out the all-important Assignment Of The Groups to Simon, Paula, Nicole and LA. I can't wait to have a manageable number of people to keep track of! Who do you hope will make it through? Who do you think will be in the Top 16? Should I make a bracket for this? The answer to all of these questions is Yes.