Hey, campers! First off, I'd like to thank Phil Nugent for his excellent fill-in duty this past week while I suffered through a long weekend in Hawaii; he makes this job look as easy as all the jokes I could have made about Radiohead's “No Surprises” being sung on this of all shows. Now, this is the point in our A.V. Club X Factor journey when I turn around and see how many of you lil' explorers are still behind me, how many have been eaten by bears, and how many are breaking out in rashes, then regardless of my observations, turn back around and charge full speed ahead. We're almost to live shows! Aren't you glad you signed up for this instead of macrame?
I'll go through the results of tonight's bloodletting in a moment, but first an observation from the Judges House episodes overall: As the pool thins and the sob stories pile up on The X Factor, I can't help but find myself coming back, somewhat to my personal chagrin, to the sentiments of all those bootstrap pullers over on We Are The 53 Percent. It's not that I don't feel for contestants whose bank accounts are empty, or whose houses are being foreclosed on, but using that as the reason why they should be move on to the live round on a TV talent show? At this point I have more sympathy for contestants who just out and say they want to be famous, or that performing is the only thing they can see themselves doing. It's not like any of these arguments actually matter or mean anything, but on a show where everyone reiterates how much/why they want to win every fifteen minutes, the dumbest answers can really color my opinion of a contestant. You wanna win because being a celebrity is the best thing in the world, dummies. You're not here because your financial adviser told you this was the best way to start chipping away at your debt.
Anyway, how do we feel about our Top
16 17? Everyone more or less ended up where I thought they would, give or take a Dexter Haygood, but then I should have expected no less from Sensitive Human Being Nicole Scherzinger, who delivered the news that everyone's favorite hopeless case would indeed be moving on to the next round in the same catatonic half-whisper she delivered all her results in. To return briefly to Phil's Christopher Guestian musings from the last couple of recaps,Scherzy's performance called to mind Catherine O'Hara's demonstration of “less is more” acting from Waiting for Guffman, except O'Hara's character was a delusional housewife who would obviously never be famous outside of Blaine, Missouri; and people let Nicole Scherzinger show her face on television and “mentor” possibly mentally unstable homeless people.
I would have perhaps swapped Dexter for the equally, but more deceptively damaged Christa Collins, but at this point we have seen so little of Christa actually performing that it was pretty clear she was toast. Same with James Kenney, who I continually forgot every time I tried to make a mental list of who was left as I watched tonight's eliminations; so again, probably a bad sign. I was unsurprised but still happy to see Josh Krajcik make it through; he's so talented that he can tell Nicole Scherzinger while thanking her that he respects her as an artist, and it somehow doesn't reflect badly on him. And as long as Stacey Francis continues her formidable, mascara-stained “I Want It Most” campaign, she should be safe. In its freshman year, X Factor USA can't afford to lose someone who believes in its power so fervently.
The groups proved harder to predict the outcome of; other than the fact that we could be reasonably sure that the two InstaGroups (just add crippling sense of rejection!) would be moving on if only because anything else would be an admission of supergroup failure on the part of the X Factor producers. Thankfully, everything about Lakoda Rayne, from their stiff choreography to their sulky stage presence is flawless, so watch your back ten years ago, Dixie Chicks! (Also I'm pretty sure I totally had a bottle of Lakoda Rayne when I was in middle school, wasn't that the Designer Imposters knockoff of Davidoff Cool Water for Her?)
Also making it through are InTENsity, whose presence on this show is basically FOX's way of getting people who aren't already watching Glee to basically, for all intensive purposes, watch Glee. I was surprised to see 4Shore get the boot; even though auditions and boot camp left me convinced that they were thoroughly mediocre, they seemed to step it up in their Judges House performance. “End Of The Road” played during their farewells, and when coupled with the news that the group would be disbanding, it dawned on me that even if I didn't love 4Shore, they were the only ones who spoke about going back to their real lives without any particular sense of tragedy. Perhaps that was their undoing. At any rate they, were miles better than the Brewer Boys, whose win completely mystified me; but maybe I'm not as in touch with what the kids have on their Zunes these days as I thought I was and they are in fact totally relevant and marketable. I'm mostly distracted by asymmetrical they are, I think. Stereo Hogzz also made it in, significantly.
The Boys were the one category whose eliminations were easiest to predict, and it says something about your talent pool when cheeseball crooner Philip Lomax is probably in your Top 4. On the other hand, It's interesting and somewhat encouraging that X Factor doesn't appear to be even vaguely interested in exploring the country genre (with the expection of whatever Lakoda Rayne is supposed to be,) right on the heels of an all-country Idol Season 10 finale. The last two country solo acts, Skyelor and Tim Cifers are out, while two hip-hop or hip-hop-esque acts (Chris Rene and Brian Bradley, who now wishes to be called Astro,) are moving on. We've been programmed not to really care about the former two from the moment they were introduced, so none of this feels unexpected; same goes for freelance graphic artist/pretty person Brennin Hunt.
Over in Frah-nce, Simon proceeded to break the Girls' hearts, all while bemoaning with a poorly-concealed smirk how much he hated his job. Caitlin's out and Drew's in, because there's only room for one wide-eyed mopey blonde and Simon wants the one with the longer shelf life. Tora the Girl Mechanic is out and Simone's in, because Simone doesn't have any other hobbies to fall back on. Tiah's in because despite being quite appealing and having a good set of pipes when she wants to, she is doomed to be Simon's weapon of choice in his imagined ego war with L.A. Reid.
You know what? This wasn't a half bad episode of this silly show, and for the first time the momentum really seemed to be picking up – but the problem is that the episodes are still so damn long. All the padding and rehashing of past episodes doesn't bother me as much any more – I think we just have to accept that that's the standard grammar of a show of this kind – but after an hour or so, the game of one pass for every two or three contestants up got so very predictable; as soon as Steve Jones announces the next hopefuls heading for elimination we can pretty much call the results five minutes before the mentor gets around to actually spitting it out. People are always wringing their hands about reality television being fodder for our ever-shortening attention spans, but this show (and Idol as well) takes some serious patience to get through every night.
The one big exception to all this is of course Simon's “accidental” elimination of Melanie Amaro, which I'll admit, did get me a little riled up before I realized how shamelessly our collective chain was being yanked, which in turn riled me up even more. Simon, apparently a big Arrested Development fan, keeps talking about how he's made a huge mistake as he heads to Melanie's Florida home to re-invite her to the live shows, but he's such a terrible actor that it makes you wonder how you ever believed she was getting eliminated in the first place. Simon and his prize patrol arrive at the house, everyone freaks out, and Melanie accepts Simon's offer with a pause that speaks volumes – it's the “I've spent the last two weeks getting over you, so pardon me if it takes me a while to remember how to be happy to see you” look. But of course, there's no question that Melanie's coming back, making Simon's team one member bigger than the other three, and once again reminding me how much this show is like going over to play with the bossy only child next door who keeps changing the rules of Uno every five minutes to suit his needs.
As Simon heads back to his armored car, cackling with the glee of a master puppeteer, I realized how nice it was going to be next week to see the audience take the reins and steer us out of Simon Land. Sure, there was a nice pool in Simon Land, and a lot of strobe lights, but the unwashed masses know a thing or two about crushing innocent peoples' dreams that Simon may have forgotten up in his ivory tower in Frah-nce. The vague indifference of America is not to be taken lightly; can't wait to see it in action next week.