Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The X Factor: “Boot Camp #1”/“Boot Camp #2”

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It’s safe to say I have no idea what’s happening on The X Factor at any given moment. Eschewing hosts and voiceover and instead opting for a hyper-small and bizarrely hypnotic fake vérité style that highlights contestant stories above all else, the show itself has no real interest in shaping its own structural narrative. Having skipped season one due to extreme disinterest, I can genuinely say I do not know how this show actually works. The audition rounds were easy enough to follow as they hewed to conventional reality structures, but this week’s boot camp presented the challenge of determining exactly what the point is of this whole mess. From the hints dropped in the judges’ awkward talking head segments, it seems like they will be cutting down the group via various challenges in order to get to a final group of contestants, which they will then mentor. Somehow. And then someone will win. Somehow. It’s all very unclear.

I’m dwelling on this because it is fascinating to me just how little The X Factor is concerned with informing its viewers as to how the show actually works. By choosing to do all of its early rounds without the use of a host or a guiding voiceover, these first few weeks have felt sort of like you wandered into a really horrible documentary about American Idol or something. But the weird thing was that as I got used to the formless style, it started to really grow on me. Part of this is the realization that host voiceover is generally horrible, but the other part is how easy it was to engage with the contestants’ stories when there wasn’t some goofy white guy awkwardly asking them inane questions to mess it all up. This, combined with the surprisingly likeable panel of judges, made for a much livelier audition process than I expected.

But that was the auditions, and this week is the boot camp, which was much less successful. The first problem was the show calling this a boot camp when it basically looks the exact same as Hollywood week on American Idol. The second problem was the absolute lack of any sort of compelling story to hold this week together. The auditions featured a shocking number of contestants that really made an impression on me. From big-voiced kid Carly Rose to sexy rocker Jennel Garcia to the tattooed last-chance-seeker Vino Alan, there were stories and voices that drew me in. By attempting to cram in far too many threads and focusing on far too many useless people who don’t have a real shot of winning this program in the name of “drama” this week, The X Factor squandered a lot of the good will it built up during the auditions.

The worst example of this was the ridiculous, manufactured Diva Feud between leopard-faced Cece Frey and Paige Thomas. The way the editors cut to Cece’s sour face every time a fellow lady belter auditioned, it seemed like they were building to either a giant triumph or a giant meltdown on her part, but instead, it just culminated with both her and Paige singing a fairly mediocre version of “I Will Always Love You.” Simon attempted to falsely stir the pot by insinuating one of them was being eliminated, but of course, both make it to the next round, ruining any sort of actual excitement that could be wrung from a rivalry between two mostly forgettable pop singers. The show milks this amazing Diva Feud even further when it culminates the entire week on it, pairing them together for a very familiar-seeming battle round and then priming them with leading questions in an attempt to start an actual catfight onstage. It doesn’t work, and both perform in their own average way. Even then, we won’t find out if there is a clear winner here because the next set of eliminations isn’t happening until next week. Talk about televised blue balls.

Aside from this manufactured drama, there were a few genuine moments sprinkled throughout the week. The most poignant comes when a very young kid in adorable purple glasses completely bombs in front of everyone and runs off the stage crying and asking for his mother. It’s completely heartbreaking in its exploitation, because most 13-year-olds who bomb an audition probably don’t have to do it on national television. After a while, even Britney gets affected by the kids who choke—crying to herself over one girl who loses it—even though in a delicious bit of irony she obviously doesn’t care enough about her to actually remember her name, calling her “that girl.”

There were also some moments of triumph, even if the show was trying to bury them under a horrible sound mix where it was easier to hear the background music than the actual singing. For all my complaining, there are some people with actual talent here, but I just wish I had any idea how that talent was going to be shaped once they get past these nebulous boot camp rounds and on to the actual performance shows. Also, the judges are a hoot, and it’s just plain nice to see Britney Spears doing something where she seems like an actual human again. I’m invested in watching the entire season, but the sooner we get these next few boot camp episodes over with and get on to the next phase of the show—whatever that may be—the better.


Stray observations:

  • Simon’s low-cut shirt might be the most horrible thing ever televised on Fox, including Mr. Personality.
  • Emblem3 was on my screen, and no one said, “Tank it, bro.” UNACCEPTABLE. At least they sang a Goo Goo Dolls song in the style of a Blink-182 cover to maintain their legendary status.
  • Big surprise: Terrible Annie girl is still terrible! Terrible Trevor is still terrible! I know inevitably some riffraff always gets through, but come on.
  • Seriously, though, that vocal coach Tara Simon is kind of the worst.
  • So does Lyric Da Queen need that eye patch? Let’s take bets.