Just when I thought I was out, FOX made it much too easy for me to pull myself back in.
If you’ll recall, I hated the second season of “The X Factor.” It was, in fact, my Worst Show of 2013, a perfect storm of disinterested (L.A. Reid) and discombobulated (Britney Spears) judges, of inept (Khloe Kardashian) and smarmy (Mario Lopez) hosts and of frustratingly predictable voting that marginalized what was, at times, a really talented crop of singers.
So I was prepared to quit on “The X Factor.” Or, at the very least, I was prepared to hold off on my recapping until I’d had a chance to watch a couple episodes and see if new judges Paulina Rubio and Kelly Rowland were capable of bringing the magic the show has clearly lacked in the past.
That was going to mean eschewing a recap Wednesday (September 11) night’s premiere.
But then FOX made two big decisions: The first was to premiere “X Factor” with only a one-hour episode. I can put up with an hour of recapping. The second decision was to put the full premiere up for press, meaning that not did it only require one hour of live-blogging, but it really only required 44 minutes, sans commercials.
Hence the live-blog you see before you. And also, hence the confusing time format, which relates to the 44 minutes of episode time and not to the time of the premiere, either ET or otherwise. I’ll be sure to put contestant names in bold, so you can find your way around that way.
In order for y’all to get more recaps from me this season, one of three things will have to happen: 1) The third incarnation of “The X Factor” would have to be awesome. 2) Traffic on this darned recap would have to be awesome. 3) There has to be an insane outpouring of reader interest.
With that out of the way… Here’s what went down on Wednesday’s “X Factor” premiere:
00:00 The screener starts with a minute of copyright warnings, leading me to pause and wonder,” Where is Steven Jones at?”
01:00 “‘The X Factor’ has created more global stars than any other singing competition in the world,” Mario Lopez says, kicking off the show and slapping that other former Simon Cowell show in the face. But yes… One Direction is huge. Nobody’s denying that.
02:45 Last year, Simon Cowell told me that he liked going without a host for the audition rounds, because it gave the show a documentary feeling. That was his way of saying, “We didn’t have a host so we went without a host in the audition rounds.” Because there’s Mario!
03:00 Contestants are are back to being categorized as Boys, Girls, Over-25s (i.e. Geriatrics) and Groups.
03:30 “This year, I would say I’m back in control,” Simon Cowell says. “What I’m looking for is somebody who has that sparkle behind their eyes,” Demi Lovato promises. That sparkle is called The X Factor, by the way. Kelly Rowland is hoping to find somebody who wants it, somebody who’s hungry and passionate. “I’m just looking for something unique, I’m looking for a superstar,” Paulina Rubio observes. Those were the most perceptive comments we could get from the judges.
05:00 We’re starting our auditions in Los Angeles. Our first auditioner is Carlito Olivero. He’s 23 and even though we’re in LA, he was born and raised in Chicago. He works at a coffee shop, which explains his hyper-active personality. It’s too early to know if he takes any pride in his singing, but he takes ample pride in his frappuccinos. As the judges arrive, Carlito’s confidence temporarily declines, before he vows to become “the Latino Chris Brown.” Now, to me, that’s a horrifying thought and I wish Carlito would aspire to something higher, both in terms of singing and in terms of not hitting women and Canadian rappers. But will he be able to make the judges swoon? Well, he makes Paulina Rubio speak Spanish, which is something. “We could write our orders down now?” Demi Lovato says in response to Carlito’s other career. Memo to Carlito: Seriously, dude… You can sing Rihanna or you can announce your intentions to be the Latino Chris Brown. But please don’t do both. Ugh. My instinct that Carlito has a very pure, radio-friendly voice, but the performances on “X Factor” are always so darned over-produced that it’s hard to tell. He’s got a bit too much vibrato, especially when he’s doing particularly high or low notes. But if somebody could de-goat-ify him by 75 percent, he might be OK. Simon starts things out. “I actually like everything about you,” Simon says, adding that there’s no one around like him. Demi compares him to a combination between Frankie J and Trey Songz, which makes Carlito pleased. “I adore you,” Paulina says. “We are witnessing a star,” Kelly adds, before he gets four “Yes” votes.
10:15 The non-Simon judges all want to mentor the Boys, but Simon suggests that may be dangerous.
10:45 Oh right. I forgot the weird thing “X Factor” does where they jump between audition cities and make us ponder Demi’s ever-shifting hairstyles. So now we’re in Charleston? It’s like Mario Lopez is telling me that they went to Los Angeles, saw Carlito Olivero and then went, “Geez, we can’t top that. Off to South Carolina!”
11:05 What is The X Factor anyway? FOX has been wondering this for two+ years now. And the judges don’t really know either. “It’s something you can’t describe,” Kelly says, before Simon suggests “charisma” and Demi goes with “passion.” See? It’s totally describable. “Like kissing someone for the first time,” Paulina suggests.
11:23 “When I sing, people have told me it just makes them so incredibly happy,” says our first Charleston contestant. Her name is Sally Hessnice and Simon compares her to Demi Lovato in appearance. This is funny, because Sally is 55 and she’s been married for 35 years and Demi Lovato is 12. Simon tells Sally to kill the song. The music starts and Sally stands around smiling as the audience laughs nervously. Are we going to get a Susan Boyle here? Or are we going to mock poor, happy Sally Hessnice? It’s the latter. Sally isn’t very good, but I don’t think she’s quite bad enough to justify Simon’s derision or all of this screentime. I mean… She’s happy! “I wasn’t crazy about the vocal,” Kelly says. “I just don’t think that it’s The X Factor,” Demi says. “I’ve just been told that 8000 dogs are trying to get into the venue,” Simon says cruelly and pointlessly. This is the sort of contestant-bashing that hasn’t worked well on “American Idol” for a couple years and feels even worse here. Sally’s still perfectly happy with her performance, giving herself a “10.” And Simon’s back in the theater still insulting Sally.
15:44 On to Valeria Colombo, a karaoke DJ who makes people scream when she sings. Valeria is much worse than Sally and she’s also happy with herself. Vincent Crisostomo is awful, but gets a couple minutes of screentime for mockery. “Did you rehearse that song? Did somebody listen to you?” Kelly asks him.
17:20 Now, a show that canned Cheryl Cole out of fear that we wouldn’t understand her accent will spend several minutes making fun of the fact that Paulina Rubio makes “pitchy” sound like “peachy” when she says it. John Tanner Davis just graduated from high school, but he won’t be graduating to musical stardom.
18:40 The auditions are in full swing, Mario says, repeating the thing he already told us about the categories. Can we get to somebody who can sing, please? Lillie McCloud has the look of a star and she’s here to win. Paulina Rubio’s purple had is incredulous. Everybody’s genuinely awestruck, though, when it turns out that Lillie is 54. “In this life?” Paulina asks. “Wow,” Simon adds. It’s time to get Lillie story. She has three children and seven grandchildren. “I always knew I wanted to be a singer,” she says, adding that she has no regrets about raising her family. Singing Cece Winans’ “Alabaster Box,” Lillie shines. You’d never guess her age from looking at her, you can tell from her voice that she’s not an ingenue, which is meant totally as a compliment. It’s the voice of an experienced storyteller. It starts off intimate and textures and then soars when Lillie hits the chorus. Have you seen “20 Feet From Stardom”? Lillie’s got the same vibe that some of those classic background singers have. The judges stand for her, with several in different stages of tearing up. “That was unbelievable, lady,” Paulina says. “Where you been? Where you been hiding?” Kelly says. “You absolutely nailed it. This was like listening to somebody like Gladys Knight,” Simon says. “You ripped my heart out of my chest,” Demi says, comparing her to Whitney. Four “Yes” votes, of course. Dancing in her leather/rubber pants may be the most impressive part of Lillie’s audition. She leaves with the mic stand. “I would take the Over-25s in a heartbeat,” Demi says.
25:30 Off to New Orleans! Mario Lopez reminds us, again, of the categories. Groups tent to suck. K-Nected certainly is painful. “Do you rehearse at home? Do you live near an airport?” Simon asks. Full montage, now, of Simon insulting various groups. CJ & Chloe are friends, but they aren’t singers, but at least CJ gets to give Simon a big hug, followed by some neck-kissing from Chloe.
29:00 Might students Sierra and Alex break the group jinx? They’re a very fetching couple and they’ve appropriately called themselves Alex & Sierra. “The chemistry we have on-stage is something special that you don’t see a lot,” Alex says, before the get all shmoopy backstage. On stage, Simon begins by inquiring if they’re brother and sister. “No. We kiss. So that’d be weird,” Alex says. They’ve been dating for two years and their cuteness is a bit disgusting. They confuse everybody by announcing that they’re doing “Toxic” by former judge Britney Spears. Fortunately, in addition to to the oppressive cuteness, they have a pretty fair amount of talent in a Civil Wars kinda way. And since Civil Wars is/are very successful it’s pretty easy to know what a smart producer/label would be able to do with these kids. I’m not sure they know what to do on stage, but they know how to be charming together. “I wanna start! I wanna start!” says Demi, who says she had the chills. “I’m rooting for you. You’re so cute together. There’s magic,” Demi ads. “I believe in you guys. I believe in love,” Paulina says. Simon feared it might be corny, but instead he thought they were “cool and quirky.” Four “Yes” votes. “I’m in love with your love!” beams Demi.
36:30 Back to Charleston now on our audition whiplash tour. Rion Paige is an adorably nerdy, bubbly 13-year-old with curly hair, big glasses and a proud mom who wants us to know what a great heart her daughter has. You get immediately that “heart” is going to be a euphemism, but it isn’t until she gets on stage that we see that Rion has a disorder or birth defect of some sort. With pluck, enthusiasm and big smile, Rion explains that she has arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. Her hands are curved differently because of her joints and she’s almost blind in her right eye. We get Rion’s full story and she is awesome. “I just want the judges to not take pity or think of me as different,” she says. Boy I want her to be good. And… she is. On the verse she’s just reassuringly sold, but when she hits the passion of the chorus, she’s really impressive, especially for a teen who obviously isn’t versed in performing in contexts anywhere near this big. Between Alex & Sierra and Rion, this episode waited a long time to get decent, but brought it home.
41:30 “I’m just so impressed right now and I cannot believe the struggles you’ve had,” Demi says, adding that we can all learn something from her. “Music heals everything and I’m honored to live this with you,” Paulina says. “I just witnessed passion. I think that’s what I loved the most about it,” Kelly says. “I think you’re literally extraordinary,” Simon says, comparing Rion to Carrie Underwood, promising he’ll remember this audition. “In every single way, Rion, you are a beautiful person,” Simon tells her. Four “Yes” votes for Rion, with Simon calling it the easiest “Yes” he’s ever given.”
43:45 “Gosh, that just did not happen!” Rion says. That was manipulative and effective in the best way. I hope we get more of Rion, assuming I keep watching.
So… Not sure how I felt about that episode. Paulina and Kelly both seemed OK. Neither was embarrassing. Either was especially memorably successful. The first half of the show was dismal. The second half featured Lillie and Alex & Sierra and Rion, so that’s not bad.
What’d you think of the premiere? Will you be watching this season? Any point in my bothering to recap?