Normally for performance episodes of “American Idol,” I don’t use the live-blog format and the recaps don’t go up until after the telecast, but Tuesday (October 25) night’s episode of “The X Factor” is attempting to do something that “American Idol” has never tried: We’re going to get a whopping 17 performances and the judges are going to send five contestants home and it’s all going to be stretched out over a soul-crushing 150+ minutes.
So I’m gonna live-blog, because just in case this mammoth episode kills me, I want the investigators to know exactly how far I made it before passing out.
Let the insanity begin…
8:00 p.m. ET Why hello, Cheesy Announcer Man.
8:01 p.m. “It’s gonna break my heart,” Nicole predicts. “I genuinely don’t want to lose any of these girls,” says Simon, who already got a bonus girl because of his “big mistake.”
8:02 p.m. Steve Jones is a well-dressed man. They’ve done a good job doctoring up what is basically just the “American Idol” stage, only with more swirly cameras. By the end of the show, we will have our Final 12, as the judges will each have to choose three singers from their respective groups. Poor Simon. He has to cut Tiah Tolliver *and* somebody else.
8:04 p.m. Simon’s changed his mind and he no longer wants to eliminate five people tonight. Interesting. The Guys will sing first. All of them. And then he has to eliminate one. That leads us to our first performer…
Brian “Astro” Bradley: The 14-year-old knows this is his time to shine, though he’s nervous. It’s a big stage show, complete with background dancers a light show and more. And what’s more 2011 than a teenager performing “Jump” for the masses? Is this all him? Other than the Kriss Kross chorus, I mean? And the overall derivativeness of it? It’s mighty cheesy — “When I say ‘X,’ y’all say ‘Factor'” — but it’s also energetically performed and the crowd loves it. Astro has a natural flow, though you can hear him getting breathless by the end of even a performance this short. Still, it’s a lively introduction to the live shows. “I couldn’t think of a better way to kick off live performances in America,” says Nicole, who says this will be an easy decision for L.A. Reid. Paula Abdul says that this is what Astro will be doing for the rest of his life. “You’ve just killed everybody,” Simon says. “If this kid doesn’t make it through to the finals, you are literally insane,” Simon says. “You guys have anything in your category that can stand up to this?” L.A. Reid asks.
Chris Rene: Let’s see how America’s favorite recovering junkie will do following Astro. He’s doing “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore” and are we allowed to say that his voice is just a little bit too thin and that he tends towards unintended nasally sharpness? He’s got a toned down version of the stage show, especially compared to Asto’s dog-and-pony fiesta. This is just flashing yellow lights and two big screens. I don’t think that was an especially good performance coming after Astro blew up the stage. “This is your moment right here,” Nicole says, calling it “really good,” but also questioning the song choice and blaming L.A. Reid for the selection. Paula calls Chris “infectious” and raves at his “spiritual connection.” “I don’t think you are the best singers in this competition, but you are one of the best recording artists,” Simon says and adds that he has to see Chris on the show next week. L.A. Reid is impressed.
Phillip Lomax: Want to know which Guy I didn’t think belonged in the Top 16 in the first place? That would be Phillip Lomax. And this rendition of “I’m a Believer” isn’t doing anything to dissuade me from that original opinion. It’s a ridiculously corny Vegas show with women prancing around thrusting themselves at Phillip, who looks like he’s going straight to his prom when this ends. So are they toy soldiers? Are they is fantasy toy soldiers? And what does this have to do with Phillip’s strengths as a vocalist? He’s mostly shouting and trying not to get distracted by the ladies. And he’s smiling like the cat who ate the stage full of female toy soldiers in high tube socks. “I just wish that you had some personality and some charm, honey,” Nicole says, raving that because Phillip had fun, we all had fun. “You did it mighty fine,” Paula says, calling his smile his “golden ticket.” “You were like a racing driver and L.A. put you into a tractor,” Simon says, calling the song “too cheap,” “too cabaret” and says that L.A. Reid failed. “Thank you for the constructive criticism,” Phillip sneers. L.A. Reid is proud of Phillip.
Marcus Canty: It’s pretty much got to be Phillip or Marcus going home, right? And they had to know that going in. That’s a lot of pressure. Ha. Marcus is doing Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me.” It’s a funny, silly song choice and the added hip-hop beat and the background dancers are doing nothing to help with the weirdness. I guess we have to accept that this is what “X Factor” performances are going to look like. And, unfortunately, this is maybe what they’re going to sound like. This is not the best use of Marcus Canty’s solid vocal skills. He tries hard and he gets less lost in the chaos than Phillip did immediately before him. “You just make it look too easy,” Nicole says, telling him he was born to be on the stage. “I feel like I’ve been watching a veteran on stage,” Paula says. Simon says that Marcus gave it everything and it was a brilliant choice of song. “You stepped up to the plate once again,” L.A. Reid says. So is “The X Factor” like “The Voice” in that the judges are barely going to criticize anything? At least on “The Voice” they were only called “Mentors.”
8:33 p.m. L.A. Reid’s got a choice to make now. He really loves all of his guys and he’s proud of them. The Boys return to the stage. For me, this would be no choice at all. Phillip Lomax would be done.
8:35 p.m. The first Boy through to the Top 12 is… ASTRO. Who is the second? MARCUS. That means it’s down to Phillip and Chris.
8:36 p.m. CHRIS is through. That means that Phillip Lomax is the first Boy heading home. “It’s such a shame that L.A. sent me home tonight, but I’m so happy to be here in the first place,” Phillip says. And now? Off to Prom!
8:39 p.m. We’re just motoring along, aren’t we? Who said it was Nigel Lythgoe who made the “Idol” trains run on time? Of course, we’ve got Paula Abdul and the Groups coming up next. That could be a train wreck.
8:40 p.m. Uh-oh. Steve Jones is tracking our tweets. The groups will start with…
The Stereo Hogzz: I’ve said this before, but the lead singer of The Stereo Hoggz is fantastic. He’s the best male singer in any of these categories. They’re mostly doing “Try a Little Tenderness,” though with a little of the recent Kanye/Jay-Z inflection around the sides. Except for a little dancing around the sides and a hip-hop bridge, I don’t get the point of the other Hogzz. There’s a lot of stagework here and it’s all excellent, but the only singing is coming from the frontman. But boy, he’s good. The fact that I’m pleasantly distracted from the lack of “Group” around him speaks to how well Paula set this performance up. L.A. Reid says that they’ve come a long way and that they’re “really good.” Nicole calls it “current and classic at the same time.” “I love this band,” Simon says, correctly pointing out that there’s nothing on the charts like them right now. Paula thanks them.
The Brewer Boys: Ha ha ha. Oh, these song choices. Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl” going into “Faith”? Two songs that hit long before either Brewer Boy was born? Intriguing. And I like how the choreography here consists of a group of dancers sitting at their feet and clapping. Once again, I’m struck by how marvelously musical these two kids are. They’re both out there with their guitars, the first artists of the night to use instruments. But in attempting to make them “current” for 20 years ago, I’m not sure this has accentuated the best in either Boy of Brewer. L.A. Reid wasn’t blown away. Nicole says that if she was a teenager today, she’d have them all over her walls. Simon reminds everyone that there is a $5 million contract. Simon says this didn’t shine and that the choreography was “throwaway.” Paula thinks that young girls will like them and that they nailed it.
8:55 p.m. I take back what I said about this episode’s pacing. But I guess that six performances in an hour puts us *nearly* on track to finish this episode in 160 minutes.
InTENsity. You know what I’d like to see? A group of Depression Era hobos called InTentCity. This, however, I don’t need to see anymore. Paula has even put them on a jungle gym to show us that they’re just a bunch of kids. They’re singing a mash-up of two songs that predate all of their births, with the semi-exception of “Footloose,” which now bridges generations. The lights flash everywhere and the stage is just full of kids trying to sing and not really distinguishing themselves in any way. Since they first performed, though, I’ve had the same feeling about InTENsity: Disney Channel could build a show around these kids tomorrow and that’s a good sign for their longevity if they’re given the chance. “That was really impressive,” L.A. Reid says, calling it “thoroughly entertaining.” “I hope y’all are enjoying this,” Nicole says calling them “yummy pumpkins.” “That was an equivalent of a music miracle,” Simon raves, calling them “The new ‘Glee.'” Simon particularly likes Elona or “The Girl in the Red Jacket.”
Lakoda Rayne. Time for our second FrankenGroup of the evening. They’re almost the anti-InTENsity. Lakoda Rayne? More like “Laconic Rayne.” This is about the lowest energy version of “Come On Eileen” I could imagine, but the pictures behind them — All Western sunsets — are very pretty. And I think I’m really partial to the Lakoda Rayne-r whose name is Danni. But really? This isn’t good. Are the judges going to be capable of distinguishing between “good” and “not good” at all? L.A. Reid says he’d sign them if they walked into his office and he loves everything about them. “You make girl groups look good,” Nicole says, even saying the “look classy.” This is better than Simon could have thought and he can see that they’ve gelled, praising Paula and earning a kiss. Paula’s crying at how much Lakoda Rayne proved to her.
9:09 p.m. Uh-oh. Paula’s gonna make this difficult, isn’t see? “How are you gonna do it?” Steve asks. “I don’t know, Steve, and stop asking me, Paula sniffles.
9:10 p.m. On talent, I’d send Lakoda Rayne home, but I understand why Paula’s gonna boot The Brewer Boys.
9:11 p.m. The first group through? STEREO HOGZZ. Second group going through? LAKODA RAYNE.
9:11 p.m. It’s down to The Brewer Boys and InTENsity. And, not surprisingly, it’s InTENsity advancing. The first Group going home is The Brewer Boys. The first Brewer Boy calls her Miss Paula and the second Brewer Boy apologizes for letting her down. Paula tries telling The Brewer Boys that they didn’t disappoint her, but Steve Jones has to cut her off and kick to commercial. I’ve said it before: Compared to Ryan Seacrest, Steve Jones is James Bond and he’s the cutthroat James Bond with a License to Cut Paula Off.
9:16 p.m. We’re half-way through the episode and kinda half-way through the contestants. So maybe we’re doing OK. But I’m expecting that Steve Jones is gonna get even more gangsta as the episode progresses.
9:17 p.m. It’s Over-30 time, but Simon is whispering to Nicole and Steve has to prod her to announce that her first singer is…
Dexter Haygood: This is… Strange. You’ve got a 49-year-old homeless man in an old Jimi Hendrix get-up singing Katy Perry (and a little Britney Spears) as women in sunglasses dance all around him. Dexter has absolutely no desire to sing. He screams a little. He struts a lot. And he sucks all meaning from “I Kissed a Girl.” I’m not gonna lie. That was sad, not entertaining. I was uncomfortable for every second of that performance and I’m even more uncomfortable with the need to send Dexter packing. L.A. Reid says that he thinks Dexter found himself. “You did a good job, so it wasn’t your fault,” L.A. Reid says of the song choice. Paula’s confused. Simon “kinda liked the taste of it.” Nicole is so proud of Dexter, mostly that he remembered his lyrics.
LeRoy Bell: Please tell me that the judges are capable of distinguishing between a true talent like LeRoy Bell and a trainwreck like Dexter Haygood? LeRoy’s a ridiculously implausible 60, but his voice has the texture and experience gleaned from all of those years. I mean, he’s singing a Pink song here, for heaven’s sake and he makes it sound like it’s full of wisdom and passion and pain. L.A. Reid is confused by LeRoy Bell hasn’t become a bigger star already. Paula compares LeRoy’s voice to Michael Bolton. Simon says LeRoy has one of the best voices in the competition, but he also sees a lack of confidence. Simon says that he wishes he was mentoring LeRoy. Nicole isn’t having it and she insists that she’s put two solid weeks into mentoring LeRoy.
Stacy Francis: Nicole’s got weird taste in music. I’m not sure George Michael was a great choice for Stacy, but I think I get the message when Stacy gets to the verse about how “there ain’t no joy for an uptown girl.” It’s a bit showy, but it’s still a powerful and rangy performance. For tonight’s purposes, I’m comparing everybody to the weakest link in their respective groups and for the Over-30s, this should be the no-brainer of all no-brainers. Paula says Stacy looks like a star. L.A. Reid thinks Nicole got it right on this one. Simon didn’t like her costume — sparkly blue pants and feathered boa — and he didn’t like the song choice and he wants a massive shift. Is this Simon’s way of saying he regrets getting rid of Cheryl Cole? Every time Simon looks at Nicole, it’s with embarrassment, pain and condescension. Nicole says that the song and the outfits gave Stacy wings. Steve Jones is forced to interrupt a conversation about whether Stacy is a church singer or a pop singer. THIS SHOW IS RUNNING ON-TIME, DARNIT!
Burrito Josh: OK. For the purposes of tonight’s show, the competition is over. Burrito Josh tacks Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young” nearly entirely a cappella and the result is stunning. I don’t get the idiotic dancing to the side, but I completely get Josh’s voice and the heartbreaking emotion in every word. That was TREMENDOUS. L.A. Reid loves everything about Burriot Josh and bows. “Your voice is my favorite voice I think I’ve heard in the past decade,” Paula says. “You are the artist I fear,” Simon says. “That was a soul-stirring performance,” Nicole says.
9:46 p.m. Nicole says that she’s going to wing her decision. Oh. Good. This is sure to be coherent. [And if anybody other than Dexter goes home, this is madness.]
9:46 p.m. Her first selection is… STACY FRANCIS. Steve’s in a rush and Nicole puts BURRITO JOSH through. It’s down to LeRoy and Dexter. Nicole is blathering and Steve is fighting to shut her up. The last Over-30s going through is LEROY BELL. That means that Dexter Haygood is going… Oh. This is sad. Dexter describes himself as “kinda confused.” He says he’s in The Boggle Zone. Oy. I’d feel much better about this if Paula or Nicole would offer Dexter use of their pool house.
9:53 p.m. Time for The Simon Cowell 5. Who’s our first Girl?
Simone Battle: So… what are the odds Simone remembers her lyrics tonight? Yikes. Simon’s staged the biggest production number of the night to “Just Be Good To Me.” There are plenty things to distract me from how little singing Simone is actually doing. That was freakishly bad. She barely carried the tune for a second and she was consistently upstaged by the dancers. I assume the other judges will be terrified to say a negative word. NO! “You must be really rich, because $5 million dollars clearly doesn’t mean much to you,” L.A. Reid says, completely unable to understand Simon’s choice. I have no idea what Nicole says, but she’s unhappy. Paula wanted viewer dancers. Simon plays the “Me against the world” card, saying that Simone is a pop star. “$5 million, Simon?” L.A. Reid inquires. And Simon snaps back that L.A. Reid is out of touch. Wow. Now, Simone’s performance was dreadful, but the post-song tension was fantastic! Keep her around, Simon!
Rachel Crow: Smart move here by Simon. He sacrificed the girl he knew the other judges would tear to shreds first and then he slotted in the girl none of the judges will have the heart to criticize. I have no idea of how to describe this performance, nor how to relate it to Simon’s conception of Rachel as an artist. The combination of Motown and Justin Bieber is enticing. The youthful dancers are energetic. And then you have Rachel in jeans and an androgynous blazer standing on a platform and barely moving at all. There are flashing lights. There’s smoke. Vocally? Quite decent. But it’s so odd and the song requires almost no pipes at all. L.A. Reid tells Rachel that she could have a career that goes beyond music. Nicole dubs Simon her Little Miss Sunshine and criticizes Simon’s song choice and mentorship. Paula tells Rachel that she could run for president. Simon trashes the opinions of “Squiddly and Diddly” and clarifies that he thinks Rachel is a retro-pop artist.
Drew: Interesting. Simon has made the very calculated decision to eliminate Drew’s last name. It’s not a bad choice, since I was always going to struggle with it. Drew is Simon’s Burrito Josh, a singer with a voice so powerful and exceptional that he doesn’t need to overdo the affectations around it. Well, affectations other than the flying birds on the video monitors and the fog billowing over the stage. It’s down-tempo, yearning version of “What a Feeling.” It’s well-sung, full of pain and makes Simon’s first two singers look like weak sisters. L.A. Reid compliments Simon and calls Drew a star. Nicole also praises Simon and dubs it “ethereal” and calls Drew “my little folk princess.” Paula tells Drew that she’s way beyond her years. Simon tells Drew that she’s why he wants to be back on American TV. Simon says he has a horrible decision, but guess who’s sticking around? Yeah. Drew.
Tiah Tolliver: And back to sacrificial lambs. [Gee, who’s surprised that Simon’s Favorite Mistake Melanie Amaro has the Pimp Slot tonight.] Tiah’s doing a nightmare version of “Sweet Dreams.” I think she’s the Wicked Queen and the squirming red dancers are meant to be… um… baby kangaroos? This is like Tarsem Singh’s “X Factor” Medley, a perfect blend of “Once Upon a Time” and “Grimm.” The amazing thing is that even if all Tiah’s doing is shouting, she’s PERFECT within the universe of this performance. She looks the part. She sounds the part. Her confidence is scary. “That was a great production,” L.A. Reid says, lamenting the absence of the kitchen sink. Nicole puffs up like a blowfish and says that Simon and Tiah are a good match and that Tiah was “committed and fierce.” Paula tells Tiah that she’s going to have to work on her pitch. “She just literally worked her nuts off up there to make a point,” Simon says, calling Nicole and Paula “two spiteful little cats.”
Melanie Amaro: See? Simon knows his stuff. You give Tiah the freak show production. But with Melanie, you just give her a Whitney Houston song and let her do her thing. There are moments of sharpness that we probably won’t criticize, because what would be the point? With Melanie, Simon has a diva capable of doing the Whitney/Mariah/Celine songs and he gave her audience sympathy with his staged elimination. This was utter gamesmanship from start to finish. The crowd goes nuts. “We really did save the best for last,” L.A. Reid says, though he calls the song choice “predictable.” Nicole connects with Melanie. Simon tells Melanie she’s great, but now he’s got a choice to make.
10:25 p.m. We’re actually going to finish on schedule tonight. Simon says he wants four people to go through and he hasn’t made up his mind. I’d boot Simone and Tiah, but what do I know?
10:26 p.m. The first person through is… DREW, who he calls “a future recording star.” The second girl through is… RACHEL, a choice Simon says he’s making based on the audience. Ha. That leaves Melanie, Tiah and Simone.
10:27 p.m. The final girl going through is… MELANIE, which he calls “a surprise.” Pure. Total. Theater. Simon has recrafted the narrative around Melanie to make her into an underdog, which is utter ridiculousness, since by any reasonable standard, she’s always been a favorite. Anyway, farewell to Tiah Tolliver and Simone Battle. You know who I feel sad for now? Caitlin Koch. But anyway…
What’d you think of the live show? Did the judges make the right picks?