It’s Thursday (October 13) night, but it’s time to settle in for Wednesday night’s episode of FOX’s “The X Factor,” an introduction to the Judges’ House round of mentorship. Simon Cowell has great sway at FOX, but he isn’t powerful enough to stop the rain or to prevent weather-based preemptions in the American League Championship Series.
So let’s get down to business and maybe we’ll see all the fun ways in which “The X Factor” is different from “The Voice”… Click through for the full live-blog.
8:01 p.m. ET Well, you can’t say that Mike Napoli didn’t have a chance to make a real mess of things for FOX. All he needed was a two-out double and FOX would have been facing another night of baseball-based delays or even cancellations. Instead, he grounded out feebly, proving that Mike Napoli wants to see what Simon Cowell is going to do with the Girls’ group.
8:02 p.m. Paula Abdul is in Santa Barbara. Nicole is in Malibu. L.A. Reid is in the Hamptons. And Simon Cowell is in freakin’ France, which means that the Girls are the big winners here.
8:03 p.m. And guess who’s gonna get the most screentime? I’m guessing it’s going to be the women in Paris. Simon Battle is excited to be in France, but she’s more excited to meet their mentor. Jazzlyn Little agrees.
8:04 p.m. “Imagine one day if we win this competition, we’ll get to live here, maybe,” says Rachel Crow, looking around Simon’s palatial abode. The Girls are all thrilled to see Simon reveal himself and they run over to hug him, all squealing.
8:05 p.m. The Groups arrive in Santa Barbara, including Intensity and Lakoda Rayne, the two new Groups the judges fabricated because the overall talent in the category was so pathetic. Paula reveals himself and the Groups are enthusiastic. But none of them rush to hug Paula, at least until they get a welcoming gesture. “I specialize in working with groups,” Paula tells them, mentioning ZZ Top and Duran Duran as groups she’s worked with that have NOTHING to do with any of them.
8:07 p.m. The Over-30s arrive in Malibu, which isn’t a bad place to be. Leroy’s impressed by the size of the house and he suspects it’s Simon’s house. Wrong-O! Who better to relate to Over-30s than Pussycat Doll Nicole. Christa Collins gushes that Nicole is relevant. Tiger Budbill appreciates that Nicole came up in a singing competition, so she knows what they’re going through. Nicole vows to commit herself “1000 percent.”
8:09 p.m. The Boys arrive in the Hamptons, where L.A. Reid has his own lake. And his own ocean. This is the perfect house… for REVENGE! Oh. Wait. Wrong network. Wrong show. “Pound for pound, we have the most talent in this category,” L.A. Reid says. The guys are happy with L.A. Reid and L.A. Reid exchanges manly bouncer-hugs with them. Phillip Lomax is worried that his style (“Poseur”) might be different from what L.A. Reid is looking. I hope the men respect L.A. Reid’s red sweater.
8:14 p.m. Remember that tonight’s intended “X Factor” episode will actually air on Sunday night.
8:15 p.m. Surprise time! The judges have special “friends” who will be helping out. Nicole introduces the groups to Enrique Iglesias, which has an immediate fan in Christa Collins. “I want to see that one person who sticks out,” Enrique says.
8:15 p.m. Paula’s Special Friend is… Pharrell. Some of the Groups are REALLY excited. And some of the Groups have zero clue who Pharrell is.
8:16 p.m. Simon’s Special Friend is… Missing. “It was going to be Mariah Carey,” Simon tells the Girls. Unfortunately, Hurricane Irene has kept her away. So Simon will double-judge.
8:17 p.m. And L.A. Reid’s chum is… Rihanna. Seriously, having Rihanna mentor the Boys is… well, it’s a wet dream come true. Like Brian Bradley is going through puberty before our eyes. Rihanna says that she’ll be looking for individuality.
8:18 p.m. Our first solo performance comes from Young Mr. Bradley. Apparently everybody’s been given the chance to sing a hand-selected song either with a backing track or with live accompaniment. But can we first discuss that Brian has decided his nickname is “Astro.” Brian is confused enough to think that winning the $5 million prize will allow him to buy a place like this in the Hamptons. Oh, kids. I would be unable to sing for Rihanna. Astro, however, tells Rihanna that they’re going to be collaborating someday. Astro’s going a little ol’ school with his performance, even throwing in a little beat-boxing at one key moment. Rihanna is impressed. “You go ahead, kid,” L.A. Reid says. “He’s so cute. I can’t even comment right now,” Rihanna says. But L.A. Reid has some concerns about how a rapper/MC will be able to measure up against singers in this competition. Good question, L.A. Reid!
8:23 p.m. Simone Battle will be the first solo performer for the Girls. Simone and I, we’re fellow Trojans, but I don’t quite get how she made the Top 32 after blundering all of the lyrics in her last performance. She’s doing an arrangement of “Help” that I don’t instantly recognize. She’s pretty terrifically attractive, especially since she’s basically performing in a one-piece bathing suit, with a see-thru skirt. Simon’s hard to read, with his sunglasses and his carefully positioned Pepsi. “Well done, you,” Simon tells her. Simone correctly knows that her voice cracked a few times, but she feels good about her performance. Simon’s a big fan, but his three singing coaches/Mariah-proxies are less convinced and they suggest Simon might be judging based on, um, aesthetic factors.
8:30 p.m. So far, incidentally, I don’t mind this as a format. We’re actually going to get to see full performances from each member of the Top 32? Complete with a little background? That’s not bad as getting-to-know-you footage goes. Unless we’re about to start skipping through performances.
8:33 p.m. Paula and Pharrell give a pre-performance pep-talk, which includes Pharrell telling them that they won’t all make it and Paula instructing them to “just bring it.” Our first Group performance comes from the Utah-based The Anser. Are we ever going to have a reason to learn their individual names? Probably not. They’re doing a nice three-part arrangement of Pink’s “F***in’ Perfect.” It’s not exciting, but it’s well-rendered. “They’re tight,” Paula says. I love how Steve Jones is EVERYWHERE.
8:38 p.m. Nicole and Enrique give a pep talk to the Over-30s, telling them that “this is do or die.” That seems extra literal for Dexter Haygood. “I was homeless. Skid Row, Los Angeles in 1992,” Dexter recalls. It’s sunset in Malibu when Dexter cues up his backing track. It’s a frantic rendition of “Crazy in Love” that includes very little singing at all. “He made it his own… I would have liked to have heard the song a bit more,” Nicole says. Enrique is willing to attribute the problems to the song. Dexter cries on Steve’s shoulder. “It ain’t over yet,” Steve reassures him.
8:46 p.m. We’re back in the Hamptons with the Boys. Our next soloist is 16-year-old Skyelor Anderson, who I remember more for his ability to keep singing after a technical gaffe than for his ability to sing. Skyelor’s been through a lot and he dreams of becoming “the youngest black country singer.” He’s singing “Nobody Knows It But Me,” which has been both a country and R&B song in its time. There’s great emotion in Skyelor’s voice, but it sometimes leads to pitchy places. There’s no real expression in his face or his performance, though. L.A. Reid isn’t sure if Skyelor’s an authentic country singer, but Rihanna loves the dimensions to his voice.
8:50 p.m. In France, Tora Woloshin is ready to force me to learn how to spell “Tora Woloshin.” You may recall that Tora is the tattooed gear-head, who dreams of racing cars and working on cars, though singing is her truest dream. For now, pressure is hitting Tora hard and she’s having trouble with her song. “I just am losing it,” she says, on the verge of tears. I think Tora’s singing a club-inflected version of “Satisfaction.” This is a really awful arrangement of a great song and the techno-stylings have absolutely nothing to do with Tora’s performing persona, which is negligible. After she gets into the chorus, Tora sounds OK, but the song is way too low to be appealing in the beginning. Tora’s mostly pleased that she nailed the words. “It all sounds right, but there’s something… I can’t quite explain it… It doesn’t quite get to me,” Simon says.
8:58 p.m. Our second Group is Lakoda Rayne, the unholy alliance of Cari Fletcher, Dani Knights, Paige Ogle and Hayley Orrantia, who weren’t distinctive as individuals, but are sure to be intriguing as a pop-country group. We see footage from the end of Boot Camp, where we see that several members of Lakoda Rayne had reservations of their own. They got together in New Jersey to learn to be a group, so… Let’s see how they gel! They’re doing a weirdly twangy version of “Born This Way.” And they are… four boring individual singers who appear to have learned to be a group by watching old episodes of “Jem and the Holograms.” This feels less like watching an established group and more like watching an “American Idol” Group Day performance in which the singers gravitated together based entirely upon cuteness. And they definitely have cuteness in spades. I’m particularly partial to Dani. But their dancing is hilariously bad. “We’ve grown like sisters,” Dani tells Paula, promising that if they could work together more, they’d become better. “Their Achilles Heal is really meaning what they’re saying,” Paula says. The girls of Lakoda Rayne are aware that they weren’t all that great, but they’re hoping the judges will see their potential.
9:04 p.m. Meanwhile, it’s time for USC-Cal kickoff.
9:08 p.m. Good gravy that was a horrible waste of a First-and-Goal, Trojans. Ugh.
9:09 p.m. The next Over-30 soloist is Stacy Francis, who tweeted me last week to tell me that I don’t have to be mean. Stacy is in a borrowed dress and borrowed shoes and she vows to fight for it. How are these performances so over-produced? Stacy sounds really good on “Purple Rain,” but it doesn’t feel like she’s singing live at all. There’s simply no way that they’re getting this sound quality on a cliff in Malibu. None at all. Nicole and Enrique both love Stacy and sit with their hands happily in front of their faces. “This is everything to me,” Stacy cries, perhaps sensing that Nicole wasn’t crying *enough*. Nicole is worried that Stacy’s fears and doubts may hold her back. Enrique seems to have questions about whether or not Stacy is made for Today’s Market.
9:18 p.m. The Brewer Boys are up next. After Lakoda Rayne, I look forward to hearing an actual group. They’re singing “Only Girl in the World,” which is a kinda weird choice, but no weirder than their shared hair-tossing tic. The arrangement is weird and the backing track is excessive. There’s some splendid harmony and musicality going on here and it’s been obscured by a fake guitar. There are also some truly disturbing undercurrents to hearing these lyrics being tossed back and forth by a pair of teenage brothers. Pharrell looks perplexed initially, but he’s been won over by the end. And who can blame him? Pharrell and Paula wonder if they’re “good” but not “great.”
9:23 p.m. Ugh. Phillip Lomax is also doing a Rihanna song. And he’s singing it to Rihanna. This was L.A. Reid’s fault, the song choice. If I liked Phillip, I’d say that L.A. Reid’s pick was evil. Phillip has big band-ized “Please Don’t Stop The Music.” There’s a great early moment where you sense Rihanna wondering what the heck Phillip is singing. But eventually he seems to be winning her over, or else she just likes to randomly lick her lips. I don’t mind Phillip’s voice — he sounds like roughly 5000 Rat Pack tribute singers working Las Vegas at this exact second — but I’d sure get rid of around 75% of his hipster affectations. “I’m not sure it works commercially,” L.A. Reid says. Uh-oh.
9:30 p.m. I’m not enjoying this half-watched football game at all.
9:30 p.m. Nicole and Enrique are about to get treated to the musical stylings of Elaine Gibbs. She’s a wedding singer “for stability’s sake.” I think the Malibu performances are the most over-produced of all. Elaine Gibbs might as well be on “Glee,” this sounds so packaged. Elaine has a great voice and “Stop Crying Your Heart Out” is an interesting choice. It’s annoying, though, that the music on the soundtrack intrudes almost the second her performance ends, making it impossible to tell one audio clip from the other.
9:33 p.m. Rugby Player Caitlin Koch will be the next to perform for Simon in France. Simon’s had a crush on Caitlin since her first audition and it’s hard to blame him. “I hope you’re ready,” Caitlin says before launching into a breathy, nicely nuanced rendition of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” It’s interesting that the Over-30 women clearly have better voices, but Caitlin has a far better sense of how not to horribly over-sing a song. Simon loves her “pitch” and her “tone” and her “phrasing.”
9:36 p.m. Somebody realized that you have to get more than just two performances into every show block. So instead of going to commercial, we’re going to make fun of Nick Voss and his racing stripes and shaved eyebrows. A photo montage suggests that as long as he’s lived, Nick Voss has *always* had silly hair, but he’s varied it over the years. This falsetto-heavy rendition of “Everybody Wants To Rule The World” isn’t going to help Nick’s cause. It’s twitchy and difficult to watch. And the key-shifting and hyper-stylized vocals aren’t appealing to listen to either. He’s like Adam Lambert if Adam Lambert wasn’t any good. “I’ve seen him better,” L.A. Reid says after Rihanna hesitantly asks if this was a representative performance.
9:44 p.m. I’m assuming that 4Shore will be the night’s last Group performance. They’ve got lots of race metaphors at their disposal and the live shows will be their destination. They do justice to “True Love to Share.” Everything is over-calculated with them, from the harmonies to the dance steps. “They’re so refined I just want to dirty them up a little bit,” Paula Abdul says smartly. 4Shore will, indeed, be good if they’re encouraged to relax or unwind just a little.
9:48 p.m. James Kenney holds down five jobs, though that number seems to include “dad” and “husband.” He’s our next Over-30s performer and he says this isn’t just about changing his life, it’s about changing the lives of his wife and children. James sounds totally album-ready, but that’s the curse of the Malibu production set-up. I have absolutely no idea what he sounds like. He also seems to only sing for 30 seconds after other singers were getting more exposure. Enrique thinks James could be a rock star.
9:54 p.m. We’re back in France for Drew Ryniewicz, whose Justin Bieber obsession might have been sad and scary if her voice weren’t so great. She’s stoked to be in France, where crepes are the new Justin Bieber. “I’ve been praying my butt off,” Drew promises. I was about to question why the heck Drew is performing sitting in a director’s chair. But she’s so very good that it hardly seems worth complaining about that either. Somehow, she makes me believe that she knows what “It Must Have Been Love” is about on a purely emotional level, which is almost scary. If it were still possible for a female contestant to win a singing competition in which America voted, I’d think Drew had a REALLY good chance of winning this show. If I were a producer/writer, I’d assume I could be writing for Drew for the next 30 years and that she’d only get better. “Amazing,” Simon says.
Who’d you like tonight? What’d you think of this format? And will you remember to watch on Sunday?