Archive for September, 2011

Chicago & Seattle Auditions, Talent Not Required

Oops, I never recapped episode 2. I was going to but then I didn’t. Here are my thoughts from it: FIVE MILLION DOLLAR PRIZE! GHOSTS! PAULA! Hey, wait, that one girl doesn’t suck? BACK TO GHOSTS!

Anyway, back to the episode at hand. In my recap of the first episode, I made a pointed effort not to critique the contestants based on their singing ability, as it was clear that X-Factor was not trying to sell me on the musical prowess of their “talent.” However, this episode the show seemed to think that it could portray some of the contestants as legitimately gifted recording artists. It made for a far less entertaining show because we didn’t have a girl who could see ghosts or a campy Prince impersonator to make up for the obvious dearth of talent that plagued the X-Factor auditions. (Hey, I don’t hold it against them. Have you seen the utter crap that made it through the first season of American Idol? Just make sure to keep the focus on the everything else and the show will be fine.)

First up in rainy Chicago (and really? Did the show need to spend two minutes telling us that it rains in Chicago? Really?) was singing duo Makenna and Brock. I wasn’t entirely paying attention when they were first introduced and was pretty sure they were brother and sister because they looked so much alike. (It’s the nose.) This made Brock’s confession of love for Makenna a little awkward. But hey, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from fandom it’s that there are no boundaries. (Oh Kara DioGuardi, as a blogger and lover of horrific puns, I will forever love you for that line. [As a Kris Allen fan and lover of music, I will forever hate you for that song.]) So yeah, Brock confessed his super duper secret love for Makenna on national TV, then they went up in front of the judges and sang something with a vaguely country twang and an awfully boring lilt. He sounded better than her. They’re basically a far less attractive, far shorter, far less talented version of Lady Antebellum (minus the shaggy dude). Which of course means, they’re going to Hollywood!!! (Or whatever the X-Factor equivalent of ‘going to Hollywood’ is.)

They squeezed in a couple bad auditions after the duo. One sang Katy Perry’s “Firework” and immediately got a “yes” from me. (Sadly, she didn’t get a yes from the panel.) I still have no idea what differentiates the “good” auditions from the “bad” ones. It’s not singing talent. It’s not performing talent. As one particularly shoddy-looking taqueria employee proved, it’s not attractiveness, either. I mean, I guess having no idea how the judges will react to any given performance adds a bit of suspense to everything. Which trainwrecks will the judges think are trainwrecks? Which trainwrecks will the judges think are good? Which serious contestants wi- hah, just kidding. There are, of course, no serious contestants.

After the “bad” auditions we got treated to some more red, white and blue raised backstory in the form of Skyler Anderson. Skyler Anderson is the male version of AI9’s Haeley Vaughn. I expect about three-quarters of a person reading this blog to understand that reference. Haeley was the young, cute, African American girl who sang country music (rather poorly). Skyler is the exact same thing with slightly different biology. After about two lines of his song the sound technicians decided to give us all a much needed reprieve from his voice and stopped the backing track, but he refused to stop singing and continued to let his poor, weak voice flop all over the stage in a horrifically pathetic fish-out-of-water fashion. It was tragic, especially because Skyler seems like such a nice kid. Obviously, he got through too!

I felt particularly close to the next contestant, J. Mark Inman, who for the remainder of the competition will be known as J-MARC because I think it rather suits his general aura of douchitude much better. J-MARC is a graduate student in philosophy, which essentially means he’s studying to become a professional pretentious jerk. He rambled somewhat annoyingly in an attempt to be “funny” in his intro package. As someone who is somewhat of an expert at rambling annoyingly in an attempt to be “funny,” I feel as though I have a right to call him out on it. Of course, my attitude towards him completely changed when his self-composed backing track to Radiohead’s “Creep” started and sounded like someone reproducing Owl City in Garageband. Because, really? That’s brilliant. Then he started pulling out the awkward turtle dance moves and I was sold. He sung terribly, too. But that was entirely secondary to everything else about his exceedingly put-on performance. It was pretty much everything and anything I could ask for in an X-Factor audition, including the “yes” from the judging panel at the end. This is what I’m talking about! This is what I need! Forget any pretense of legitimacy and revel in your loud gimmickry.

The producers want to remind us that Paula Abdul still has non-cola substances in her drink. They succeeded. (Paula is a fantastic reality TV personality. She makes every show delightful! Except apparently her own failed reality TV show, but whatever.)

The next person to violently assault the ears of America was Josh Krajcik. I was hopeful for the aw(e)ful(some) potential of Josh when he was introduced to us as a 30-something year old who forced his mom to drive him seven hours to an audition. He had the not-quite-homeless chic look down and he had the overly-enthusiastic, overconfident stage mom down. Everything was in place for the makings of a beautiful disaster. He even has the dead-end job as a burrito maker! He makes burritos for a living. I mean, if that’s not the mark of a truly awful audition waiting to happen, I don’t know what is. Then he starts singing and it’s awful. But not the good kind of awful where I can point and laugh as he clumsily putters through a quavering rendition of “Bad Romance.” No, it was the horrifying kind of awful where there’s aggressive growling and weird animal noises and punctuation of all the wrong phrases in “At Last” and I feel like I should cover the eyes of all the young children watching because it was clearly the stuff of nightmares. The worst part of this kind of awful? Judges seem to love it. And I just can’t. I’ve never found an incarnation of this particular brand of anti-style (inside joke, thanks Caramanica!) to be even remotely palatable and I’m not going to start now. OFF WITH HIS HEAD.

The show ditched Cheryl Cole for Nicole Scherzinger once again (and I think for a final time, though who knows) and jetted off to glamorous Seattle. A place where they had enough usable footage to skip the clip on the various meteorological goings-on of the city.

First up in the always sunny Seattle was joke act The Good Girls with a mother who appeared to be about as old as her daughter. It would’ve been more entertaining to watch them had they not previously failed miserably as a joke act on Idol. But seriously now? There aren’t enough terrible famewhores in America to at least give us unique famewhores? We’re recycling famewhores now? That just seems wrong. Give everyone a chance at their fifteen minutes, damnit. Now poor RayMan StarZ fire juggler-turned-male stripper-turned-starving artist-turned-hipster might never get the chance to croak out four bars of Stevie Wonder on national television.

I love laughing at deliciously awkward people as much as the next cynical, heartless internet blogger, but watching Drew Ryniewicz‘s intro package made me a tad uncomfortable. I have no qualms laughing at a fourteen year old girl’s obsession with Justin Bieber, but Drew has such a supremely awkward presence that it feels a little too easy. Anyway she dared to tackle the pinnacle of modern pop, “Baby,” and managed wrestle all of the infectious fun and swagger out of it. If Ludacris can’t rap to it, it ain’t a pop song I want to listen to, okay? It was slow and a little yodel-y and forced you to actually listen to the cringe-worthy lyrics of “Baby.” The judges wept happy tears over it, though. I mean, to be completely fair to her, her voice was pleasant enough. I guess in the grand scheme of things, her overall impression of “awkward and only mildly offensive” was one of the better showings of the night.

Peet Montzigo has a dwarf family! No, seriously. I don’t know what the least offensive (… most politically correct) term is, but they self-identified as dwarfs so I’m going to roll with that. He and his family seemed to be genuinely likable people. I mean, don’t get me wrong, he was completely ridiculous and a little too forced. But he was hardly offensive. And as noted above, that puts him way ahead of the pack. Peet really wants to be a teen idol. I have no problem with this. We need more teen idols. This is America. Justin Beiber shouldn’t be allowed a monopoly. It would probably help if Peet was actually a teenager, but at only 21, he’s still younger than most of the cast of Glee, so we’ll give him a pass. He tackled “Billionaire” by Bruno Mars Travie McCoy and changed the word “billionaire” in the song to “famous.” Sometimes lyrical changes work. Changing the title lyric of the song to a word with half the syllable count? Probably not one of those times. It ended up being a predictably tuneless mess, but at least it was a tuneless mess with a smile! For that, the judges granted Peet with the consolation prize of completely false hope! (In this case, I for once am not referring to a golden ticket. Damnit. X-Factor, you really need catchier phrases for “you’re through to the next round” otherwise I’m just going to keep lifting Idolisms.)

At some point, the show realized it needed to have contestants to actually place in the “groups” category for when the next rounds roll around, so it enlisted boy band 4Shore. They think they’re great and destined to be famous. They auditioned with the L.A. Reid-co-penned Boyz II Men hit, “End Of The Road” that Stefano Langone decided to mutilate with odd punctuation earlier this year. 4Shore sounded especially awful on it, though, highlighted by the fact that their harmonies managed to be more off than their lead vocalists. And the dude with the dreads literally just screeched his way through the entire song, completely disregarding things like key or volume or pitch or tone. It was one of the most unpleasant things my ears have experienced recently. SO GUESS WHAT? They’re through! Hurrah! Simon thinks they could be huge everywhere! Because, y’know, boy bands have been doing so well here in America recently. Just ask Day26 from Making The Band 4! (“Day26 who?” you ask? Exactly. Exactly.)

We then got to experience a quick montage of auditions (which were purportedly “good”). There was a young-looking grandma oversinging a few lines of “You’ve Got A Friend”, a seventeen year old in a pretty princess dress singing something from the Karen Rodriguez book of pageant ballads, and some random guy that sang one note that LA Reid was not fond of.

Up next was a dude who exuded so much douchebag in his self-described “hipster” attitude that I’m not even going to spend time writing about him. Don’t worry, though, he’s said enough things about himself to cover any words I might rob him of.

The final audition of the night was from the very energetic and undeniably adorable Tiah Tolliver. Her audition came on the heels of X-Factor doing its best to set back feminism about sixty years, in a nice montage reel of Paula and Nicole apparently being predisposed to disliking any pretty girl who appeared on stage. (Because, you know, those girls that Paula and Nicole gave yeses to today were hideous ogres.) Tiah’s a cappella version of Shontelle’s “Impossible” showed off a somewhat pleasing tone but a complete inability to stay in key. She totally would’ve been better with a backing track to keep her in check, but hadn’t prepared one. For some inexplicable reason, Paula and Nicole picked this one time to be lucid and critical and called Tiah out on her inability to stay in key. (Newsflash: No one on this show can stay in key!) There were arguments and exasperated faces and hyperbolic declarations and snide comments and a commercial break interlude to build drama and a sing-for-your-life scenario and another judging stalemate and some more catty interjudge verbal sparring, all of which culminated in a declaration that Tiah made it through but that she needs to BRING IT in the future. Normally this is the type of manufactured drama I’d love, but this just felt so tired and uninspired that I couldn’t bring myself to get excited over it.

My enjoyment of X-Factor is inversely proportional to the number of contestants the judging panel puts through on the basis of “singing talent.” I know this seems backwards, but the show needs the shock and awe to cover up their embarrassing lack of competent performers. I still kind of love the show, but I also kind of loved Mr. Sunshine, so I’m clearly not the most discerning critic. Basically, MORE EXPLOSIONS PLEASE, X-FACTOR.


The X-Factor Challenge

Oh, X-Factor premiere, I have waited so long for you. And you were truly, truly fantastic…

Do you know what The X-Factor is decidedly not? American Idol. I’d understand if that point might have been a tad unclear given that two of the judges are Paula and Simon, one is a black guy people don’t even really pretend to care about and one is so irrelevant that she changed her face and accent halfway through and no one thought it warranted a real explanation. However, Simon Cowell seemed dead set on distancing the show from the inferior Idol and did so with one of the most outrageous, bold, and risky decisions ever made. Yeah, that’s right. These judges? They don’t have Coca-Cola cups in front of them, they have Pepsi cups. Game. Changed.

The Voice decided to take the core of Idol and focus on, well, voices and took on contestants who had the stage presence of traumatized door mice or the appearance of a shaggy-haired version of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons. X-Factor takes the opposite side of the Idol formula and focuses on everything else. Those without one of the following need not apply: a heart-wrenching back story, extreme conceit, model-esque looks, or a loud personality. Conspicuously absent from this list is any mention of musical talent. Because wow, is there ever a dearth of musical talent. Every contestant on the show was some form of musically horrifying, be it from overwrought runs, awful songs, or, most often, an inability to find the proper note. But let’s be clear: that’s now what this show is about. X-Factor is trying to find some intangible, ethereal quality they’ve deemed the “X factor”. You know, the factor that explains the Black Eyed Peas’ general existence. As such, this’ll be my last mention of how horrified my ears were during the two hour show. Just assume I thought whichever contestant I’m talking about sounded like some mix of dying cats and Creed.

If there is one lesson you should have learned about reality TV singing competitions in the past year or so, it’s that the show revolves solely around the judges. Everything else is secondary. Any talent they manage to find? Incidental. (Likely, accidental as well.) So it makes sense that the judges got introduced twice in the two hour premiere and then we got separate segments devoted to Simon and L.A. Reid (he’s the black guy people don’t even pretend to care about, for the uninitiated) having a pissing contest, Paula being sick to her stomach, and Cheryl Cole Nicole Scherzinger celebrating her own birthday. Truly riveting and compelling television. These are the types of things that make me wonder why they even bother with the contestants.

But they did, on occasion, sneak in some contestants. The first of whom was precocious Disney-Channel-star to-be, Rachel Crow. She is only thirteen years old! She’s so so so excited to be there! Everything about her makes me want to bludgeon my head with a sharp object! Exclamation points! Simon saw Evil Uncle Nigel gloat about Lauren Alaina being the reason Idol lowered its age requirement to 15, so Simon had to one-up him and proclaim Rachel Crow the reason Factor‘s age requirement is whateverwilloneupthatotherdamnshow. But sorry Simon, you lose this one because there is no way Rachel’s mom is half as awesome as Kristy Alaina.

Next up was actor/model/singer (or more aptly bartender/waiter/unemployed) Terrel Carter. He might have sung something, I don’t think the judging panel could really tell you. Though, I’m sure they could tell you all about his upper body. And Cheryl Cole might be able to tell you something about his package, too.

There were a couple other people up next, I didn’t catch their names. One sort of had a Bieber-lite quality to him. (I don’t know how you get “lite”-er than Bieber, but it’s possible.)

Up until this point, the show had been a mildly-entertaining, mildly-tedious variety show. Thank heavens Siameze showed up to brighten the day. Let’s begin by saying Siameze’s energy drink is called Siaminenergy. Or something. I’m not sure on the exact spelling. The point is he’s clearly thought this all out and is prepared to brand himself appropriately. Let’s be real, he’s mad talented and the girls love him. He said so himself. What I’m really trying to say is that he pranced, side-stepped, head-banged, air-guitared, and scooted all over the stage like the best, most earnestly invested faux-rockstar ever to grace television. His commitment to the part of an unhinged Prince imitator having a seizure was just as flawless as the teal fishnet shirt he was wearing. His performance was pretty much the definition of entertainment. And the best part of it all was that he got through! Unanimously! It’s like, for that one moment, the judges wanted nothing more than for my life to be complete. Thank you, reality TV gods. Thank you so much.

We were then treated to a string of “bad auditions” who we were supposed to laugh at because they were so tuneless. (If someone figures out how exactly this separated them from the “good auditions”, give me a call.) I am only grouping them together out of sheer laziness because they were pretty stellar. I mean, feisty old people? Random screaming teens? Anyone ever singing “I Touch Myself”? They all deserve their own special place in the X-Factor Hall of Fame for continued excellence and achievement.

Simone Battle popped up and I immediately liked her. And then she said she went to USC and I immediately wanted to trample her while wearing a big blue-and-yellow bear suit. Simone wants to be Beyonce even more desperately than Michelle Williams does. Her self-described musical genre is, and I am going to quote her on this one, “a mix of cheerleader, hipster, and drag queen.” I wish that was satire because then I’d be brilliant. But my brain can only hope to one day be as ludicrous as Simone’s. She let her short shorts take the lead while covering the Pussycat Dolls and then thought it’d be best to prove her singing talent with the vocally challenging, heartfelt, emotional, unprocessed “Bulletproof.” Yet still after all that, L.A. Reid just didn’t get it. Shame on you, Mr. Reid. You signed Rihanna! You should know all about the power of short shorts and mediocre singing ability.

Finishing off the Los Angeles auditions was the back story of Stacy Francis. (Stacy Francis showed up occasionally, as well. But her back story was the real winner.) Yes, Stacy is a single mother of two (three? honestly, after one isn’t it all the same?) who has believed for the last twelve years that she is too old to make it. Her ex-boyfriend made her believe that she wasn’t talented! (And her kids apparently agree with the ex [baby daddy?] because they also tell mommy to quit with the racket.) It was all very horrible and sad and tragic for Ms. Francis. So when she declared that she didn’t want to die with the music in her, she had already won. Anyone who can manufacture an inspirational quotation like that clearly has the X-factor. She even mastered the art of applying non-waterproof mascara so when she burst into tears of joy it was clearly visible on her face. The girl mastered the art of the TV movie in just a few minutes. You’d have to be blind not to see the raw talent involved in that.

Sparkly pajamas man dropped his pants and freaked Paula out. Part of me knows that this was television gold, but most of me was too busy being horrified-beyond-belief to enjoy it. Intellectually I know this is the kind of thing I live for. In practice, I just couldn’t deal. I feel like a massive failure to myself.

The X-Factor producers know how to create drama. After introducing deadbeat waste of space young aspiring artist Marcus Canty with all of his hopes and dreams, the show went to a quick clip of Marcus lying on the stage floor, overwhelmed and then promptly went to commercial break. There were so many possibilities! Did Marcus just suffer crippling defeat at the hands of Overlord Cowell and Dutchess Abdul? Did he trip on that flat spot on the floor and break his ego? Is he just obsessed with the scent of a nice hardwood floor?!? It turns out that he was just happy or something. I don’t know. He hop-skip-jump-Ushered his way through the performance and then got compared to Bobby Brown and then collapsed. (Although, I guess that’s probably the appropriate response to getting compared to Bobby Brown, now that I think about it.) It was sort of a let down. No one suffered any serious trauma, so I tuned it out a bit.

The first group to get the green light was The Anser, a 3-person boy band consisting of token black fodder guy in a hat, spectacular red douchebag spectacle-clad guy and beanie dude with no particularly entertaining distinguishable features. Spectacular red douchebag spectacle-clad guy informed us that “the song is called ‘Rolling in the Deep.'” Which, thanks for that red douchebag spectacle-clad guy! I’ve never heard of this so-called “Rolling in the Deep” song before. The trio needs to work big time on their stage formations, though. They were all haphazard and had no sense of spacing or uniformity! I suggest studying by watching ‘N Sync music videos and The Mighty Ducks.

Next up was another string of “bad auditions” bookended by Nici Collins’s delusions. She yelled at people, her voice laced with malice. Then she stopped singing and yelled at Simon some. She’s fabulous, you see. She’s going to be on to Youtube right this instant to prove everyone wrong. (I went to Youtube immediately after she made this statement and searched for “Nici Collins” and came up with this video which is some German video with pictures of some random couple! So congratulations Nici Collins, you’re still less famous than this random German girl and her boyfriend!

Finally, the show closed with Chris Rene, purchased straight from Sob Stories ‘R’ Us. He’s a garbageman with a two year old kid and he wants this so he can support his kid. But wait! That’s not all, he got into alcohol and drugs when he was thirteen and it spiraled out of control and he was a crazy methhead with the teeth to show for it. But it’s all good now because he’s been sober for a long time now! Oh, wait, no, he’s only been sober for two months. I hear nowadays that fame and the life of a rock star are super conducive to leading a clean, drama-free life. I had a hard time getting passed his hat. Or his weird goatee/beard thing. Or his brother (?) who pretty much seemed like the dullest thing on the planet. But whatever, because today was his THIRD BEST DAY EVER!!!!!! (Maybe it’s just me, but for some reason “third best day ever” doesn’t sound all that exciting.)

So there you go. X-Factor. Thoroughly entertaining. Absolutely ridiculous. Apparently on two nights a week and I will be doing my best to watch it all. If it stays this insane, I should have no problem keeping up. There is too much TV. Too. Much. TV.