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.

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