I know I promised I'd write more about The X-Factor, and I know that I've dropped the ball on that one. Part of it has been just general busy-ness with life, and part of it has been a general fatigue with the audition episodes. It's hard to get too excited during the audition episodes because there's no guarantee that a early favorite will ever appear on screen again or that the future winner will be featured prominently enough to be remembered when the live performances begin. For the most part, the show didn't stray too far from the Idol template -- yes, there was the live audience and the weepy shots of the families watching backstage, but it was still the same general format.
The same is true of "Boot Camp". Did anyone see any major differences between Boot Camp and Idol's Hollywood Week? Okay, it was nice to see that the groups appeared to have been assigned, eliminating the weepy shots of the shunned contestant trying to find a group (ANY GROUP) that will accept him/her. For the most part, egos seemed to be relatively tame here compared to Idol, significantly less drama than usual, but still relatively entertaining. I do wish that we would get to see a little more of this stage of the competition, if only to find out what happened to early favorites or to grow more attached to potential winners.
So now, we're down to the final 32 who have been divided up amongst the judges. (I totally called that Simon would get the girls and L.A. would get the guys but figured Mama Paula would get the geriatric group and Baby Nicole would get the groups since that is a little closer to their own experiences.) I feel a little sorry for the groups that weren't assigned to Simon since they didn't get a trip to Paris out of the deal, but I guess the Hamptons and Malibu is acceptable. (I also loved how many of the contestants seemed to have decided that they were going to spend their $5 million on THIS house. I don't think they're for sale, kids, and if they are, whoever REALLY owns them will want a lot more than $5 million for them!)
This week, the final 32 gets whittled down to 16, and there's no denying that it's going to be a brutal process. Most of the final 32 gave pretty solid performances, and there will be at least one performer who seemed to knock it out of the park that is going to be eliminated this week. Based on Simon's comment last night about the girl "everyone thought was going to win" being eliminated, my money is on Melanie Amaro, who was featured prominently in the promos leading up to the show with her breathtaking version of "Listen" but who seemed to be a bit dated last night. She gave a terrific performance, but it just didn't seem all that contemporary. (I can't help but wonder, though, if Melanie might have fared better if Mariah Carey had been able to escape the hurricane to fly to Simon's side as his advisor since there's a lot of early Mariah in Melanie's style. Also, I would love to keep Melanie around if only to hear Simon say, "Hi, Mel," every week...but that's just ego.)
I also worry for another one of my favorites, the adorable Brewer Boys. Paula and Pharrell didn't seem nearly as impressed with them as I was. With the popularity of Mumford and Sons and The Avett Brothers, these two kids could fit into a niche market and maybe enjoy a little crossover success since they're so darn cute, but they may be a little too low key in the face of the other groups that seemed to have a lot more going on in terms of energy and performance. Sigh! Maybe THEY'LL get snatched up by Nickelodeon!
No, the new candidate for Nick stardom probably lies with the judge-created dectet Intensity. In all honesty, how cute were they? With the huge popularity of Kidz Bop and Glee, there is a market eager for this kind of fresh-faced energy and talent. I have to admit that I kept thinking about the end of A Mighty Wind where we find out that the New Main Street Singers have their own tv show where they play Supreme Court judges by day and a singing group by night and how this would be the perfect vehicle for Intensity. I think, though, that the pressure will be on Paula to include at least one of the judge-made groups, and Intensity gave a far stronger performance than Lakota Rayne (who should be eliminated for the pretentious spelling of "rain" if nothing else).
One thing that seemed apparent to me tonight was the fact that the group configuration might already need a little shaking up. There are a lot of really talented kids in this competition -- Rachel Crow, Drew Ryniewicz, Jazzlyn Little. Simon seemed to express a concern about the pressures of this competition on the younger competitors. Why not create an under-18 (or under-21) group where these young kids would get a mentor who could give them the sort of support and guidance they'll need? It would remove a lot of these younger kids from the "men" or "women" categories -- creating room for the Over-30's who are certainly strong enough to compete with the younger singers on their own merits. Give me Josh Krajcik or Leroy Bell over Nick Voss any day!
Okay, so here are my predictions for how the final 16 is going to shape up.
THE GIRLS/TEAM SIMON:
I think Melanie Amaro is a goner. I really do. I also worry for one of my personal favorites, Tora Wiloshin. I liked her take on "Satisfaction," but Simon seemed lukewarm to the chick my sis and I have dubbed Lady Minaj. So who gets to be on Team Simon? My money is on:
1. Drew Ryniewicz -- Drew's performance of "It Must Have Been Love" was one of my favorites we saw from the top 32. There's a haunting, Sarah MacLachlan-esque quality to her voice that would definitely fit into today's market. I'm really rooting for this kid.
2. Tiah Tolliver -- For whatever reason, Simon loves this chick. Her "No Diggity" last night was probably her strongest performance so far, and it is hard to imagine Simon allowing his team to move forward without a soul diva in the midst. Tiah is much more likable than Simone Battle -- something that is going to become more important when the decisions are put in the hands of the American public who puts likability above everything else when it comes to voting -- any kind of voting.
3. Caitlin Koch -- I also have a hard time imagining Simon moving forward without a pretty blonde on his team. The guy has his go-to preferences when it comes to performers, and Tiah and Caitlin fit that mold better than anyone else. I'm not a huge fan of Caitlin (I thought her rather heartless response to Tiah's panic attack was a bit much), but the girl has talent.
4. Rachel Crow -- This is the one I'm least solid on in terms of predictions. I loved Rachel's "I Want It That Way," but I think there's an argument to be made that this spot should go to Melanie Amaro or maybe even Jazzlyn Little, whose "I Will Survive" was quite strong. The thing is that Melanie is a bit dated, and I suspect that Jazzlyn's nerves and confidence issues probably lost her a lot of support from the coaching staff that served as Simon's advisors in making his choice. Considering that I can't imagine Simon moving forward with TWO soul divas and that his reaction to Tora seemed a bit muted, that leaves us with Rachel, who clearly impressed Simon last night. Plus, she's cute, she's uber-likable, and of all the youngsters, she seems the strongest in the face of the pressure.
(One quick question -- a couple of the kids talked about missing their families. Were they not accompanied by an adult on this Parisian-adventure? Does that seem shady to anyone else?)
THE BOYS/TEAM L.A.
Okay, first of all, how cool is it that they all got to perform in front of Rhianna who was shooting every single one of them bedroom eyes -- even, grossly enough, little Brian "Astro" Bradley. (Like you could seriously see her calculating how many years until it would be legal to tap that!)
For the most part, though, it seems as though the guys might be the weakest leg on this X-Factor table. There weren't a lot of "WOW" moments from this group. Maybe there will be down the line, but I think L.A. is going to come out on the losing end of this deal with his team.
1. Chris Rene -- I really have a hard time imagining this group moving forward without Chris Rene. He is, hands down, the strongest member of this group. A lot of time has been spent getting the audience to invest in this kid, and he's always given strong, memorable performances that seem edgy and contemporary. Last night's "Everyday People" was something I would totally download -- or at least not turn off when it popped up on the radio. I would expect Chris to go pretty far in this competition if he makes it past this round considering he's probably the closest the show has to a breakout star right now.
2. Marcus Canty -- I'm a big fan of Marcus, and again, I have a hard time imagining him not moving on. He is a softer, more soulful side to what Chris Rene is packing. Shows like this tend to have a hard time with black men (yeah, I said it), and Marcus gives this show what a lot of other shows have been lacking in their offerings -- a talented, soulful young man who will appeal to a broader base since he seems like a genuinely nice kid. His "All My Life" did seem a touch dated, but I'm not sure L.A. is as concerned about that because L.A. knows he can make anyone a star with a little polishing.
3. Brian Bradley -- The consensus on "Astro" seems to go back and forth. With his first audition, it seemed as if L.A. was ready to crown him the future of music. In Hollyw --er Boot Camp, L.A. expressed concern about his age. There's no denying the kid is mad talented. He certainly isn't able to deny it, and his massive ego may be the thing that makes it tough for him in the face of American voters. (We like our Idol, er, X Factorers humble!) Considering the weakness of the male field, I could see Brian edging in here over, say, Brennin Hill who seems equally arrogant but not quite as promising in terms of what he actually brings to the stage. Brian gives us a new spin on something we already have; Brennin gives us more of the same.
4. Tim Cifers -- This fourth spot could go to Brennin. I won't be surprised if it does because the guy is, as he likes to remind us, quite good looking and the tween voters will eat that up. I suspect, however, that L.A. will seek to bring a diverse team to the stage and will likely go with one of the country boys to target that demographic that made the last season of Idol complete misery for me. Of the two straight-up country singers, Tim Cifers is the stronger performer. Skyelor Anderson's performance for L.A. and Rhianna was a bit of a mess, and while I'm not a fan of that country crooning Tim brought to "Dance With My Father" (a song I generally loathe), his overall performance was much stronger. He also, likely, stands a better chance in terms of actually moving some albums.
THE GROUPS/TEAM PAULA
One of the ways that X-Factor distinguishes itself from Idol is its inclusion of groups. While that may have worked well in other markets, there's nothing particularly memorable about the groups here. I mean, they couldn't even come up with a full eight to round out the team here and had to resort to cobbling together two groups amongst their rejects. (I would like to point out that some of those rejects might NOT have been rejects if the show went with an Under-18 group rather than the Over-30 group. Just saying....) Again, I have a hard time imagining a winner coming from this batch of performers, meaning that ultimate victory probably lies with either Simon or Nicole. According to the rules, though, four of these groups have to advance to the finals, so.....
1. Intensity -- As I said above, one of the judge-made teams has to go through in order to justify them even creating such a team. Intensity had the far stronger and more memorable performance and actually seemed happy to have the chance to still be competing. (Didn't Lakota Rayne seem kind of bitchy? And it seemed like they spent their entire performance of a country-fied "Born This Way" trying to outsing each other. That's not what a group does...and that's not what the adorable Intensity did.) I can see them being a group I look forward to seeing every week even if they don't make it all the way to the end.
2. Stereo Hogzz -- They probably were the strongest of the groups although I think they, too, seemed a little dated. (I see Boyz II Men every single time these guys are onstage, man! I guess as long as it's not New Edition, we're fine.) They are definitely polished and have this whole thing down, but I wonder how they'll fare when they're placed alongside the solo artists.
3. 4Shore -- In all honesty, 4Shore isn't all that memorable, but as I look back over the other groups who performed, it seems like they were probably one of the better groups, so..... Paula's choices here are limited. Which might be a good thing because it might open up the possibility for ....
4. The Brewer Boys -- I had kind of written these boys off until I saw last night's performances that included an abyssmal version of "Bohemian Rhapsody" by 2 Squar'd (I kept thinking of Gemini Twin the entire time. Is that bad?) and a performance by Illusion Confusion that was apparently so weak that the producers included cuts to interview footage during their performance -- treatment that no other performer received. With the groups from the first night being relatively unmemorable, I would think that might give the Boys a shot. Fingers crossed!
The OVER 30S/TEAM NICOLE
If the eventual winner doesn't come from Team Simon, it'll likely come from this group. That's my prediction. There's a lot of sentimental momentum here as we get teary confessional after teary confessional about how this is a last chance at success and families that need this money and houses about to be foreclosed. If America votes strictly on sentiment, any of these eight could win. If America votes on talent, all eight of these singers have a strong shot, too. The biggest obstacle is going to be Nicole who seems obsessed with the question of who's a "superstar" and who's most marketable. (Thank you, Enrique Iglesias, for finally shutting that down last night by saying it's about talent not marketability.) The tears that will be shed Chez Mel when the final 16 are announced will most likely be shed over the elimination of singers from this group because you just know that the ones eliminated are going to go home and just kill themselves -- literally.
1. Josh Krajcik -- For me, Josh is the standout of this group. It probably helps that his sort of white man blues voice is the kind of voice I tend to gravitate toward in my own music collection. Coming on the heels of Ray LaMontagne's recent success, Josh could help usher in a revival of that sort of bluesy music that is a perennial presence in bars across America. Smart of him to bring in a kid last night to create even more of a rooting factor. If he doesn't make the cut, Nicole seriously needs to have that tiny little tear-stained head of hers examined. For real.
2. Stacy Francis -- Okay, I'm not going to lie -- I've grown a bit weary of Stacy. She is the one I worry the most for in terms of what happens when she's eliminated (either now or down the road). Her over-the-top dramatics are a bit much, but the chick can sing. Yes, like others I've mentioned before, her style seems a bit dated for today's contemporary market, but I think Nicole is also smart enough to know that sympathy votes will carry this chick pretty far. I generally like Elaine Gibbs a little better, but Stacy is going to garner more votes.
3. Leroy Bell -- I could see this spot going to either Bell or Tiger Budbill. I generally like Leroy's style a bit better than Tiger's, but Tiger does have a slightly higher level of sympathy income with the whole "My house is going to be foreclosed any day now" thing. Age could also work against Leroy here. Yes, as he points out, there are plenty of music superstars 60 and over out there, but those 60+ year old superstars have been at it since they were 20. Would Mick Jagger be a star today if he were just starting out as a wannabe rocker pushing 70? Hell, no. He would be laughed off the stage. So even though I've listed Leroy here as my choice for the top four, I won't be super shocked if this spot goes to Tiger. I just hope it goes to Leroy because I'd like to see some more of his performances.
4. Christa Collins -- My sis will likely shoot me for this one, but it seemed as if Nicole and Enrique's response to Christa was generally pretty positive last night. Christa also brings the most contemporary sound to this group, and for a coach/mentor/whatever-you-want-to-call-Nicole who is obsessed with marketability, that could give Christa a huge advantage over anyone else in this group. If Nicole is looking for diversity in her group, Christa brings that, rather than loading Team Nicole down with multiple soul divas or bluesmen. I didn't particularly enjoy her performance last night (I might have even hated it), but she could also be the sacrificial lamb that Team Nicole is going to need to make things safer for her stronger contenders.
I keep hoping that they'll pull out some sort of wildcard that would let more than 16 through to the finals. (Wouldn't it be cool to give America a say to pick one more for each group?) Since that doesn't seem to be forthcoming, though, this seems like a pretty deeply talented pool that should make just about every week a shocking elimination week, especially once we get through the first couple of ousters. And if I'm completely off the mark here, well....I also thought Scotty McCrery didn't stand a chance in hell of making it to the top 12 on Idol, so.... what do I know?