Wonderful! Perfection! Superstar in the making! I mean, you sound JUST like Whitney!
It’s back. The ultimate reality show of hyperbole, "The X Factor." The third season started last night and didn’t disappoint with the exaggeration and overkill of mediocre singers who took the stage to woo returning judges Simon Cowell and Demi Lovato, and new judges Kelly Rowland and Paulina Rubio.
The format is different from sister shows "American Idol" and "The Voice." Contestants perform onstage for the judges. From there, they get their "yes" or "no" to move on. There are four groups — girls, boys, over 25s and groups. Each judge, after auditions, gets to train a group, complete with celebrity mentors, judges’ homes visits and tips on performing.
For the first contestant of the third season, "The X Factor" producers decided to lead with Carlito Olivero, a 23-year-old barista originally from Chicago. He sang “Stay” by Rihanna and worked the stage, eyeing up nearly every tween and her mother in attendance. Halfway through the performance, I wished for the giant hook from "Showtime at the Apollo."
Simon said he liked “everything” about him, his voice and his charisma. He said there is no one around like him. Stand on a street corner and listen.
Demi said he was a cross between Frankie J. and Trey Songz. Are Frankie J. and Trey Songz pedestrian singers who can’t hit high notes and are ahead of the beat as well?
Kelly said “We are witnessing a star.” Puh-lease.
The next segment of the show was all jokey singers — one flitty, 55-year-old in a tight black off-shoulder dress who butchered “The Greatest Love of All" (thankfully she wasn’t the one Demi said sounded like Whitney); Valeria, who wailed Harry Nilsson’s “I Can’t Live;” and family group K-Nected who did their best imitation of a monophonic cell phone ringtone version of TLC’s “Waterfalls.”
Next up we had Lillie McCloud, a 54-year-old grandmother who didn’t look at day over 25 with a huge afro (complete with a purple pick), huge hoop earrings and a tight leather getup. She sang “Alabaster Box” by Cece Winans and knocked it out of the park, even if it was a bit theatrical. This woman knows her voice and it didn't matter the song went right over the heads of the audience. Paulina called it “unbelievable,” while Simon said she “nailed it.” And somewhere, Demi is, like, still crying.
After a montage of jokes, we meet who will later be named X Factor’s
most vomit-inducing cutest couple. Dubbed Alex and Sierra, the boyfriend and girlfriend from Orlando crooned their way through Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” Sierra has that jazzy, sultry voice we’ve been used to hearing in recent signing shows. You know, where the word "dangerous" turns into “danger-uhyus.” The stage presence isn’t there, and the vocals could be tighter, but the attractiveness is there. And after all, isn’t that what it’s about?
Then we have the contestant I’ve been dreading — the one who you can’t tell is good enough but since she has a physical disability, she’s worthy of every adjective for "great" in the thesaurus. Her name is Rion Paige. She’s only 13, from Jacksonville, Fla., and has a joint disease with a name she jokes is too long to remember. Her bubbly personality and wild blonde curly hair are adorable. She takes on “Blown Away” by Carrie Underwood. I hear a slight country twang in there but she’s just middle of the road.
But, remember that joint disorder we talked about? This elevates her in the judges’ eyes. Paulina, Demi and Kelly stood up to clap even before the song was over because young, gorgeous, able-bodied celebrities think that makes other people feel good. Kelly called her “incredible” and Simon called her “literally extraordinary.”
He compared her to Underwood's first "Idol" audition, which is just ridiculous. He called sending her though to the next round “the easiest yes I’ve ever given anyone in my life.” Kelly later said the moment was “almost surreal.” It’s almost surreal the extravagant lengths these judges went to praise just an OK performance.
Listen, I can’t even begin to imagine how tough it must be to grow up without the full use of your arms and hands. But Rion said it herself during a moment with her mother: “I just want the judges to not take pity.” She was good. She wasn’t great. But she was good.
During the show, Simon told the camera during judges’ interviews that he’s looking for the “kind of voice you can’t get out of your head.” We didn’t see that tonight.
Overall grade: C-
Carlito: Lose the Donny Wood circa-1985 haircut and get some signing lessons.
Lillie: Tone it down a bit, you must be relevant to a younger generation too.
Alex and Sierra: Get some confidence, lose the weird pronunciation of words schtick.
Rion: Take a few years and hone your skills, you'll be all right.