People love a good train wreck, and music competition shows like “The X Factor” and “American Idol” have made much of their reputation on spotlighting the deluded, the strange and the just plain demented in their search for talent.
If the first installment of Simon Cowell’s show downplayed that aspect, the second two-hour installment, which visited both Miami and Dallas, began with close to 45 minutes of a string of losers, from a Madonna wannabe who mangled “Piece of My Heart” (LA. Reid: “When you started singing, I wanted to slit my wrists”) to yet another rotund mother-daughter act called the Dreamgirlz (“With a ‘z,’” added mom) who warbled a version if Heart’s “Barracuda” that wasn’t even the worst rendition of that song tonight.
Let’s first talk numbers. Overnight ratings for “The X Factor”’s debut were strong (12.5 million viewers for an 8.7 household rating -4.4 in the coveted 18-49 demo), but the show didn’t even win its 9-11 time slot. It lost out to CBS’ “Criminal Minds” (14.1 million) at 9 and “CSI” (12.6 million) at 10, while ABC’s “Modern Family” (14.4 million) also trumped it at 9. Pundits also pointed out the figures were down nearly 50% from the 10th season premiere of “American Idol” last January, which pulled in a 16.4 rating and 26.2 million, even without Cowell.
But that misses the point, since “American Idol has already logged a decade as a name-brand franchise. The better comparison is with the first year of “AI” back in June, 2002, when it was little more than a summer replacement. The first show garnered a 6.1/11 share overall, and a 4.8 18-49, with a total of 9.85 million viewers. “Idol” didn’t approach The X Factor’s opening night numbers until its 14 th week, when it scored a 7.1/12 overall share and 12.2 million viewers. By the season finale, “Idol” was drawing a 12.6/21 overall share, with a10.7 18-49 and a total of 22.8 million viewers.
“The X Factor” should gain momentum, as these competition shows do, as the season goes along, but it’s all based on the talent uncovered, and the excitement that generates – and if tonight was any example, the pickings are getting awfully slim. The only one to get put through during the first half of the show was 21-year-old Hialeah, FL, native Nick Voss, who took on Elvis Presley’s “Trouble” with his hips and some Michael Jackson moon walking, but precious little vocal ability. Nicole Scherzinger got off her best line of the night, calling him “Jim Carrey meets Elvis,” though the highlight was seeing his mustachioed Italian mother backstage about to faint from excitement.
Paula Abdul, strangely downplayed on last night’s premiere, was in full wacko form for the second installment. When 14-year-old goth chick Ashley Deckard claimed she was a “ghost hunter,” it got Abdul admitting, yes, she, too, sees dead people. Added L.A.: “I’m fascinated with you on many levels, but singing is the least of them.” When dimpled, 16-year-old Caitlynne Curtis broke down after a thoroughly forgettable take on Katy Perry’s “Firework,” stammering, “Please don’t say no,” Abdul came to the rescue, jumping on-stage and putting her arm around the shaken youngster. Yes, Paula supplies the heart and the wacko, a fine counterpoint to alpha males Simon and L.A., but that leaves Nicole gamely filling the role of panel foil, as Cowell raises her eyes as she begins to drawl like a Texan, “y’all” during the Dallas auditions.
In the end, the only real contender turned out to be 18-year-old Melanie Amaro, who brought Nicole to tears and elicited a standing ovation from the judges, for her full-throated performance of Beyonce’s “Listen.” “You are truly amazing,” gushed the usually taciturn Reid, gleefully conducting an imaginary orchestra. “You have the gift, you have the soul, you have the spirit you have the swagger… You have the ‘X Factor’… Everything I walked away from to do this show, you are.” Simon agreed: “This is why I brought ‘X Factor’ to America because I hoped to find someone like you.”
Jeremiah Pagan, a Chris Colfer type who claimed to be one of the “seven male sopranos” in the world, also impressed the judges. “Voices like yours are the reasons great songs are written,” said the hard-to-please Reid, though I’d like to hear how he’s market him.
But on this installment, at least, for every Melanie Amaro and Jeremiah Pagan, there were at least a couple dozen who had no chance at all, including 18-year-old Kentucky hillbilly Dylan Lawson, who shouted out a number of profanities with no rhyme nor reason before collapsing on the floor; 19-year-old “street vendor” Curtis “Phoenix” Lawson (no relation) who actually kicked out some Tuvan throat singing that Paula compared to a “lawnmower,” while Nicole complained “I feel a little violated,” after marveling over the guy’s “dream catcher” belt.
Then there was 49-year-old “rock and roll soul man” Dexter Haygood, who describes himself as a combination of “Mick Jagger, Elvis Presley and James Brown” before losing his ring, which sends him sprawling across the stage even before he began to sing.
By far the most entertaining performer in Dallas was one Xander Alexander, a 29-year-old with enough bitchy sass to make Perez Hilton blush, calling himself “like Whitney and Mariah before they lost it,” then “Britney Spears meets Lady Gaga on crack,” chiding Simon “Have you ever worn a shirt that wasn’t gray,” before freezing on-stage and not able to sing a word. “Lippy, gabby, but interesting,” harrumphed Simon before Xander, who at least has the right name, is ushered off the stage kicking and screaming.
So, the first week of “The X Factor” comes to a close, with a few tantalizing story lines, and plenty more action to come.
1. PAULA ABDUL: She believes in ghosts and comforting the fallen. The heart in between two hard heads in Cowell and Reid. Still haven’t seen any interaction with Nicole, though.
2. SIMON COWELL: It’s going to be interesting watching the pressure build. He’s already getting kinda testy. This could be a long season for him.
3. L.A. REID: He’s already shown he can stand up to Simon, but can he stay engaged long enough to remain relevant?
4. NICOLE SCHERZINGER: I hate to say it, but she makes me miss Cheryl Cole.
5. STEVE JONES: So far, a cheerleader and little else. Can’t they find something for him to do until the competition heats up?
POWER RANKINGS: THE $5 MILLION QUESTION
1. CHRIS RENE: Strong back story, blue-eyed hip-hop crooner put stars in L.A. Reid’s eyes.
2. STACY FRANCIS: Single mom with Aretha Franklin pipes is someone middle America can relate to.
3. MELANIE AMARO: A wholesome story, and maybe the best pure voice so far. She may have to lose 20 pounds before this is over, though.
4. MARCUS CANTY: Clean cut high school grad reminds L.A. Reid of Bobby Brown, Simon of Usher. Not a bad place to be.
5. RACHEL CROW: This precocious 13-year-old looks like she stepped out of a TV commercial and into America’s hearts.
6. JEREMIAH PAGAN: This Glee-style soprano has a unique quality that could take him far into the competition.
7. THE ANSWER: An a capella boy band whose version of “Rolling in the Deep” earned them the plaudits of the panel.