‘The X-Factor’ Cuts to the Chase with 32 Contenders

From here on out, it’s all about the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, as “The X-Factor” gets down to serious business, cutting from 162 contenders down to 100 last night, and down to a final 32 in four categories tonight.

Now comes the real heavy lifting, as most of the “audition” and “Boot Call” favorites made the grade.

There were a few latecomers to the party. Tim Cifers, a 29-year-old beer distributor made his mark with a solo on Rascal Flatts’ “I Won’t Let You Go” in group competition which registered with Simon Cowell. “The guy with the hat is a star. He has a real good tone. I didn’t get him before.”

The rest of the “Boys” section includes Nashville heartthrob Brennin Hunt, blue-eyed soul trash collector Chris Rene, African-American country singer Skyler Anderson, moon walking, hip-shaking would-be teen idol Nick Voss, deep-voiced crooner Phillip Lomax, Usher/Bobby Brown successor Marcus Canty and young rapper Brian Bradley, who will undoubtedly be L.A. Reid’s pet project as mentor of this group.

The “Girls” category allows mentor Simon Cowell to work with sultry, full-lipped Tiah Tolliver, whose cause he’s been espousing from the beginning, along with cherubic 14-year-old Rachel Crow, blonde rugby coach Caitlin Koch, “fierce” Beyonce wannabe Simone Battle, shy teen belter Jazzlyn Little, big-voiced 18-year-old Melanie Amaro, tattooed, pierced auto mechanic Tora Woloshim and teen diva Drew Ryniewicz.

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As for the over-30s, which L.A. Reid dubbed “the strongest category,” a wary Nicole Scherzinger will mentor 53-year-old wedding singer Elaine Gibbs, the good ole boy with the leather lungs Tiger Budbill, well-preserved 59-year-old Bill Withers-like Leroy Bell, Creed-style rocker James Kenney, 30-year-old Columbus, OH, burrito man Josh Krajcik, 32-year-old hairdresser Christa Collins, 42-year-old single mom and Aretha channeler Stacy Francis and homeless James Brown acolyte Dexter Haygood.

For the “Groups,” which will be mentored by Paula Abdul (Cowell says, “Groups have multiple personalities… You do the math), the category includes a trio of a capella groups in Boyz II Men heirs Stereo Hogzz and 4Shore, as well as boy band the Anser. Also in the competition are the Bieber, er, Brewer Brothers, a pair of mop-topped lads who channel Jonathan Richman and the Everlys, and Illusion Confusion, another Backstreet/NSYNC-style conglomeration. At the end, a bunch of those who didn’t make the cut were combined into two instantaneous groups to round out the contenders.

The process of getting down to 32 sometimes seemed incomprehensible, but here we are, and it only took six episodes, 11 and a half hours worth. So far, it’s not that much different from “American Idol,” though it is much more produced, and manages to involve the judges without continually relying on the pablum that usually comes out of their mouths. I was disappointed the snippets of the judges discussing their thoughts on each contestant managed to obscure the subjects of their comments. That did spare feelings, but would’ve made some compelling TV. It does appear Simon’s not as mean as the guy he plays on the tube. Still, by pitting the judges against one another as mentors of the individual categories for the ultimate winner, “The X Factor” creates another level of competition that should make for some interesting sparks.

Upon hearing news of which group he’ll mentor while on vacation in the south of France, Simon says, “You just made eight girls very, very happy…I know they wanted me as their mentor.”

L.A. said confidently, “I have a better shot at winning no matter what category I get,” then, when he found out he had the guys and Simon the gals, added: “I have a bag of tricks just a little deeper than him.”

With those two alpha dogs going at it, Paula and Nicole will have to do more than hold hands and shake their heads to the music.

“The groups, that’s a lot of work,” mused Abdul. “I’m excited and feeling a little overwhelmed.”

Next week, the four groups repair to their respective mentors’ mansions for some intensive sessions, which will result in the final 16. After that, the live shows will begin.. Here’s a look at our initial Power Rankings:


1. CHRIS RENE: This rehabbing, trash collecting single dad with the sweet hip-hop croon has the intriguing back story, the charisma and L.A. Reid’s ears. That makes him the one to beat.

2. TIAH TOLLIVER: They spell her name several different ways, but it doesn’t matter. She got under Simon’s skin from the start, and he’s determined to make his judgment on her hold up.

3. BRIAN BRADLEY: Don’t count this hip-hop prodigy out, especially with L.A. on his side. Maybe he will be better than Jay-Z in five years.

4. JOSH KRAJCIK: It will be interesting to see what Nicole Scherzinger can offer in the way of instruction to this Joe Cocker-by-way-of Ray Charles soul shouter, who goes from burrito slinger to the spotlight. Expect a version of “Georgia on My Mind.”

5. DREW RYNIEWICZ: This 14-year-old appears unflappable and confident, whether singing Radiohead or Justin Bieber.

6. JAZZLYN LITTLE: This self-deprecating charmer had a lights-out audition with Mary J. Blige’s “I’m Going Down.”

7. LEROY BELL: This 59-year-old singer-songwriter is an inspirational tale. Even L.A. Reid says he looks good for his age.

8. CAITLIN KOCH: This blond rugby coach with the big voice has the competitive streak to come out on top in this contest.

9. RACHEL CROW: She’s gone from 12 to 14 in the course of the competition. Can this cherubic charmer maintain her composure as things heat up?

10. STEREO GODZZ/4SHORE: The best of the groups, who seem to be at a competitive disadvantage for the big prize, but we shall se..

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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