'The X Factor' recap: Top 17 acts revealed
Published: Wednesday, October 19, 2011, 10:00 AM Updated: Wednesday, October 19, 2011, 3:29 PM
Karl de Vries/The Star-Ledger By Karl de Vries/The Star-Ledger
Josh Krajcik will be among those advancing to the live performances round of "The X Factor" next week.
It seems like just yesterday when we welcomed the dawn of "The X Factor" era.
You remember, right? The cattle calls from Newark to Seattle, as tens of thousands of would-be stars and starlets crammed arenas, begging for a shot on the show?
Then we gazed with wide-eyed wonder as judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, L.A. Reid and Nicole Scherzinger picked apart the auditions, separating the super talented from the hopeless losers.
After that, "boot camp" helped shave the contestant pool down a little further, and for the past two weeks, we've gawked at the sprawling mansions of the judges' houses, where the four categories — boys, girls, groups and "over 30s" — honed their craft and made their best case for a $5 million bounty and a cushy Sony recording contract.
But all that's over with. Starting next week, the Factor moves into its final round, live performances, and we'll have a chance to weigh in on the best America has to offer in the search for the next big superstar recording artist.
For reference, you can find recaps of the final 32 acts' most recent performances here and here. Tuesday, we found out the final 16. Or did we ...
The winners: Brian "Astro" Bradley, Phillip Lomax, Chris Rene, Marcus Canty
In the end, there wasn't a great deal to choose from in this category, as the best male singers are aged 30 years and older. Still, "Astro" was a safe bet to advance, as his hip hop craft has improved steadily since his audition.
Lomax was probably the biggest surprise: he's not all that charismatic, and his gimmick of hey-look-at-me-I'm-a-young-dude-singing-50s-Rat-Pack-standards doesn't blow my hair back. Rather, it makes me long for the effortless charm of Landau Eugene Murphy Jr., who seemed comfortable turning the landscape of Frank Sinatra into his own personal playground, charming and crooning his way to the "America's Got Talent" championship last month.
In stark contrast, Lomax is a watered-down pretty boy anxious to replicate the "I'm bad" look of a James Dean, and while that cute fedora might make for a mildly amusing set at a local coffeehouse, I don't think he brings anything to the table that threatens the championship this season.
On the flip side, I think Reid made a significant boo-boo in cutting Brennin Hunt and, to a lesser extent, Nick Voss and Tim Cifers. The emo Voss and countrified Cifers brought a fresh energy to the proceedings, and it would have been interesting to give them another turn at bat in the live performances round. Hunt, meanwhile, was carving a nice niche for himself as the "love to hate him" contestant this season, and voice-wise, even I had to admit he packed as big a punch as any male singer left in the competition.
As for Rene, I don't care what anybody says: there's nothing special about this guy. Pretty much any (male) person can father a child or become a drug addict, and strip those human interest attributes away, you have a forgettable voice and a dearth of charisma. I'm not saying Rene isn't suited for television, but his appeal lies more in something Dr. Phil would broadcast, not a primetime singing competition.
The winners: Simone Battle, Drew Ryniewicz, Tiah Tolliver, Rachel Crow, Melanie Amaro
No, your eyes are not deceiving you: right after Simon brought the ax down on "Free Willy" Amaro in favor of the adorable Rachel, the dour Brit quickly regretted his decision, as evidenced by some pensive video footage of him poolside.
"I feel I've made a big mistake," he conceded. "I've now got to right a wrong."
So there he was, flying down to Sunrise, Fla. to give Amaro the good news in person: she would join the top four girls as one of the contenders in the final round, bumping up the total from 16 to 17. What drama!
Yes, I know all of this is contrived and manipulative, but it was still smile-inducing to watch the big family bear hug as an ecstatic Amaro learned she was back in the competition. OK, so I felt kind of violated, but what can I say? It was a great feel-good moment. Don't think any less of me.
In retrospect, this was a big surprise, but not a shocking one, as the girls category was clearly the most competitive this year. Tolliver clearly earned a spot in the final round, Crow has been nothing but fantastic since she kicked off the audition rounds, and Ryniewicz has shown great potential — while stealing the hearts of Ledger investigative reporters the newsroom over.
Still, I have a couple of major gripes when it comes to Simone "I'm fierce!" Battle. She's OK, but lacks the superstar flair of Tora Woloshin, whose most recent performance was torpedoed by Simon's tone-deaf song choice, as well as Caitlin Koch, who's been impeccable since she first took the stage. What's the hangup here? Neither of those two "losers" deserved to watch the finals from the sidelines, and instead, we're saddled with just another would-be diva who thinks she's all that and a bag of chips. Sigh.
The winners: Brewer Boys, The Stereo Hogzz, InTENsity, Lakoda Rayne
First, a programming note: I've been consistent in singing the praises of Jersey products Cari Fletcher and Emily Michalak from the get-go because a) I'm shameless in promoting my home state, and b) it's not like this website is called Alabama.com. Still, in all my haste, I've left out poor 15-year-old Warren natives Austin Percario and Emily Wilson who've persevered in this competition, first as the duo Ausem, then as members of the teen group InTENsity, which turned in a strong performance Sunday.
For what it's worth, Austin and Emily, that wasn't a personal dig, and had I known you were from Jersey, I would have made sure to give you some publicity a long time ago. Still, you're here now, so I'm hoping it's not too late to make amends and give you the proper credit.
So again, guys, my bad. But speaking of making up for lost time, allow me to throw you and your team a compliment: InTENsity absolutely deserved to be among the top four groups, and their teen energy will provide some nice balance against the other acts.
Same goes for Fletcher's Lakoda Rayne, though I think they'll need to step up their game if they wish to hang in the final round, while Brewer Boys surprisingly pushed through into the top four — no doubt aided by an otherwise weak talent pool that included the forgettable 2Squar'd, Illusion Confusion and The Anser.
Still, the heavy favorite among the groups continues to be The Stereo Hogzz, who brought down the house Sunday with an excellent cover of Marvin Gaye's "I Heard it Through the Grapevine." Put simply, they've established the standard in this category, and I'm anxious to see how they build off their solid performances thus far.
The winners: Josh Krajcik, Dexter Haygood, Leroy Bell, Stacy Francis
Remember when I said the best male singers were all aged 30 years and over? Just to be clear, I wasn't referring to Haygood, who, for whatever cosmic reason, continues to be a judges' heartthrob since he scratched out his audition.
Pause: I know I've ranted about this already. But I swear: Haygood needs to stop weeping EVERY SINGLE FRIGGIN' TIME he appears onscreen. I mean, no joke: does he suffer from malfunctioning tear ducts or something? Is this something the miracles of modern medicine can address? Does Obamacare cover super weepy post-partum man-children? Help!
All that said, I'm still waiting to find out what Haygood provides besides a bad James Brown impression. At least Eddie Murphy was funny when he did this act back in the day.
Speaking of people who produce more tears than an onion factory, there's Francis, who established herself as one of the heavyweight contenders since she first stepped onstage. I do have to ask, however: why does this woman even bother to wear makeup? Thirty seconds onscreen and her face is messier than a preschooler's smock after a day of finger-painting.
But I kid because I love, Stacy: you're one of the jewels this show has unearthed this season, and I can't think of anyone more deserving of a place in the finals than you.
While we're on the subject of drama-less results, there's Krajcik and Bell, who have also provided the goods in high style via their performances thus far. Both men are clear contenders and feel-good stories to boot, and while I'll give Krajcik the better odds of bringing home the title, I haven't seen Bell make any missteps yet.
So there you have it, the final 17 contestants of "The X Factor's" first season. Thanks to the World Series, we'll next join Simon and the gang at 8 p.m. on Tuesday, so make sure to watch — and vote — as we witness these acts give it their best on live television.