Perhaps the least satisfying part about Thursday night’s second episode of The X Factor was the length of time. Clocking in at just one hour, it just wasn’t enough.
The rebooted version of the show -- no host, backstage footage of the contestants before they hit the stage, mean girl cattiness and competitiveness, and plenty of close-ups of Britney Spears and her pained expressions -- is quite simply, riveting television. The show also found a potential future pop star in Providence and a shorter, heavier, but unbelievably talented 34-year old Adam Lambert disciple in San Francisco.
Even better is the documentary-style feel of it all. From the get-go, you are there with the young hopefuls -- in the car, in the cattle call, turning in the paperwork, in the holding area and taking that last, nervous breath right along with them as they take the stage.
Contestant Johnny Maxwell summed it up best, exclaiming that being backstage made him “feel like one of the stars in concert you go to see.”
Maxwell is an appealing candidate from the start, nervously assessing the situation with one comment to his mother, “There’s a heckuva lot of people here.”
His mother, Rachel, in a moment of encouragement, told her son, “This is the performance of a lifetime, not an audition.” Yeah, that’s sure to make him calm.
Bravely, Maxwell auditioned with an original song (all of these hopefuls can thank season one’s Chris Rene for first taking the risk, proving that sometimes you can impress showing everything you can do upfront). What’s interesting about Maxwell is his song is essentially a hip-hop rap composition, but he also sings his own hook, displaying a sweet tenor. It’s interesting and likable at the same time, and his positive lyrics -- “been through some struggles, but gotta hold on” -- encapsulated his moment perfectly, showcasing his ambition as well as his confident stage presence all at once.
“That was a great risk and exactly what we need,” said L.A. Reid, while Demi Lovato praised his “swag.” Cowell told Maxwell he had “steel in his eyes” (he gave this same assessment to Justin Bieber lookalike Reed Deming on Wednesday night’s premiere episode, fyi). It will be interesting to see what Maxwell does in Boot Camp.
Of course, how was the show going to top the mean girls from Wednesday night’s episode? No problem, as 22-year old Lexa Berman, who boasted a look judge Simon Cowell proclaimed as “Jersey Shore meets the Kardashians,” tried to psyche out competitor Paige Strooback by bragging about her acting, dancing and singing skills. Strooback, and the judges, were less than impressed by her lame re-creation of Alex Clare’s “Too Close.” Lovato cited a “likeability” problem, and she’s right.
“[At first, I thought], wow, this girl is gorgeous,'" she said. "But you came off as really overconfident and it wasn't likable."
“At least we know what not to do,” said Strooback, whose audition was curiously not aired.
Lovato hoped to find somebody “hot that can sing,” but for a long stretch of time, it was not to be.
“Why is it all of the good-looking people can’t sing?” asked an exasperated Reid, enduring plenty of eye candy that scorched his eardrums. “I feel we have not found a bonafide star today. … I need to see some talent.”
The parade of bad singers with amazing abs continued, ending with the best zinger of the night, courtesy of Britney, bitch!
“You can’t destroy that song, sweetie,” she coldly retorted to one clueless singer, breaking the cardinal rule of reality singing shows: "Thou shalt not take Whitney Houston songs, particularly 'I Have Nothing,' in vain."
Reid got his wish in an unlikely package -- Jason Brock, a 34-year-old tech support guy that longed to show all four judges “true San Francisco.”
Brock is the kind of guy who sings to customers over the phone, and one girl in the crowd tells him he looks like Elton John. Brock is more like a cross between Jack Black and American Idol season eight runner-up Lambert. He is jovial and immediately likeable, declaring his own stage show would begin in a white spotlight and end in a “glitter explosion.”
Brock has serious pipes, too. He chose to audition with Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” copping American Idol season 11 finalist Erika Van Pelt’s hairstyle in the process (Van Pelt performed the same song after her famed hair style change, followed by her elimination, on Idol). His entire audition was nothing short of a delight, and he may be the first serious contender in the 30-and-up category to go to the finals if he survives Boot Camp. Reid calls him “flawless,” while Lovato said his vocals made her want to “fall in love” with him.
Meanwhile, back in Providence, the judges were awarded with a delicious-looking tiered cake, and Spears comes face-to-face with serious stalker material in the form of Patrick Ford, a 20-year-old cashier who believes the Louisiana pop star could be his “sister.” Creepy.
Ford comes prepared with a floral arrangement and an unwelcome re-creation of the judge’s hit song “Circus.” Spears looks so uncomfortable that Cowell just stopped the whole thing dead.
“It’s like you got into an argument with Britney Spears, got drunk and decided to scream the song at her,” he said.
Spears is so mortified, all she can muster up for Ford is a “no.” This displeased him, as he stood stone-faced on the stage.
“That’s all you got for me, Britney?” he said.
Despite that blip, Providence seems to be the city that hosted the best talent. On Wednesday night’s premiere, Jillian Jensen mesmerized with her heartbreaking tale of bullying coupled with a stellar interpretation of the Jessie J ballad “Who You Are.”
The city came up strong once more in the form of Carly Rose Sonenclar, a 13-year-old teen who sings way beyond her years. Despite talking about nerves, the Westchester teen displayed amazing vocal ability and confidence with her torch-song rendering of “Feeling Good” by Nina Simone. She was almost too good, as if she were lip-synching the song, and Reid called her an “old soul.”
“That wasn’t you singing,” quipped Cowell. “There was somebody behind you.”
"Miss Thang, you are a little diva!" enthused Spears. "You were unbelievable. ...You can see, all of us are completely in love with you."
Soneclar earned four “yes” votes, bringing the too-short hour to a swift conclusion.
So who were your faves this week? Let us know in the comments below!
Check out video of Soneclar as young Eponine in Les Miserables from three years ago doing "On My Own," as well as her audition. She displayed the same confidence back then as she does now: