During his illustrious career as a judge, Simon Cowell has turned his nose up at more than one contestant before labeling their audition as "indulgent rubbish."
If Thursday's episode of The X Factor was an audition and Simon were being honest, it would suffer the same fate. Between the backstage conversations that sound like the contestants are reading from cue-cards, the totally scripted questions the judges ask contestants, and the toddlers who come dashing out onto the stage and into their father's arms in a victorious celebration of the glory of mankind, each passing episode of the season becomes more implausible and over-produced than the last and considering we're only four in, this is a definite cause for concern.
This is not to suggest that the episodes are void of entertainment. Demi Lovato's "Flock of Seagull's" inspired hairdo, Britney Spears's never-ending stream of bizarre facial expressions and the entire production being struck down by lightening were high points of Thursday's episode. And, to be kind (which I am capable of, thank you very much) The X Factor has managed to excel where American Idol has often struggled: in their handling of bad auditions. Rather than weigh down the episode with awkward, exploitative auditions, The X Factor prefers to air them like a visual buffet; hand-picking only a few to serve as main courses.
In fact, there are far more good auditions than bad - unless of course one takes the judge's feedback this season to heart - in that case there have been no good auditions, only mind-blowingly amazing auditions. To hear the judges talk, The X Factor has single-handedly discovered the next vocal icons of our generation, all in the first four episodes of Season 2.
Take the feedback to Will Jones, for example. Will surprised all of the judges by eschewing his "sick, Fresh Prince of Bel Aire" image and tackling the country song that has become synonymous with Season 10's American Idol winner Scotty McCreery, "Your Man," (you know the one: "Baby lock them doors and turn the lights down low"). It was a perfectly adequate rendition of the song, although not quite as good as Scotty's. But Simon declared that WIll had a "sensational recording voice" and that Will's audition made it "a day to remember."
Who would have thought we'd pine for the days when judges gave empty, half-hearted platitudes, like, "You're beautiful. Just beautiful."
Eightteen-year-old Julia Bullock's audition was the perfect juxtaposition of The X Factor's two major vices: implausible manipulation and over-the-top accolades. As Julia took to the stage, Demi Lovato immediately asked who came to the auditions with her that day. It turns out that Julia's band members had joined her, one of whom used to be her boyfriend. Demi's next question was how her band members felt about her auditioning. It was such serendipity that Julia hadn't ever spoken to her band members about how they felt about her going solo until they actually got to the auditions that day and were standing in line, as an X Factor cameraman happened to be passing by.
The chances of that happening are probably as rare as getting struck by lightning.
Julia has a very natural stage presence and gave a great performance of "Pumped Up Kicks," as her ex-boyfriend and soon to be ex-band-member looked on with a rather unsettling look of, shall we say, seething hatred. Apparently judge L.A. Reid, had been dreaming of a girl with a half-shaven head, a good stage presence, a decent voice, and relationship/band turmoil. "You're exactly what I have been looking for," he exclaimed passionately.
Jeffrey Adam Gutt, 36, struggling father of cute toddler bonded with another contestant backstage who told him that if was going to get beaten by someone, he'd like it to be someone like Jeffrey. Why is it that every female interaction is staged to look like the opening scenes to a G.L.O.W. match but the men get to play the supportive, encouraging roles? Jeffrey Gutt, who may have been able to fool us into believing his last name was pronounced like "goot" rather than "gut" if it weren't for the double "t" at the end, performed Leonard Cohen's, "Hallelujah" in a gritty, Bruce Springsteen kind of voice that Britney called soothing and Demi compared to Josh Groban. Double huh? But Simon immediately doubled down on the ludicrous feedback when he pointed out that Jeffrey was better than Josh Groban.
Queue Talon, Jeffrey's adorable 4-year-old, running out on stage. Yup, Talon Gutt. But don't worry - it's pronounced John Smith.
The highlight of the night was 21-year-old hairdresser, Krysten Colon, who decided she wanted to be a singer because she was tired of having to be on her feet all day.
Apparently she is going to be a lounge singer.
Krysten began her audition process by choosing Adele's, "Don't You Remember?" The audition wasn't all that bad but Simon, who is sick to death of contestants trying to take on Adele – and really who can blame him? – tells Krysten that she needs to come back later with a classic song. After only mildly maiming Adele, Krysten returns to butcher Whitney Houston so bad that even her family is wincing backstage (perhaps they were predicting the impending meltdown?). After four, "I'm-going-to-have-to-say-no's" from the judges Krysten loses her already tenuous composure and storms off the stage in a cloud of profanity.
Once back-stage Krysten's anger quickly atrophies into full blown temper-tantrum to which her mother tellingly coos, "You said you weren't going to do this." Obviously, Krysten is a repeat offender when it comes to histrionic exhibitions and as any parent of a toddler will tell you, adding an audience to a temper tantrum is like adding vinegar to baking soda. As the cameras continue to roll Krysten's behavior goes from bad to worse until she's menacingly wielding a metal chair as if it is a sword of vengeance.
And that, my friends, is a wrap of episode 4.
Good thing lightning never strikes twice.