Sometimes backstories and following a particular finalist can work to the benefit of the artist in competition reality shows. A case in point: Scotty McCreery, who was followed from the very beginning on Season 10 of "American Idol." The lanky, good-natured kid went on to win, generate a platinum album, and win several awards, including the Academy of Country Music's New Artist of the Year. But in the case of some contestants, the more you know about them, the less they seem likable. On "X Factor" this season, there are several contestants that fit that description. And during the Judges Homes round, where finalists face their coach/mentor/judges after receiving advice on how to better present and perform their music, the judges need and want to choose their four entrants into the Top 16 hoping they can garner enough votes to get to the finals and win. Unlikable won't get them a winner. And one of the judges told a finalist to their face that they were coming across as "not very likable."
And it wasn't Simon Cowell.
But before that drama went down, five other contestants in the Young Adults category sang for "X Factor" judge Demi Lovato and her co-mentor Nick Jonas.
Jennel Garcia is up first. Judge Demi speaks with her before she performs and tells her that as far as stage presence was concerned, she had plenty, but she needed to be conscious that she was doing things like flipping her hair a bit too much. Garcia, who is dressed in a pair of distracting (not in a good way) rainbow-colored shorts, tells her fellow contestants she's more nervous now. She sings Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl," which got Jonas smiling right away. But Jennel seemed to get lost in the melody at first. She climbed out of it and finished strong, but the song choice (Jennel has usually belted out rockers) and what appeared to be overthinking her performance hurt her presentation. Demi notes that Jennel may have taken her advice too much to heart, but what did Demi expect when these finalists are trying to get to the live shows round?
Willie Jones performs "Nobody Knows," the same song that he completely forgot the lyrics to during the battle round. Although you have to give him props for the song choice, it was a dicey move. And he doesn't do a bad job, but Judge Britney Spears may have been on to something when she said that his voice didn't seem all that strong except when he was in the low notes. Nick Jonas said he thought Willie might be confused with his styles, not knowing whether to do R&B or country. But Jonas might be confused himself, because not only did Tony Rich have a big hit with his song on the Pop and R&B charts, but country artist Kevin Sharp took it to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart in 1996 as well. Why can't people just let the black kid get his country on? His being chosen for the Top 24 was gimmicky, especially given his poor performance in the battle round and his iffy performance on Day 1 of Boot Camp, but so is the Bieber lookalike, Reed Deming, in Judge Britney Spears' Teens group. Nobody is shocked that a black kid is singing country music anymore, so let's get on to critiquing him for win-ability.
Then it was Jillian Jensen's turn. She sings Sara Bareilles' "Gravity" and kept her facial calisthenics to a minimum, something that Demi had warned her about (nicely). There's an emotional quality to Jensen's singing that makes her technical problems not seem to matter all that much. Jonas points out her ability to draw in her audience with her emotion. Demi doesn't seem as impressed, but, then, Demi has shown a connection with Jensen and she might be stepping back -- at least for the cameras -- so as not to look as if she's playing favorites.
Nick Youngerman was all bravado and swagger. Too bad it didn't lend itself to his voice, which sounded weak and generic as he performed Ke$ha's "Tik Tok." Given that Ke$ha might be the most overrated performer on the current music scene, it shouldn't have taken much for Nick to pull off a better rendition of the song. Yet he did not -- although he sure thought he did, crowing that he "nailed it" when he got back in the waiting room with the rest of the Young Adults finalists. And the two mentors looked like a couple of deer caught in the headlights of this guy's Mack truck performance. Surprisingly, though, Jonas says he liked it. However, Demi says she wasn't sure if she was "loving it" or just "super annoyed by it." That "loving it" reaction was what has become Demi's problem on "X Factor" this season -- her attraction to anything she thinks is cute or handsome. If she can get past her animal instincts, she'll realize that Youngerman should never have been chosen for the Top 24.
Young mother Paige Thomas was next. She's having a confidence crisis and notes in confessional that it might not be such a bad thing if she's sent home, because she misses her daughter and family. Dressed in a white with blue leopard spots unitard with a sheer blue train (very noticeable and very much something that might remind people of Rihanna), she performs Chris Brown's "Turn Up The Music." (The Rihanna comparisons just keep coming...) Her lack of confidence shows and the mentors discuss it. Jonas seems disappointed in Paige's energy level.
Last up, CeCe Frey, the girl whose mouth and "X Factor" editing have painted as a "mean girl" this season. She's excited, full of bluster, and recalls when Demi said during auditions that she had a "crush" on her. But when it comes time for Demi to give her some tips, the youngest "X Factor" judge is direct, telling CeCe she might be coming off as "not very likable." (And good for Demi, because if there is one thing that will ensure that a finalist won't eventually win, it is being seen as unlikable by the voting viewers.) CeCe says in confessional that that was not her intention. Viewers at home might find this extremely difficult to believe, considering CeCe's obnoxiousness toward other contestants and her attempts at verbal intimidation. She's also made the comment that she's "not here to make friends." But she wants viewers to believe that it wasn't her intention to not be likable? Is that denial of her own personality or just saying anything to win? There are then several shots of CeCe in an more kinder, gentler persona as she speaks with her fellow contestants. But try as she might, it's coming off as a bit of fakery.
CeCe performs LMFAO's "Sexy And I Know It." She laughs, tells the mentors that it's not a rejection of their advice ("It's just for fun, okay?"). She then launches into the party rock song, rearranging it into a nice jazzy rock performance. By far, it is the best performance of the six. If the producers cut down on her confessional face time and her conversations with other finalists, CeCe could have a chance of winning "X Factor" on her vocals alone. But she's coming across as contrived following Demi's advice, especially after so much in-your-face win-at-all-cost intensity. But there's one really good thing to come of it all: She's getting rid of the leopard spots that have adorned her face from the outset.
So who was best? CeCe Frey, by far. But as these shows are basically personality contests, the young woman's vocal skills might not matter in the end. Jillian's "Gravity" was another good showing for the girl with absolutely too little confidence in herself, something that could wear on an audience over time. People like to see some fight in those they back. And Willie's "Nobody Knows," although it wasn't the best rendition of the song ever, put him in with the contenders for the Top 16, simply due to the lackluster performances of a couple that should have presented stronger -- but didn't.
Worst performances? Nick's "Tik Tok" was atrocious. Period. Paige's "Turn Up The Music" was a bit turned down, not her best at all. And Jennel, although we've seen her rock some good music, left a bit to be desired with her song choice and her not-so-strong vocal.
In the end, the four choices from the Judges Homes round will -- or should -- come down to those four that Demi thinks she can take to the season finale. And although CeCe Frey might be her strongest voice (unless she can get Jennel to step up), the postal worker isn't likable and it is difficult to see how Demi will be able to change that in the weeks to come. Nick, besides not delivering a very good performance (as compared to the rap
So what should she do? Toss Willie and Nick? Or Paige and Nick? Or Nick and her strongest performer CeCe, both due to their unlikableness?
We'll see next week when the Judges Homes round ends and the Top 16 are revealed.
"X Factor" airs on Fox Television on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8:00 p.m. EST.
(photo credit: Shanarae, Creative Commons)