After a slight rebound in its ratings slump from its first week premiere (partly due to "The Voice" opting for a third day of premiering to compete), "X Factor" moved into its Boot Camp phase and in the space of one hour of viewers time, eliminated half of the contestants, leaving 60 acts to carry on to the second task. And that challenge? In a move that looks suspiciously like the "Battle Round" of the NBC's "The Voice," the remaining 60 acts were paired up to perform in a one-song sing-off.
As Judge Simon Cowell explained, in the sing-off, the pair of acts would get to sing a song of their own choosing. Once the acts agreed on song choice, they then would decide how they would sing the song: Who got what parts, harmonies, styles, tempo, etc. The basic difference with the "X Factor" battle round, though, was that the outcome was totally uncertain. On "The Voice," one of the acts would be cut and one kept. On "X Factor," one could be kept or both or none. No guarantees.
And if there is one thing the "X Factor" audience has learned during Season 2, it is that there are some who will do anything to win...
First up, Jennel Garcia and Tara Simon. In a sly move that was to be played out again and again, Tara, the 25-year-old singing coach from Atlanta, simply steamrolled Jennel, telling her that Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" was a great song choice and that she wasn't one to try to "try hard every time and kill them [the judges]." Jennel, 18, said she'd like something more suited to her style (she's a rocker), but in the end caved to the older woman's insistence.
The song did nothing to highlight Jennel's strong vocal abilities, which was exactly what Tara was hoping for (one would guess, given her competitive conniving). However, Tara oversung the song, something that she can be relied upon to do every time she performs. Simon had it all figured out, though, and said he suspected Tara had made the song choice. As the women walked off stage, Simon said "she clipped her wings," most likely referring to Tara's maneuverings to keep Jennel from playing to her strengths by getting her to sing a subdued tune.
Two of the younger contestants went up next: Beatrice Miller and Carly Rose Sonnenclar. They performed Foster The People's "Pumped Up Kicks," both putting their own vocal spin on the song. Both did well and the judges were impressed.
Then it was a battle of roommates. Tattoo boys Vino Alan and David Correy performed Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" Correy showed his higher register and ability to get down into a groove, while Alan's power gave the song a different but powerful sound. But while the judges were praising both singers, Alan threw his toboggan, obviously annoyed with his performance. Correy stated backstage that Alan was his own worst critic and was too hard on himself. Simon noted that Alan seemed to think he did poorly. But the singer needn't have worried; he and his roommate were two of the best performers of the night.
Dinah Jane Hansen and Diamond White hit the stage next. Hansen, the girl with the 22 family members living with her, blew her lyrics but not terribly so. What she did sing of Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger (What Doesn't Killy You)," was well-performed. Barely teen Diamond, who did a great job, offered her words of encouragement afterward. The judges were impressed although Judge L. A. Reid voiced reservations about Hansen, noting that if she had problems now, it could be a sign that she would do so again.
One of the more interesting duels of the evening came when Sister C (a trio of sisters) competed against teen Lauren Jauregui. The song, LeAnn Rimes "These Arms of Mine" was done well, especially by young Lauren. But Sister C's twanginess, which seemed part of their allure during their audition, got to Judge Britney Spears, who labeled them "annoying."
The following duo was Julia Bullock and Ally Brooke. After their performance, the judges were quick to point out that one of them did well. They didn't say which one, but given Bullock's strained vocals and grotesque facial calisthenics, it would appear that Brooke took that contest.
The two country singers squared off next. Tate Stevens, 37, and Willie Jones, 17, performed Tony Rich's "Nobody Knows." Jones forgot the lyrics and Stevens delivered a smooth performance. Turns out that Stevens had talked Jones into singing the song, which was a song he was unfamiliar with (perhaps because it was a hit around the time he was born). Judge L. A. joked that Willie got hustled, but also noted that he shouldn't have forgotten the words to the song (possibly due to the simplicity of the song, which is minimalist where lyrics are concerned).
Judge Demi Lovato's heartbreaker, Jillian Jensen, was paired up against Latasha Robinson and it quickly became a rout as Robinson forgot the lyrics and Jensen nailed it. Jensen took up for Robinson, telling the judges she had performed well just prior to coming out. Robinson broke down on stage and continued bemoaning her blown lines backstage, complaining that she had been shown up by a 19-year-old (Robinson is 27).
Busted lyrics became a theme, because both Freddie Combs and Jessie Bryant forgot the lines to their song choice, The Drifters' "Up On The Roof." Bryant broke down back stage.
The manipulation games came to an end when the evening's final duo took the stage: Paige Thomas and CeCe Frey. Nice girl Thomas had allowed mean girl Frey to talk her into singing OneRepublic's "Secrets." And Thomas did what so many others had done -- she forgot the words. Still, it was a slight misstep and she soldiered on, singing well. Frey did a great job with her part of the song. And if it wasn't clear that Thomas was intimidated by Frey during the process of preparing for the duel, it was apparent on stage.
But will Thomas' stumble hurt her in the final adjudication? Will any of the acts that were obviously manipulated by their more cunning fellow contestants make it through to the Top 24 and the Judges Houses round? It is difficult to say, but with so many blowing their lines, there is probably room for a couple of the forgetful to get through.
But it would appear that all the manipulators will make it through -- save maybe one: Tara Simon. Although it is unclear whether or not the "X Factor" judges will let Jennel Garcia into the Judges Houses round, it is doubtful that the oversinging and obviously manipulative (you can't fool Simon Cowell) vocal coach will get to the next stage of the competition.
"X Factor" airs on Wednesday and Thursdays on Fox Television at 8:00 p.m. (EST).
(photo credit: rocor, Creative Commons)