The first "X Factor" show that presented the finalists for the American viewers' votes held more than a few surprises. Unlike the previous show, where the judges made their final adjustment to their respective teams by sending a last contestant home, these live performances were for the voting public. And it wasn't the Top 12 that got to perform. It was the Top 13, because the judges, in a move reminiscent of Season 1, called back Diamond White to rejoin the competition. So with Team Britney starting off with an advantage of one singer, the contest began.
The Top 12 (13) theme was "Songs From The Movies." Fittingly enough, when the judges were introduced, Paul McCartney and Wings' "Live and Let Die" played in the background. The latest James Bond adventure, "Skyfall," which has been released in most countries already, premieres in the U. S. this weekend.
So how did the finalists do?
Arin Ray -- Estelle's "American Boy" from "Obsessed": The kid can dance and he showed judge Demi Lovato (who said he was "stiff" last week) just like he promised he would. The judges all felt it was an improvement over the previous week's perforrmance.
Paige Thomas -- Berlin's "Take My Breath Away" from "Top Gun": a dynamic performance where the production almost overshadowed the singing, but Paige's vocals were so clear it didn't matter that she descended from the ceiling amidst an alien landscape (you'd think Lovato was promoting the video game "Halo 4" or something). Judges Demi and Simon argued over her lack of imagination in the last half of the song -- Simon conceded the beginning and agreed with L. A. Reid that the performance promised something it didn't deliver.
Vino Alan -- Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Woman" from the film of the same name: The rough-looking 37-year-old singer pounded out a heartfelt rendition of the soul classic, getting rave reviews from the judges. Judge L. A. even admitted that Simon had been right about getting Vino back to what he was really good at -- singing bluesy soul tunes.
Emblem3 -- The Temptations' "My Girl" from the movie of the same name, Katy Perry's "California Gurls" from "Katy Perry: Part of Me": This mash-up at first looked as if it wasn't going to quite make it, but it did, and far better than it deserved for attempting to ruin The Temptations' classic tune. Even L. A. couldn't find something bad to say about it. He said it was "perfect," but nothing's perfect. And still... Judge Demi did her usual ridiculous "awe shucks, you guys are cute routine." But to Emblem3's credit, mentor Simon (who has the Groups category) said they rehearsed and learned the mash-up Tuesday, the day before the competition.
Beatrice Miller -- Goo Goo Dolls' "Iris" from "City of Angels": More than just a difficult song to emulate, this song was just performed on "The Voice" Monday night by a talented Bryan Keith. But Beatrice's odd vocalizations make it a winner, even if she looked like a a modern-day court jester in that godawful get-up. The judges were all impressed. To make it even moreso: She performed the song after very little practice because she kept losing her voice.
Jennel Garcia -- Joan Jett's "I Love Rock and Roll" from "Crossroads": Right from the start, this was wrong. With her shaggy spike do that made her look like a bobble-head to the near copy of the classic hard rock song, Jennel was in trouble. Although judge Britney loved it ("Hot, hot, hot," she said), L. A. and Simon both thought it was a parody of the original. Of course, judge Demi (mentor or the Young Adults, of which Jennel is a member) thought otherwise, pointing out that the girls in the audience liked it. Still, Simon and L. A. were right.
Tate Stevens -- Bon Jovi's "Wanted Dead or Alive" from "Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man": The 37-year-old city worker belted out the rock tune in country/southern rock style, his backdrop very reminiscent of the "Bring 'Em Back Dead Or Alive" Tour by southern rockers The Outlaws ("Green Grass and High Tides," "Hurry, Sundown," "Ghost Riders In The Sky"). The judges enjoyed it and Simon noted it was a marked improvement over the previous week's performance (although, to be precise, Judge Simon had disapproved of all of L. A. Reid's song choices for his acts in the Top 16 round).
Lyric 145 -- Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke's "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" from "Mary Poppins": Possibly the most creative rendition of any song of the night, Lyric 145 rocked the house, rapping to the classic fun tune. The production had shades of LMFAO's party rock style written all over it. The judges enjoyed it as well.
Diamond White -- Whitney Houston's "I Have Nothing" from "The Bodyguard": The tiny Diamond White took up the entire stage by herself as she settled into the powerful Houston ballad. She even had the late singer's early look (hair pulled back severely). Judge Demi said the rendition almost made her cry and Judge Britney nailed the critique when she said: "I feel that you definitely channeled Whitney in that performance, and she would be very proud."
CeCe Frey -- Survivor's "Eye Of The Tiger" from "Rocky III": Like Jennel Garcia earlier in the night, CeCe's version of a straight-up hard rocker was over-produced and vocally underwhelming. Dressed as if a bunch of Zouaves had taken over Che Guevara's guerillas, CeCe tried to belt out the song with conviction, but just didn't make it, falling flat vocally. The judges picked up on it as well (except, of course, Demi, CeCe's mentor). Simon told her she was being taken in the wrong direction (two weeks running) and should make her own song decisions (like her choice of LMFAO's "Sexy and I Know It" during the Judges Homes round, which might be her best performance to date). When asked about her song choice, CeCe said she wanted everyone to see the "fierce girl that walked into this competition, and I think I did that." But it's doubtful she'll feel that way when she watches it back...
Carly Rose Sonenclar -- Bruno Mars' "It Will Rain" from "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part I": Another powerhouse performance by a 13-year-old (yes, that's right; Team Britney has three of them). Carly Rose slowly built the song up vocally and ended with power. The judges were unanimous in applauding her. Her mentor, Britney, said she should have "closed the show, because nobody can follow that."
Jason Brock -- R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly" from "Space Jam": Although a vast improvement over the cabaret stylings of the week before, Jason's rendition of the modern classic was great and even had the cathedral-spanning choir back-up that has become almost obligatory for anyone performing the song, but simply couldn't rise to Carly Rose's soaring performance. Simon admitted it was better than last week, but he also cruelly noted that he didn't believe Jason could fly at all and that he was dressed like a singer at an Italian restaurant.
Fifth Harmony -- Christina Perri's "A Thousand Years" from "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part I": So Britney got it half right, because Jason's performance was not up to matching Carly Rose's. However, Fifth Harmony (the last surprise of the night, albeit a planned one: the new name for LYLAS aka 1432) was another thing altogether. Their harmonies were spot on. Mentor Simon told them that he felt there was something "incredibly exciting about your potential."
Still, the second biggest surprise of the night (Diamond White gets biggest surprise by default) had to be the underperformances of Jennel Garcia and CeCe Frey. The only two hard rock songs performed and they were both done in somewhat karaoke fashion, with CeCe's "Eye of the Tiger" simply awful and easily the worst performance of the night.
It should be pointed out that Jason Brock had extremely long odds to win the "X Factor," according to professional oddsmakers, before getting the surprise nod from the Over 25s mentor L. A. Reid over David Correy.
But will any of that matter? Will Jennel and CeCe land in the bottom two, one to be dismissed from the show? Or do the two Young Adults have enough fans to pull them through and get them past the Top 12 (13) results show? What about Jason Brock? Or could one or two of the others simply not have left enough of an impression on voters to keep them out of the bottom two positions? One never knows when it comes to the voting public. We'll just all have to watch the "X Factor" results show on Thursday, Nov. 8, at 8 p.m. (EST) on Fox Television.
(photo credit: Freemantle North America, SycoTV, Fox Television, Wikimedia Commons)