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During the first half hour of Wednesday night’s X Factor, the second day of auditions, it felt like I was watching that defunct Don’t Forget the Lyrics. Contestants left and right were forgetting words (really one of the simplest requirements for being a singer) and, when words finally did meet melody, the singers seemed to forget about other important things, like pitch and timing.
At least Yosslyn Marquez didn’t forget her words – the young Latina singer sang Beyoncé’s “Only Girl in the World” while reading the lyrics from her phone. And it’s true - she was the only girl in the world who could forget the lyrics “la la la” and butcher a Lady B track so badly.
Then there was Thomas Weiderspon, a 19-year-old who sounded exactly like Scotty McCreery (and even auditioned with the same song as the Idol winner) except for any semblance of vocal talent. Or Jocelyn Hinton, who told producers that despite not having formal training she could belt like Mariah, and sang a disastrous version of “Firework.” Contestant Russ Pouliot did claim he's had years of vocal lessons, but the 50-something crooner’s take on an Elvis classic featured some truly bizarre vocal techniques. While in last night’s recap I talked about a contestant with wide vibrato, it was nothing compared to Russ’ shaky, pulsating vibrato and yodeling phrase endings.
That being said, there were some good singers, although almost uniformly, the judges were much more lenient and encouraging of the contestants than I was from my couch. I’ll go through the ones that got through in order:
First was Rylie Brown, a 15-year-old who was given a second chance after forgetting the words to “Clarity” (maybe she should have gone the iPhone lyric route). While the judges praised her nice tone, I couldn’t help but find her singing more than a little pitchy.
New papa Jeff Brinkman came to X Factor just days after his baby was born. Sweet and unassuming, this owner of a doggy day care had a very unique, raspy, two-packs-a-day kind of voice that sounds like a cross between Michael McDonald and Ray LaMontagne. Sure, I wanted him to open up more and kill the ultra-staccato vocal style, but his version of “You Are So Beautiful to Me” was so gritty and heartfelt, it was hard not to melt just a little.
All hail Rachel Potter! By far the best of the night, Rachel is a 29-year-old aspiring country singer who feels like she has to prove “her age isn’t an issue.” Personally, I don’t care if Rachel is 29 or 89, she is one talented singer who deserves to be heard and is a beautiful woman to boot. Her countrified “Somebody to Love” was sung flawlessly with amazing tone, range and control. I would download that single tomorrow.
As likeable and talented as Rachel was, the next contestant was the exact opposite. Colombian-born Jorge Pena, an ice cream truck worker, pranced on that stage like he was auditioning for the lead in Jersey Shore: The Musical. After making one too many egotistical comments, googly eyes at the female judges and referring to Demi as “woman,” the judges gave Jorge a stern talking to. “You know what’s really cool?” Demi tells him, “Really cute? Humility.” While it was more than a little ironic when Simon wholeheartedly agreed, Demi and the rest of the judges were right. Unfortunately, Jorge scraped through because he showed some real talent singing a sappy Spanish-language love song. But I doubt this sleazy lothario will last long, either due to his purely average vocal talent or a sexual harassment suit from a fellow contestant.
Likability, though, was Simone Torres’ greatest asset. While cute Zooey Deschanel-level quirky awkwardness pervaded her pre-audition interview, once Simone took the stage, her persona melted into a bad-ass soul singer belting out “Mustang Sally.” Husky and confident, it was a vocal standout of the night. I can’t wait to see what else she can do.
The only successful group of the night was Roxxy Montana, a girl group consisting of three 20-something sisters. Their performance started rocky, and the girls couldn’t find their footing singing “One Night Only” from Dreamgirls. But once Simon stopped them and asked Roxxy to sing something a capella, the girls’ flourished. Singing in tight-knit, gospel harmony, the sisters sounded great and even reminiscent of Destiny’s Child. The DC connection was even more apparent, and a bit awkward, when Simon kept going on about the fact that one of the sisters, Temperance, is much better than the others and should be a solo act. It was good advice, Temperance was clearly the best singer, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if it gave Kelly Rolland just a little PTSD.
Then there was Al Calderon, a 19-year-old pop singer whose very average take of a Hall and Oates song was completely lost on me because I am not a hormonal teenage girl. Moving on.
As always, X Factor saved the best backstory for last. Meet Denise Weeks, a 41-year-old single mother who makes her living singing on the subway. After giving her a second chance after a shaky start, Denise wowed the judges with her emotional story and heartfelt vocals on “The Greatest Love of All” (which, as some of you may remember, was butchered yesterday). I’m not sure if I was as taken with Denise’s vocals as the judges (it seemed a bit weak and shaky in places), but anyone without a heart of stone would be moved when Denise sang, “No matter what they take from me, they can’t take away my dignity," and meant every single word.
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