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There’s a lyric from a musical that goes “Good things get better, bad get worse.” I think, in a nutshell, that generally sums up the first semi-final round in season 3 of The X Factor. The front-runners remained steadily in place while a few, who got very little airtime in the auditions, stayed equally forgettable. In lieu of past semi-final rounds, this season’s producers came up with something called the Four Chair Challenge. In the 4CC, each group (Girls, Boys, Over 25s & Groups) will sing individually. The good singers will get rewarded with a spot in one of only four chairs. At the end of the round, only the people seated will move on. But here’s the catch: Once the singers take a seat, they can get kicked off and replaced by another artist. To keep their seat and win the round, they need to have the “performance of their life,” as Simon likes to say.
First up were the Over 25s. As always, I’ll go through singer-by-singer in order, but, to spice things up, I think I’ll give each performance a star rating between 0 and 5.
Victoria Carriger: * * ½
Victoria, the single mother of eight we met at the last night of auditions, took to the stage to perform “Make You Feel My Love,” the beautiful love ballad by Bob Dylan, best known from the Adele cover. And she was taking a page from the Adele playbook here with the smoky tone, emotion-soaked vocals, and (perhaps I’m imagining this but) a slight, misplaced accent. But never mind. Demi hit the nail on the head when she said Victoria was “slightly low energy.” Her performance was good, but I’m not sure it was anything terribly memorable. Kelly, the Over 25s’ coach, asked Victoria to take a seat.
Kristine Mirelle: * *
To tell you the truth, I’d completely forgotten about Kristine when she came onstage and, by the time I sat down to write this recap about an hour after watching, I’ve forgotten her again. Kristine is a nice looking girl and has a good image but her weird, minor-keyed version of “Oops I Did It Again” was poorly arranged and badly sung. The flip into her falsetto was problematic along with the pitch. It got slightly better halfway through, but by then I realized Kristine wouldn’t be here for the long haul. Kelly asked Kristine to take a seat.
Jeff Gutt: * * * *
Jeff’s audition wasn’t stellar in my book, but boy did he redeem himself tonight. Jeff, who was cut around this time in season 1 of the competition, sang a rock arrangement of “Amazing Grace,” which, despite my reservations, was something close to spectacular. He had a solid rock tone, great range and, more importantly, I believed every word of a hymn I’ve heard hundreds of times. No surprise, Kelly asked Jeff to take a seat.
Rachel Potter: * ½
Oh, Rachel. I must admit, I’m really torn here. Rachel is a phenomenally talented singer and my second favorite auditioner on X Factor season 3. She’s a bartender/Broadway actress with a great mix of raw vocal talent, great training and soul. But boy did Rachel have a rough night. Now I’m a singer myself and know firsthand that even the best vocalists have bad nights. She was sick (and I’m guessing had some trouble hearing the track) and it showed in a pitchy, screechy, uncomfortable performance of a countrified “Irreplaceable.” I understand you’re only as good as your last performance on reality TV and that, even if it's valid, excuses are usually not met kindly, but thankfully Kelly could see past one bad performance and through to the talent so big she could win this whole damn thing. Kelly asked Rachel to take a seat. (Now the four seats are filled and all subsequent Take-A-Seaters will have to boot off someone).
Lori Moore: * * *
Our favorite football-playing songstress is back, this time singing “I’ll Make Love to You.” I must note my relief that, for the first real time tonight, a contestant uses the original song’s arrangement and not some terrible one produced by X Factor’s musical directors. The way it’s been going so far, they should be looking nationwide for arrangers rather than singers! Back to Lori. She’s talented and has a strong voice but the whole thing seemed a bit bland and karaoke-like down to the runs and ‘90s song choice. It picked up as it went along but the song, and the whole night’s repertoire, was so heavily edited, she didn’t get much time to ease into the number. It seemed iffy for Lori, but she gave a sports-movie-level pep talk in which she proclaimed that she didn’t give excuses (cue awkward cut-away to Rachel). Kelly asked Lori to take a seat from Kristine.
Allison Davis: ½
When Allison Davis auditioned, I wrote that she looked like Ke$ha walking home from a one-night stand in an overlong white tee-shirt. When she came onstage tonight, I wrote “Ke$ha?” down in my notes even before she started singing a bizarre, slowed-down mash-up of “Tik-Tok” and “Push It” (once again horribly arranged). There’s not a lot to say about Allison, folks. Simon called her a “wannabe.” Demi says she “can’t take her seriously.” The best I can say is that Allison’s talent isn’t that far off from Ke$ha’s herself. Take that any way you want. Kelly sends her home.
Jeff Brinkman: * * ½
Jeff, the new dad with Michael McDonald-esque pipes, was the next in the weird song choice and even weirder arrangement parade. He sang an acoustic take on “Without You” that met with lukewarm praise. To me, he sounded OK in the dramatic finish but lacked the skill and charisma to handle the softer moments. While I wouldn’t agree with Simon who called it “monstrous” (I’d personally only say that about his weird bun-like hairdo), I would have given Jeff the boot. But, Kelly asked Jeff to take a seat from Victoria.
If you’re playing along at home, that leaves Jeff G., Rachel, Lori and Jeff B. sitting. While I’m paused for a moment, I’d also like to add how annoying the audience is tonight; hooting and hollering and waving their hands like they missed the bus for Maury or Springer and ended up at X Factor by mistake.
Denny Smith: *
You might remember Denny as the Santa Claus lookalike with a bold soulful voice. Tonight we learn he’s also a family man and pastor (and looks scarily like a member of that strange, vagabond family singing troupe The Kellys. Remember that infamous “Ain’t Gonna Pee-Pee” YouTube video? If the raggedy voice and beardedness is any indication, Denny might just be the pee-pee kid.) Anywho, tonight he sang “Midnight Hour” and, despite his incredible amount of charm, Denny’s performance was dull, campy and underwhelming. I’m sure he’d wow the crowd if his local Assisted Living facility had a talent show, but on the national stage Denny is out of his league. The audience loved him but, rightly, Kelly sent him home. To go along with Mario’s string of terrible Santa puns, I guess Kelly’s on the naughty list (Ha. Ha. Ha.)
James Kenny: * * * ½
James sang a tired song, “Lean On Me,” and used another terrible X Factor arrangement. But despite all that, James did pretty well. His vocals are very solid, especially in the upper register, and he’s got a great easy tone. But, I gotta say, I just don’t find James that special or interesting. There are a hundred people in one New York City block who are great singers; it takes someone with (I can’t believe I’m saying this) an X factor to progress on the show. And James doesn’t have it. Either way, Kelly asks James to take a seat from Jeff Brinkman.
Lillie McCloud: * * * * ½
Lillie’s was my single favorite audition of the season and her first post-audition performance didn’t disappoint. This grandmother of seven who
lied conveniently forgot to mention her decade-long recording career, (but calling it “doing some things” in this round’s package) had a perfect song choice and a near perfect performance. Singing “A House Is Not a Home,” Lillie is a born vocalist with a maturity, ease, range and pure ability not seen in the other contestants tonight. But more than that, I believed every word she sang and felt it in every cell of her body. She’s a star. Kelly asked Lillie to take a seat from Lori.
At the end of the Over 25s, Jeff G., Rachel, James and Lillie go on to the next round. I don’t usually say this, but in this round Kelly had exactly the right picks.
While I’d normally recap all the performances of the night, I’m going to save my grades for the Girls until tomorrow night when we finish up their category. Only four sang on Wednesday and we have six more to go. Besides, I’ve always wanted to end a recap with a cliffhanger.