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There’s a lot of singers and performers to recap today, so I won’t waste too much time on the intro. But here’s the basic gist: each coach has four contestants, which they will now have to whittle down to three after each performs. Because it’s been a few weeks, I’ve recapped each performance but also included a brief reminder of how each did at the last round, the Four Chair Challenge.
Ellona Santiago: * * *
17-year-old Ellona came out of the gate rearing to go with a rendition of Britney Spears’ “Till The World Ends.” Backed by a gaggle of back-up dancers and a heavily produced drum-machine-and-synth heavy track, Ellona looked pretty close to a professional pop singer. But I found myself focusing more on the production and less on her vocals, which were a bit out of breath and mildly forgettable. That being said, the judges loved her with Kelly saying she was “on fire.”
Four Chair Challenge Recap: Ellona sang ”Clarity,” which allowed us to focus more on her performance, but there was still something unmemorable and disconnected about her.
Danie Geimer: * * * *
Danie’s one of my favorites and I thought her vocals on “Wrecking Ball” were wonderfully nuanced and strong. She reeled in that big ol’ soulful voice of hers just enough to show her vulnerability and control. But, once again, the judges disagreed. They felt she wasn’t in it to win it (as Idol’s Randy Jackson liked to say) and too low energy. But I disagree. Perhaps this is just my personal musical leaning, but I’d rather see a true artist and musician like Danie than a wannabe pop star like Ellona who is more focused on the choreography and outfits than vocal technique. Harsh? Maybe. But I just adore Danie and, watching her sing, was worried about her future on the show (but more on that later).
FCC Recap: Like I said, Danie has one of my favorite types of voices and showcased it very well on ”Georgia On My Mind.” Perhaps the song was too safe, and perhaps she lacked a bit of stage presence, but I was digging the Ingrid Michaelson vibe.
Rion Page: * * ½
It’s tough to sing a judges’ song, especially “Skyscraper,” which is a surprisingly difficult power ballad. We all know Rion’s a great vocalist and amazing performer, but her countrified take on Demi’s track seemed off. I think I blame the song – it was right on her vocal break line (between the chest and head voice) – which made it feel a bit like a vocal high-wire act; a pitchy high wire act that wasn’t exactly helped by the Hurricane Sandy-strength industrial fans blowing in her face. It wasn’t bad, but it was Rion’s worst performance to date. The judges seemed to hear something different and called her “amazing” and “brilliant.”
FCC Recap: Hey, everyone’s allowed a bad day. Last time we heard Rion sing she was blowing the top off of Rascal Flatts’ ”I Won’t Let Go.” She’s a born performer with better vocal control than many folks three times her age.
Khaya Cohen: * * * ½
Going into this round, Khaya was my favorite girl. “Mercy” might have been a safe song choice for the teenage retro soul singer, but she sang it very well. At this point, I feel like Khaya needs to take more risks vocally and loosen up quite a lot onstage, but she has truckloads of potential.
FCC Recap: Khaya’s best outing was her Four Chair Challenge performance of ”Locked Out Of Heaven,” which let the teen’s smoky, soulful voice shine.
After all four girls sang, Demi sent Danie home leaving Ellona, Rion and Khaya in the competition. If I ran the zoo, I would have kept Danie and dropped Ellona like a hot (and fairly average) potato, but X Factor usually picks style over substance, so it’s no shock they went with energy and performance over pure vocal prowess.
Josh Levi: * * ½
Remember that I just said X generally favors style over substance? Josh’s “Only Girl In The World” was all glitz and glam but he was totally lost in the middle of dancers, strobe lights and the thumping club beat. When you could actually hear Josh, he sounded like every other R&B crooner. Not a ton to critique here, but not a lot to fawn over either. Demi said he had a “lot of potential” but I feel like it’s just a little too little too late in the potential department.
FCC Recap: That all being said, it was miles better than his warbly, off-key take on ”I Can’t Make You Love Me.”
Carlos Guevera: * * *
I don’t know Carlos’ song, “Don’t Worry Child” by Swedish House Mafia, but I don’t think he sang it very well. I love Carlos, he’s one of the best in the competition so far, but this performance was muddy, horse and just plain off. Maybe he was uncomfortable with the song and maybe he was uncomfortable because the camera kept hovering dangerously close to his face, but it was his weakest to date. I still like his voice, but he needs some vocal work and some diction lessons too.
FCC Recap: Carlos’ last song, ”Ain’t No Sunshine,” had a lot of great grit and style (plus a pretty flawless flip into falsetto).
Carlito Olivero: * * * ½
Instead of being swallowed up by the production and dancers, Carlito embraced it on Carlos Santana’s “Maria, Maria.” He’s still a tad bland and mass produced, but I’m starting to get his Latino pop idol appeal. Besides, this was his best performance to date, so I understand why Simon said, “out of everyone...you're the one I’d sign to my record label."
FCC Recap: Carlito’s choice of Selena’s ”Dreaming Of You” was smart, but his vocals were unpolished and unremarkable.
Tim Olstad: * * * *
Tim is a no frills kinda guy. Standing alone on the stage and singing Bon Jovi’s “Always,” his voice soared. I’m not sure he stands out, his stage presence is nowhere near some of the others, but on pure vocal talent (which is what I primarily judge on), he’s at the top of the boys. It did remind Simon of a funeral, but I’m not sure if that says something about Simon’s taste or mine. It seems I tend to drift towards those with less shtick and energy but more raw talent.
FCC Recap: It may have been funeral-like to Simon, but it was at least sung much better than ”The Climb,” which was terribly shaky and pitchy.
After all four boys sang, Paulina sent Josh home leaving Carlos, Carlito and Tim in the competition. Unlike Demi’s choice, this one I wholeheartedly support.
The Over 25s
Lillie McCloud: * * * * ½
Let’s get this out of the way; going into this show Lillie was the frontrunner by a long mile. Her performance of “When A Man Loves A Woman” didn’t need the wife-beater-wearing, cigarette-smoking dancers, but did wonderfully showcase her fantastic voice. I know she’s a contestant, but Lillie already seems like a diva and soul singing legend. As clichéd as it may be, I could listen to Lillie sing whatever the 21st century version of a phone book is. Simon, who I seem to be quoting far too often in this recap, said she was dated (perhaps, but why is that so bad here? Isn’t Lillie a throwback artist anyway?) and too “Broadway” (see rant about performers being too “musical theater” here).
FCC Recap: While I loved Lillie’s performance, I’d give a slight upper hand to her flawless take on
Jeff Gutt: * * * *
Jeff’s singing was a bit drowned out by the music and a little too affected, but his voice on “Try” by Pink was very solid. There were a few rocky, pitchy notes in his higher register, but he has presence, talent and range.
4CC Recap: As good as Jeff was this week, his ”Amazing Grace” was even better – so raw and beautiful.
Rachel Potter: * * * * ½
I really, really hoped Rachel would shine this week as her audition was stellar but her Four Chair Challenge performance was somewhere between sub-par and god-awful. I’m happy to report that Rachel is back with a vengeance! Singing a simple, acoustic version of “I Hope You Dance,” a song that could have easily read as middle-of-the-road karaoke, her smooth, clear, beautiful voice was able to shine. Her voice has wonderful control and, because Rachel has a background as an actress, she’s really able to convey a story well. While I loved Lillie, Rachel had the best vocal performance of the night.
James Kenny: * * * *
James is a talented singer: tight, controlled and with a good range. His take on “By Myself” by Daniel Merriweather was even somewhat memorable. But, pure and simple, James was out sung by some extraordinarily talented competitors.
FCC Recap: His ”Lean On Me” had a great easy, smooth tone to it but was a bit karaoke.
After all four Over 25s sang, Kelly sent James home leaving Lillie, Jeff and Rachel in the competition. Like I said, James was good but just out sung in the most talented group in the whole competition.
Roxxy Montana: * * ½
First off, isn’t Lorde’s “Royals” a critique of pop music commercialism rather than a fever dream about achieving stardom? OK, maybe I’m reading into Roxxy Montana’s throne-themed production too much. At the start, they sounded pretty but quickly got into a three-way vocal fender bender during the “I’ll rule” section of the song. They have some star power, but Roxxy needs more vocal panache and tighter harmonies.
FCC Recap: Their ”Man In The Mirror” seemed contemporary albeit a bit forgettable and without one standout moment. (Since I didn’t recap the group show due to a family engagement, I’ll give you my star rating from that show: * * *)
Sweet Suspense: * * * ½
One of Simon’s custom-made groups, Sweet Suspense, is a pretty decent girl group. Their cover of Icona Pop’s “I Don’t Care” was over-produced and too busy (I didn’t quite buy the bit with the doors), but they had great stage presence and pretty decent vocals. They need to make their harmonies a bit tighter and update their look and sound just a bit (I think they took that lyric about being a ‘90s girl a little too seriously), but SS is probably the best group so far.
FCC Recap: It started out wobblier than a broken bar stool, but Millie’s vocals helped get ”Wishing On A Star” back on track. (Last week’s rating would be have been: * * ½)
Alex & Sierra: * * * ½
America’s cutest couple took the stage again to perform a beachy, Jason Mraz-like cover of a pop song. I’m not sure their arrangement of “Blurred Lines” totally worked, it was a bit too laid back, but in a sea of overly-produced, glossy pop, Alex & Sierra are a welcome respite. While it’s not true that there’s “no one out there like [them]” on the market, they are breezy fun and worth keeping on the show.
FCC Recap: If you want to talk about out of left field acoustic arrangements, look no further than their ”You’re The One That I Want.” I’m actually pretty sure I’ve heard this arrangement before but the couple is cute and unassuming and adorably anxious. (Last week’s rating would be have been: * * *)
Restless Road: * * *
Simon’s other group is Restless Road, a hunky country trio that seems tailor made for the masses. They sound fine – much better together than apart (the Scotty McCreary kid was super distracting while soloing) – but my biggest problem with Restless is that they seem too fabricated and calculated. Perhaps if they sounded better on a country-infused “Roar” I’d complain less, but the harmonies were tentative and off.
FCC: Their last song choice, ”Somebody Like You,” was much better but again they seemed too radio ready and commercial. (Last week’s rating would be have been: * *)
After all four Groups sang, Simon sent Roxxy Montana home leaving Sweet Suspense, Alex & Sierra and Restless Road in the competition. While my stance on Restless has been well stated, I think they’ll have better longevity than Roxxy.