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'The X Factor' recap: Emotional moments, a brewing conflict

September 29, 2011 |  8:23 am

X Factor

"The X Factor" has its mojo back. After last week's impressive premiere was followed by a woefully weak second episode, Simon Cowell's new singing-talent competition appeared to regain its footing Wednesday night, when the show swept through Chicago and Seattle. (I'd make fun of how host Steve Jones pronounced the name of the former if I could figure out how to type with a Welsh accent.)

It wasn't so much that the talent that marched across the audition stage in each city was so fantastic –- though, as a whole, what we were shown wasn't bad –- as that the producers showed they had a knack for a back story. The way a mother nervously primped and fussed before sending her son to face the judges, the way a father kneeled as if in grateful prayer after his teenage daughter appeared triumphant, the way a male half of a duo gazed lovingly at his singing partner, who seemed only vaguely aware of his intent look and its emotional import: These are the moments that drew us in, prompted a smile or a streaked tear, and made us want to keep watching.

Unfortunately, though, late in the episode, after Nicole Scherzinger replaced Cheryl Cole as the second female judge, an irritating conflict emerged at the judging table, one that I hope will not settle in for the season: boys against girls.

Cowell griped to the camera that the two women then at the table -– Scherzinger and Paula Abdul –- were prejudging attractive women (regardless of talent) and declining to put them through, revealing that he and fellow male judge L.A. Reid had started joking that these hot hopefuls were "D.O.A." This after Cowell shushed Abdul, saying "the grownups were talking," and compared a modestly talented candidate to the significantly talented Scherzinger. (Doubters should review her winning "Dancing With the Stars" run a few seasons back.)

Scherzinger responded to Cowell's dis by belting out "I Will Always Love You." But I fear the die is cast: The show will henceforth be edited to make Cowell and Reid look like pure sobriety, reason and sound judgment and Scherzinger and Abdul look like tasteless, easily threatened flakes. (See also last week's Scherzinger accent montage.) Male toughness will be portrayed as taste and experience, female toughness as competitive queen bee behavior.

That's just disappointing -– and not very pleasant to watch.

Regardless, the show had its moments. Here were the most memorable auditions:

Brock and Makenna: Makenna, the female half of this talented duet from Springfield, Mo., insists that she and Brock are just "good friends." But the camera keeps showing him looking at her longingly. He says when he thinks of her his "heart jumps out of his chest." "I love her, but she doesn't know it," he says, wistfully. "I think one day she'll know it. She'll learn." If she didn't know it before, she certainly does now.



Skyelor Anderson: This 16-year-old charmer from Mississippi wants to win the competition to help support his mom, who works in a motorcycle factory.

J. Mark Inman: This philosophy graduate student's highly unusual audition was riveting in its peculiarity.

Josh Krajcik: The biggest surprise of the night. This rumpled, 30-year-old burrito-slinger from Columbus, Ohio, with the adoring mom –- "He's so gifted and talented and cute and cool," she enthused -– had me expecting a trainwreck. Then he opened his mouth to sing Etta James' "At Last."



Drew Ryniewicz: This 14-year-old with the sweet, supportive family also had the markings of self-delusion –- what she really wants is a chance to sing with Justin Bieber, whose "Baby" she sang. But darn if she didn't impress me (and the judges) with her soulful rendition. And given that L.A. Reid is a direct connection to the Biebs, Ryniewicz might just get her wish.



Peet Montzingo: This uber-earnest 6-foot-2 son of two dwarves (his sister is also a dwarf) wants to fit in – and to be a famous teen heartthrob (despite the fact that he's now 21). Alas, he wasn't such a great singer and didn't make it through to the next round, but perhaps someone would like to sign his family up for a reality show? I'd watch it.

4Shore: This boy band from Virginia Beach harmonized well on Reid's "End of the Road." Cowell told them he could see them gaining worldwide fame and doing the U.S. proud.

Philip Lomax: An OK singer with a swagger and a killer smile, the judges seemed to put him through based on his charm alone.

Tiah Tolliver: It was when this full-lipped, throaty deli clerk, who sang without a backing track, took the stage for an attenuated audition that the judges' gender conflict reached its peak. Ultimately, though, she collected her three yeses (Abdul was unmoved) and moved on to the next round.

What did you think of the episode?

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-- Amy Reiter

Photo: J. Mark Inman of Westborough, Mass., performs on Wednesday's episode of "The X Factor." Credit: Ray Mickshaw / Fox.

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