'The X Factor' recap: Our first visit to the judges' homes
If you're confused about "The X Factor's" schedule, here's the deal: The first judges' houses episode, which was supposed to air on Wednesday, aired Thursday instead, due to baseball rain delays. The second episode, originally scheduled to air Thursday, will now air Sunday night.
The extra day's wait may have contributed to my sense of vague disappointment in Thursday night's "X Factor," which really could more accurately have been dubbed the judges' lawns episode. (We got barely a glimpse inside the actual residences: a shot of Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger's gleaming kitchens here, the briefest toe-dip into L.A. Reid's family room there, and if we ever entered Simon Cowell's house, I wasn't left with any impression of it.)
But the lawns, oh, the lawns: chic decks, sumptuous swimming pools, breathtaking views, waterfalls, and acres of lush green grass.
At times, it was difficult to focus on the singing. (Scherzinger's incredible cliffside vista was particularly distracting.) And the tracks sometimes seemed a little overproduced (did they dub the voices in later?), almost canned.
The setup? The 32 remaining contestants, having been divided up into four categories – Boys, Girls, Over 30s and Groups – were shuttled to their judge/mentor's residences (big reveal!) to perform a song said judge/mentor had selected for them in front of the judge/mentor. A special guest judge was also invited to sit next to the judge/mentor, nod sagely and remark benignly on the performances.
The Groups got Abdul, whom they met outside her Santa Barbara home. She specializes in Groups, she informed them, ticking off band names whose hits came out before a lot of these contestants were born.
The Over 30s were assigned to Scherzinger, who, emerging to meet them in Malibu, acknowledged that they may have been disappointed to find her assigned to them, instead of one of the flashier judges. However, she pledged to commit herself "1,000%" to working on their behalf.
The Boys lucked out with L.A. Reid, in the Hamptons, who vowed to give them real attention and mentoring, despite the fact that he also has about a gazillion other commitments vying for his time and attention.
Oh, and the special guest judges? Scherzinger had Enrique Iglesias, Abdul had Pharrell, Reid had Rihanna and Cowell had … um … Cowell? "It was going to be Mariah Carey," he informed his baffled-looking charges. But thanks to Hurricane Irene, Carey was unable to make the trip, and instead, Cowell would be his own celebrity guest star.
Some of us may have briefly conjured images of several handlers holding a mirror up as Cowell smiled and pursed his lips at his own beloved reflection. Instead, three lackeys – vocal coach, music producers – acted as Cowell's mirror, kneeling at his feet to whisperingly agree with his every assessment.
OK, so the performances?
Young Brian Bradley, who says his nickname is the Astronomical Kid, or Astro for short, but whom I will forever consider the "Stop Looking at My Mom" Kid, did a retro rap. (Rihanna, whom Bradley boldly predicted he would "collab with" at some point, gushed, "He's so cute!")
Delusional lyric forgetter Simone Battle gave a forgettable performance in an unforgettable outfit, including a see-through skirt that Cowell seemed to particularly appreciate. "You look fantastic today," he said, leeringly, making me wish ever more fervently that this particular judge/mentor had been assigned to any other category.
The group the Anser performed, and it was difficult to figure out what Abdul and Pharrell thought, apart from Pharrell's clearly expressed desire that one of the guys go back to wearing his trademark red eyeglasses.
Scherzinger was apparently disappointed that she couldn't hear Dexter Haygood's voice more, but even if he'd been performing a cappella I wouldn't have heard a word he said: I was honestly afraid that he'd take a wrong step in those platform shoes of his and tumble right off Scherzinger's backyard cliff, making his journey from the depths of skid row to the peaks of Malibu a round trip.
Skyelor Anderson, the African American country singer with the sweet smile and the sweeter dedication to his mom, sounded vocally thin and off-key, though Rihanna complimented the "dimensions" in his voice.
Race-car devotee Tora Woloshin rocked her way through the Rolling Stones "Satisfaction," though how she imagined she'd forget the words to that song is somewhat mystifying.
Lakoda Rayne, a ridiculously named group made up of pretty young women who hadn't made the cut as soloists, stiffly performed "Born This Way" and then hooked their arms around each other and declared themselves to be "like sisters."
Stacy Francis, in a borrowed dress and shoes, poured her profusion of emotions into Prince's "Purple Rain" and left Scherzinger and Iglesias wondering if she'd be commercially marketable. (As if the show would drop her now after having invested so much in her story line!)
The Brewer Boys, brothers Nathan and Justin, finished each other's sentences, declared themselves to be the "complete opposite" of one another, flipped their identical hairdos in opposite directions, and then performed a song that left Abdul wondering if good is good enough.
Glinty-toothed, fedora-wearing crooner Phillip Lomax was tasked with performing a Rihanna song in front of Rihanna (it's one of many Rihanna songs we heard during this episode; someone negotiated a good deal, though you'd think that someone could also have taught the show's increasingly irritating host, Steve Jones, not to pronounce the star's name "Rihanner" or to describe her as "mega-hot" while talking to a little kid). Reid, who purportedly had assigned Lomax this unenviable exercise, seemed surprised (though not unamused) to find Lomax in such a position.
Elaine Gibbs, the soulful wedding singer, sang soulfully. Why haven't they given her a story line?
Angel-faced rugby player Caitlin Koch showed up wearing too much makeup and an uncomfortable-looking dress, but then -- "Oh my gah!" -- sang a raspily mesmerizing, if not soaring, rendition of "Will You Love Me Tomorrow."
Nick Voss, singing "Everybody Wants to Rule the World," again failed to impress me with his performance. And Rihanna didn't seem very taken with him either. An old photograph of him with full eyebrows and hair, however, was sort of impressive. I think he should ditch the overly creative styling, though arguably that trademark 'do and his Elvis body-shiver are what have gotten him this far.
The group 4Shore turned in a polished performance, making Abdul want to "dirty" them up.
James Kenney, a waiter/dad/accountant who is at the young end of the Over 30s spectrum, struck Scherzinger and Iglesias as a rock star. But could he make it as a solo artist, Scherzinger wondered? Or should he really be fronting his own band?
Then Drew Ryniewicz, who told us she'd been "praying my butt off" to do well, sat in a chair in front of Cowell and calmly turned in the best performance of the night. "14 – Amazing!" Cowell exclaims, giving us hope that talent may yet trump long legs in shear dresses in this category after all.
I'm looking forward to seeing more contestants perform for the judges on Sunday night.
And you? What did you think of the episode? Do you see any favorites emerging?
-- Amy Reiter
Photo: Music superstar and guest judge Rihanna meets with contestants on "The X Factor" airing Wednesday on FOX. Credit: Jeffrey Niera / Fox.