|If you’re a contestant on X-Factor this week, are you more excited to still be in it, making it through the auditions and Las Vegas, or are you more excited to be going to the home of one of the judges, the person who will serve as your mentor throughout the competition? One week they’re someone who has always had the dream to be a recording star, but has been living an everyday existence, and now they’ll be spending time at Simon Cowell’s home, or Paula Abdul’s, Nicole Scherzinger’s, or L.A. Reid’s. It has to be mind-boggling for them.
After waiting an entire extra day because of the baseball playoffs, we learn the group category are headed to Paula’s house in Santa Barbara, the Boys under 30 are heading to L.A.’s place in the Hamptons, the Over 30s are headed to Nicole’s place in Malibu, and the Girls under 30 are headed to Simon’s place in France. Hmmm. Who made out better here? Frankly, I’d rather be in any of those places than where I am now, and the contestants probably feel the same. But France has a certain extra allure over Santa Barbara. Rachel Crow, 13, of Boulder, Colorado asks how many girls her age get to say they’re going to France.
The girls, Rachel, Caitlin Koch, Tora Woloshin, Simone Battle, Drew Ryniewicz, Jazzlyn Little, Melanie Amoro, and Tiah Tolliver, who don’t know who their mentor will be yet, arrive in France, and they pose for pictures in front of the Eiffel Tower, of course, Rachel is hoping someday they’ll get to live here when their careers take off. The eight girls meet Simon, and everyone is happy. He tells them this is absolutely the category he wanted, as he knows the winner is one of them.
In Santa Barbara, the groups arrive and try to figure out who it is that lives in this palatial mansion. They include The Stereo Hoggz, 2Squar’d, 4Shore, The Brewer Boys, Illusion Confusion, and Anser, and the two new groups formed from other acts, Intensity, and Lakoda Rayne. Paula feels there is no one better than her to work with them, as she has built a whole career out of choreography and staging. She greets them all with a hug. A member of 2Squar’d mentions that Paula represents everything a woman wants to be, and I’m not sure what that means.
The Over 30s, Elaine Gibbs, Tiger Budbill, Leroy Bell, James Kenny, Josh Krajcik, Christa Collins, Dexter Haygood, and Stacy Francis, arrive in Malibu. Leroy thinks it must be Simon’s house they’re at, as it’s the biggest house in the neighborhood. Instead, it’s Nicole’s, and she mentions she loves this category, as each of them have a story to tell. They meet her and are a little less bubbly than than the Girls under 30. Tiger thinks Nicole is the only one of the judges that knows what they’re going through, as she came up and made it to the top. He’s old enough that he should remember Paula’s chart-topping hits. She did make it to the top and has fought hard since.
In the Hamptons, the Boys under 30, Brennin Hunt, Brian Bradley, Skyelor Anderson, Nick Voss, Tim Ciphers, Phillip Lomax, Marcus Canty, and Chris Rene, are living it up. This is how Marcus wants to live. L.A. figures pound for pound, they have the most talent. They’re excited to see L.A. is their their mentor. Phillip is worried his style is a little different than what L.A. is looking for, and Chris just feels blessed.
Each judge has another person from the music industry to help them shape this talent. Nicole and the Over 30s get help from Enrique Iglesias. It’s going to be hard for Christa to focus, because he’s just so pretty. He explains when Nicole invited him, he was extremely happy, because they get along, are good friends, and have worked together in the past. For him it’s about the uniqueness.
Paula’s guest is Pharrell. Some, as well as me, seem to have no idea who this guy is, but others are ecstatic just at the mention of the name. Simon’s special guest was supposed to be Mariah Carey, but because of Hurricane Irene, her plane didn’t take off, leaving Simon to judge the girls on his own. L.A. introduces his special guest, Rihanna. L.A. is the one who originally signed her. He definitely has an eye for talent, doesn’t he?
Brian, 14, of Brooklyn, is the first to perform for L.A. and Rihanna. He was impressed with him during his audition, but felt later in Boot Camp he was too young. A lot of people told him he wasn’t going to make it far because he was a rapper, but to be top eight in his category, it tells him he’s talented. He thinks this house looks like the perfect one for himself and his mom to live in. He’s practicing every single night, because he wants to make it to the live shows. He even practiced after his mom told him to stop. L.A.’s backyard is missing some acoustics. It’s hard to hear Brian over the music track.
Rihanna and L.A. seem like they’re enjoying Brian. Rihanna has a hard time commenting after, but does say he’s cute, like a mini J-Cool. She likes his confidence, and can’t believe he’s just 14. L.A. knows the country has never judged a rapper in this type of environment, and is worried he’ll be seen as a novelty.
Simone, 22, of L.A., has seemed to be more into being a star than a singer. Regardless, she’s wanted to be a singer since she was 4. She forgot her words in her last performance, and wants to be sure she’s on point this time. She sings the Beatles’ Help, and adds her own spin, slowing it down quite a bit. I’ve never liked her as much as I do now. However, the song does tend to drag a little. She admits afterwards that her voice cracked a few times because she was so nervous,
Simon isn’t truly doing this alone. He’s getting some insight from vocal coach Savan Kotecha and producers Graham Stack and Ray Hedges. They discuss how badly Simone messed up. It doesn’t bother Simon, though, as he feels the crack added to the emotion of the performance. He just thinks she’s fantastic.
|Paula and Pharrell address the groups, telling them it’s going to be difficult to decide which four acts to keep. She tells them, “Damnit, just bring it.” First up is Anser, who have grown up as best friends. They were at the back of a cattle call line, but have made it this far. They all feel like fish out of water, growing up in the Mormo-heavy Salt Lake City. They are setting out to prove the recording contract belongs to them.
Pharrell points out that one of them has decided to not wear his glasses that he thought was cool. They sing Less Than Perfect. It changes the whole feel of the song to be done a cappella and a group. Pharrell says the kids with the glasses, or lack thereof, is the monster.
Enrique tells the Over 30s that he’s in his 30s, and knows they’re at the point where they’ve seen it all and lived through the rejection. Now it’s time for them to just go for it. First up is Dexter, 49, a bar singer from Memphis. He has struggled some in that he always has to be emulating someone else. He’s struggled in his life, but music has always been the thing that kept him alive. He came from that to here, and thought it was gone and that he was washed up. it’s why he gives it his all. He mixes up those James Brown and Mick Jagger personas this time.
Nicole mentions Dexter made it his own, but she would have liked to have heard the song a little more. Enrique calls him entertaining, and figures he could kill it if in his element. Dexter knows he missed some lyrics, but thinks he’ll be moving on, yet cries to host Steve Jones, saying he wants to be the best. Steve tells him it’s not over yet.
Skyelar, 16, of South Haven, Mississippi, is the next to face L.A. and Rihanna. He had his music cut out in his original audition, and just kept going, not missing a beat, impressing the judges. He’s been through a lot – watching his father die of cancer, then losing his brother when he was shot nine times during a robbery. His dream is to be the youngest black country singer. He sings Nobody Knows It But Me, and could be better, but L.A. seems to really be feeling it.
Rihanna feels the dimensions of his voice are incredible and that he has a lot to work with and just needs to be polished. L.A. wonders if he chose country as a genre, or if he’s an authentic country singer.
Next up in the Girls under 30 is Torah, 21, a student from Tucson, Arizona, who is working on getting her automotive technology degree, thought singing is definitely her focus. She wants to eventually build race cars on a race track as well. This has been her dream, though, since she could walk and talk. She’s having a little bit of trouble memorizing the lyrics and feels like shes’s losing it. She sings (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction and does well with it, not messing up the lyrics.
Simon nodded along with the performance, and can I just note that he looks kind of cute sitting in his jeans and barefoot on a couch outside? He tells the other guys she sounded like a little rock star, yet for him, there’s something that just doesn’t quite get to him.
Next up in front of Paula and Pharrell is Lakoda Rayne, a group put together from four solo acts. They panicked when first finding out they were becoming a group, and one girl walked off saying she wasn’t going to do it, because her heart was saying no, but she felt like she was letting them down. Thinking about it more, she changed her mind. They all flew in and got together at Cari’s house and worked on their group. Lakoda means allies, friendship, and unity, and Rayne means blessings from above. They’re worried today, as it’s their first performance together.
Lakoda Rayne sings Born This Way and really do sound like a solid group together. The struggle for them will be to be a group and not just four solo artists singing together. They’re all cute girls, though, and could do really well as a girl group. It’s too bad Nicole isn’t mentoring them, as she’d know how to get that done. Pharrell knows it must be tough to be thrown together like this. Paula mentions they were believable as the sum of all parts.
Stacy Francis, 42, a stay-at-hom mom from L.A., is next to sing for Nicole and Enrique. She had a little bit of hope after her crowd-pleasing audition, and realized she might just have a shot. This has shown her the possibilities of what life can give her. To think she could actually belong in this environment is baffling, as she borrowed the dress and shoes she’s wearing. She needs to make it happen. She sings Purple Rain and sounds like she’s already a professional. Enrique looks like he might be getting tears in his eyes, and I think I saw a “what” or “wow” come out of him. Nicole’s neighbors must be loving this concert.
Stacy breaks down after and says this is everything to her and she doesn’t want it to end here. Nicole tells Enrique she doesn’t understand, because she has all this talent, but will only be as great as her fears and insecurities.
|Paula and Pharrell are going to hear The Brewer Boys next. The older brother is more like the goofy guy and social butterfly, which the younger brother admits is the complete opposite of him. They sing at local events. They’re singing a Rihanna song, Only Girl in the World, interestingly enough, so it’s a shame they’re not at L.A.’s place. It’s definitely a different take on the song, but I have to admit, it’s my favorite performance of theirs.
Pharrell tells Paula the Brewer Boys are good, but there are people coming in there where the harmonies are a prerequisite. I’m not sure if he means that in a bad or good way for them. Paula notes it sometimes isn’t good enough.
Phillip Lomax, 22, a student from Seattle, is also doing a Rihanna song, except he’s actually performing for Rihanna and L.A. He’s rearranged Please Don’t Stop the Music completely, which makes him a little nervous. He’s worried that his Sinatra-type style isn’t something L.A. is looking for. He finds his place with this song, but I do prefer him on the Sinatra-type hits.
L.A. notes the Sinatra rendition of Rihanna’s song, and she admits it was very charming. Phillip was very sure about what he was doing with this rendition. Phillip tells Steve the only thing he can do is his absolute best. L.A. knows he’s attempting to do something that’s original, but he’s not sure if it will work commercially.
In Malibu with Nicole and Enrique is Elaine Gibbs, 53, of L.A. She sings for birthday parties, weddings, corporate events, etc. She finds being here in the judges’ homes gives her confidence, as it’s almost at the forefront. She sings Stop Crying Your Heart Out, and is another that makes you question why she is 53 and has this huge talent, but has never gone anywhere with it. Nicole asks Enrique if he thinks she’s a superstar, and he thinks her confidence could make her a star.
Caitlin Koch, 21, a rugby coach from Buffalo, is up next at Simon’s house. I don’t know what it is about her, but she’s always surprising to me. She started singing in church when she was young, and this could be a huge life-changing opportunity. She sings Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow with a definite pureness. She just has a quality that makes you love her, even though you expect to be able to just pass her by. Her performance ends up being naked somewhat as she ends it in near tears, pulling some emotion out. Simon tells the other guys her performance was fantastic, and that he loved the phrasing and the way she brought the song up.
Nick Voss, 22, forgot his lyrics in Boot Camp, but still made it here. He wants to show them he can overcome it. He’s been told it’s too hard, and that he’ll probably never have the opportunity to do what he wants to do, but he can’t do anything else. He doesn’t belong anywhere else but on the stage. He sings Everybody Wants to Rule the World and starts it very weakly, but finds his place with it in the chorus. It’s definitely not an improvement on the original.
Rihanna asks L.A. how this performance stacked up to his others. L.A. admits he was better before. He notes they have a $5 million prize, so he needs to be of that caliber. Nick tells the others, though, that he was hitting it in his zone.
4Shore, ages 21-13, of Virginia Beach, are up next to perform for Paula and Pharrell. L.A. had originally told them that he was proud of them, and Boyz II Men would be as well, after they performed their hit. They’ve shared this dream since they were kids. It’s extremely important for them to make it to the last shows. The worst thing possible would be for someone else to run in front of them and win the race. They sing If You Love Me and sound great while pulling off some good choreography.
Paula wanted more, and wanted 4Shore to keep going. She notes they sound so refined, she wants to “dirty it up a little bit.” Pharrell sees that as the only con, that they need to dirty up their style. They’re very technical, but they need to bring songs to life. The group tells Steve they laid it all out there.
It’s back to Malibu with Nicole and Enrique to hear James Kenney, 34, a waiter from West Hollywood. He compares performing to breathing. It’s something he needs to do. He has five jobs to make a living right now, and is also a daddy and husband. There have been some moments in the competition when he’s about to crack, as one word could change it all. This is not just about changing his life, but about getting the life that his children and wife deserve. It’s yet another Rihanna song, Russian Roulette. He has a lot of passion when he sings. The question is if it’s for his music, or his desire for a better life.
Enrqiue sees James in a Maroon 5 type of environment and totally sees him being like a rock star. This makes Nicole question if he’s a solo artist, and if he can do it without a band. James tells Steve he was emotionally connected on every level and did the best he could with what he has.
Last up for the night is Drew Ryniewicz, 14, of Chino Valley, Arizona. She’s the big Bieber fan. She loves France and is so excited to be here, as she’s from a small town. This is so important to her and she wants it so badly. She has been praying her butt off. For Simon, she sings It Must Have Been Love, and there is something so pure and simple and sweet about this performance. It’s almost uncomfortable to see this young girl so … naked.
Simon tells the other guys it was amazing that she’s only 14 years old. Savan, the vocal coach, notes they need to define that special tone in her voice. One of the producers says that he believes Drew is still too young. Simon just says, “Yeah, it breaks your heart.” Well, what does that mean? Good or bad?
We’ll see the rest of these performances at the judges’ homes in a special Sunday night airing. This is because of the baseball playoffs that delayed Wednesday night’s show to Thursday night. Make sure those DVRs are set!
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