X Factor USA 1.01 – L.A./Seattle Auditions

X-Factor – steak or sizzle? I’ve gotta tell you, it’s more sizzle than steak, but the sizzle is loud and smells favourably of bacon. Don’t knock the sizzle, my babies. Is the show full of sound and fury, signifying nothing? Shyeah! That’s the whole point. Well…nothing plus five million dollars.  The show starts off with a bang, showing us the massive crowd that showed up for the first day of auditions in Los Angeles; 20,000 screaming hopefuls with their hands and signs and ragged hopes waving in the air. 

Since this is the first show, I’ll recap the opening credits seeing how we’re all going to be fast forwarding through them from here on out. We start with Simon “The Truth Hurts” Cowell, modestly swaggering from his private jet to his black sports car, chest hairs waving gently in the breeze of his own hot air as he talks about leaving the number one rated TV show to start presumably the next number one rated TV show. If it’s not clear, I love Simon more than chocolate. After Simon comes L.A. Reid, modestly swaggering from his private helicopter to his chauffeured black SUV. He’s a big-shot music producer, and I’m trying not to hold it against him that he launched Justin Bieber’s career. He’s quit his uber-executive job to be here, but if it doesn’t work out I’m sure he can get a gig as a judge on Canada Sings. Next up is Cheryl Cole, and her heart is presumably as big as her hair. (Don’t like her too much, as she only lasts two measly days as a judge.) And then there’s Paula Abdul, dressed like she’s twenty-five and and ready to devour every young man she sees. It’s good to have you back, Paula. All in all, if they’re hoping to impress us…it worked. That’s a mighty big airplane you’ve got there, Simon.

Nevertheless, when the auditions start the judges are just as unnerved by the huge, rowdy audience as the contestants. The judges want to do well, too. Aww. The first audition is Rachel Crow, a 12 year old charming moppet. May I say that I hate charming moppets, and her precocious banter (I’m a girl! I need my own bathroom!) acts as a Portalesque repulsion gel for me. However, the girl can sing. She sings Mercy like she eats her breakfast every morning in front of five thousand people. It’s no wonder they picked her to go first. The judges adore her, and she’s through to the next round. Yay!

There’s time for a little RPF-inspiring banter between Simon and Paula (“She’s not being very nice to me.” “I am, too. I l-l-l-uh-uh-uhhhh…”. Spit it out, Paula. You know you love him.) Then it’s on to the next act. That’s Terrell Carter, a yummy num-num that the camera lovingly pans over from his long legs to his winning smile. Paula and and Cheryl are rendered googly-eyed; as Cheryl says coyly when he’s done, “You’ve got the package.” Heh, not that package, impressive as that may be. (Did I mention how big Cheryl’s hair is? Big enough to ask for a United Nations resolution for statehood. If you don’t understand that joke, please skip back to the part where I talk about that dude’s package.)

They go through a round of reasonably good singers who get through, one stand-out being John Lindahl, a 14 year old who shows off some fancy footwork. I can only image what boot camp week (or whatever they call it on this show) is going to do to a kid that age. He’ll be wetting his bed by Wednesday. They end the segment with an unforgettable fellow by the name of Siameze. He’s a Prince protege (one might say “rip-off” if one were uncharitable) right down to his sparkly purple high-heeled boots. His hair actually has aspirations of one day being as big as Cheryl Cole’s. Now, he’s not the best singer, but all he has to do is strip down to his baby blue mesh shirt and do the splits, and my heart is his. He whips his hair back and forth and crab-walks across the stage, much to the delight of the judges. He squeaks through to the next round, and I can definitely see myself loathing him at the very first hissy fit he throws. Is there group work on this show? If there is, I predict blood will be spilled.

It’s the next day in L.A. The first act is a married couple from Pahrump, Nevada. They’re 70 and 83, and are the equivalent of geriatric Elvis and Eartha Kitt. Let me say that I truthfully don’t like the “bad” acts shown just to make fun of them, especially when they devote ten freaking minutes to one bad act and fifteen seconds to the good acts. Anyway, the best bit (other than the fact they live in a place called Pahrump) is when they divulge that if they win they hope to do a tour of retirement homes across the U.S. in their RV. Snort! Then they sing badly and are gently sent home. Next! Now here come a string of stinkers hoping to get their 15 seconds of fame, the screamers and divas and nutbars, oh my.

Simone Battle sings next, and she’s a bit harder to judge. Her singing is stilted but adequate, but she’s also a hottie. Simon has a soft spot for hotties, as anyone who watched AI can tell you. L.A Reid doesn’t agree that she should be put through, and thus begins an epic Clash of the Titans. Simone and her red hot-pants do go through, but L.A. and Simon thereafter butt heads again and again over the worthiness of the contestants. I like this quite a bit. They’re both at the top of their games, and it’s nice to see even the masters don’t agree on what it takes to make it in today’s music business. I wouldn’t want to guess whose steroidal bodyguard would win in a fist fight if it ever came to blows.

The cameras go through the crowd asking the contestants what winning would mean to them, the better for us to feel bad when their hopes are crushed like the graham crackers for an agony pie crust. This show is all about manufactured emotions, and I’m okay with that. ::eats it up:: Enter Stacy Francis, who’s a 42 single mother who finally got out of an abusive relationship with a jerkwad who kept telling her she was too old and untalented to ever make it in the business until she believed it. I absolutely think a heartrending back story can propel a contestant farther than a happy one, but in this case, it doesn’t matter. Stacy is an amazing singer, and her life experience gives her singing more resonance than the hottest hot-pants. She gets a standing O and many mascara-y tears flow. Simon even says it’s one of the best auditions he’s ever seen, and that’s saying something. And that wraps up the L.A. auditions on a very high note indeed.

It’s the next day and the judges have moved on to Seattle. Cheryl Cole, meanwhile, has moved on altogether, having been replaced by Nicole Scherzinger. I won’t keep you in suspense: I thought Nicole was a better judge than Cheryl. She was a much stronger presence, louder, funnier, more entertaining. So there you go! I will miss Cheryl’s hair, though. Sad face. The first contestant they extensively showcase is Gio the idiot, and I’ll be damned if I’m going to give him any more attention than he’s already received. He sings badly, he drops his pants and shows off his wiener, and it makes Paula puke. It’s ridiculous. That about covers it.

Up next is Marcus Canty, who, they let us know, is a bouncy happy fella. That’s why they show him after his audition first, collapsed and crying on the stage. What could have happened?! Let’s fast forward through four minutes of commercials to find out. He tells the judges that his mom’s given him a strict limit of two years to try to make it in the music biz, and after that he’s promised her he’ll go to college and get a real job instead. He has, like, three hours left before the two years is up. Will he be any good, or is he going to end up a lab tech instead? Of course he’s good, silly. He does Stevie Wonder proud, and the female judges get up and dance. The audience reaction is so overwhelming that he does indeed fall over…and then instantly bounces back up, just fine. Ha! L.A. compares him to Bobby Brown, while Simon disagrees (of course) and compares him to Usher. Not so shabby! He’s a cutie and utterly likable, so we all feel good that he’s voted enthusiastically through.

It’s the second day in Seattle, and it’s also Nicole’s birthday. She’s pretty stoked about that, isn’t she? Maybe she’s hoping the audience will go out during lunch and buy her presents. Maybe they do! Simon gets her a cake with his picture on it, which is a lame-o fake joke but he’s still hot so all is forgiven.

The next act is The Anser (I don’t even), three guys who make up what they lack in singing ability with jaunty hipster hats and glasses and a can-do, rock-it-out attitude. Good enough for me. They’re from Utah, so…um…that’s not L.A. Or even Seattle. Run free, boys. Run free. I could definitely see them crashing and burning as the show progresses, but for now they gave Rolling in the Deep a fun makeover (because when I think of Adele, I do not instantly think of fun). For better or worse, all the contestants’ looks and stage presence matter just as much as their talent, so The Anser has a solid plan toward world domination: be cute and dance around like you own the place. It works, and the judges gladly vote them through.

Now there are more bad acts, with Nici Collins headlining. She’s shrieky and surly in turn, and they spend WAY too much time letting her rant. I did enjoy Darren Michael’s smarmy laugh, I admit. Heh-heh-heh-heh. It’s probably not as funny if you’re the woman he leeching off, I’m guessing.

The last contestant of the day is trash collector Chris Rene, and he has an excellent heartrending back story: he’s an ex-addict 70 days clean, with an adorable little boy and a dream. He sings an original song, which is usually the kiss of death in these situations, and…he has a beautiful voice. I’m not much for rap and hip-hop (I once mistook Vanilla Ice for Eminem, true story), but his tone is unique and memorable, and his home-made song is actually pretty good! The judges and audience (and I) fall in love with him by the time he’s done. The judges are thrilled to put him through, with the understanding that if he falls off the wagon, he’s out on his butt. Challenge tearfully accepted. As Simon says, “Maybe you need the show, maybe we need you.”

It’s an excellent ending to the episode, which I thought was fun to watch but (so far, at least) not much different from everything else out there. The judges had great chemistry, and I hope and pray they don’t get all weak-kneed when it comes time to bust some heads. And how did the host, Steve Jones, do? He was as bland as his name, neither interacting with contestants like Ryan Seacrest (unless you count silently standing beside family members and watching their loved one perform on a TV back stage), nor injecting himself into the festivities like Nick Cannon. He’s rather superfluous if you ask me; we’ll see if that changes in the coming weeks. The only time I even noticed him was when he pronounced the judge’s mood “cele-BRAT-ory” instead of “CELE-bratory”, which might be a UK thing, I dunno.

Onward and upward, my friends. See you tomorrow!