It oddly cannot seem to find its footing with some prominent online critics, but “The X Factor,” unequivocally, had delivered three consecutive performance shows that would be all-time classics by “American Idol” standards. The vocals were great, the performances entertaining and the judge/mentor dynamic intriguing.
That all came crashing down with Wednesday’s “rock week,” in which virtually no one seemed willing to comply with theme. The exaggerated tension between the judges transitioned from “engaging” to “annoying.” And no one, not even those who got positive feedback from the judges, seemed to be on his or her game.
Given the tendency of music competition series to define genres by “lists,” it should have been obvious the rock theme was going to be underwhelming. “Rock,” in authoritative music circles, is viewed especially broadly, with seemingly non-rock names like Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye constituting “rock.”
As long as the mentors and contestants could point to the wide variety of artists in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the broad array of songs on Rolling Stone’s greatest songs of all time (presumed to be a “rock” categorization), there would be no compulsion for the “X Factor” performers to strictly adhere to the music that most in the mainstream define as rock. There would be no pressure to limit the catalogue to songs from artists like The Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Van Halen, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the like.
Instead, we had Chris Rene cover Bob Marley. Astro channeled Puff Daddy. Stacy Francis performed a number best known as a Celine Dion adult contemporary ballad. And even though Simon’s girls Melanie Amaro and Drew technically covered songs by rock artists–R.E.M. and U2, respectively–they covered already borderline songs (“Everybody Hurts” and “With or Without You” are hardly the most-rocking songs in the bands’ libraries) in their own, decidedly-unrock styles.
And so even if the vocals and stage shows were good (and, far moreso than any “X Factor” episode to date, they were not), the show would have been a disappointment. The song choices felt lazy and complacent; the energy one would hope to experience from a rock theme was nowhere to be found.
Immature bickering from the judges didn’t help. While the “competition” between the mentors can be exciting and is, in theory, a main source of entertainment on the show, the four panelists are still ultimately supposed to be “judging.” On Wednesday’s show, all but Paula, who only has one of her own acts still in the competition, appeared willing to resort to “spite,” seemingly rooting their criticism in dissatisfaction with how the other mentors were evaluating the show.
Negativity aside, did anyone rock? The rankings are as follows:
Josh Krajcik – The Pretender – The only true “rock” performance of the evening, Krajcik sort of wins by default. In reality, the vocals were rougher than they should have been, particularly at the beginning. Still, “rockers” on the shows often come across as immensely cheesy and insincere, and Krajcik was anything but. He didn’t necessarily seem like a millionaire recording artist with this number, but he also did not feel like he was, himself, “the pretender.” This was a credible, entertaining rock number.
Astro – I’ll Be Missing You – Though based on a faulty premise (I’ll Be Missing you is not the same song as Every Breath You Take; it is a bit absurd to act as if performing the Puff Daddy hip-hop song is every bit as “rock” as performing the Police number that it samples), Astro seemingly cannot not entertain. His original lyrics are not always brilliant, but they are always sincere and fun, and his energy and star quality is undeniable. He seems to sing even more poorly than most rappers on the choruses, but when he’s in his element, he is damn good.
Marcus Canty – Piece of My Heart – Marcus is a damn good performer, and his “slide underneath all the women” move was a sight worth seeing. He sounded fine enough vocally, but all the edge of the original was gone. It just felt too smooth and neutered, and while that is consistent with what would work for Marcus as an artist once the show ends, it is not exactly what was desired of rock night.
Drew – With or Without You – This was thoroughly un-rock. Drew completely sang this in her own style–avoiding the “power build” that actually makes this U2 number a rock song. At the same time, the beauty of her voice did shine through, and this was a far more believable and haunting performance than last week’s “Fix You” stumble. Drew is giving her fanbase what it wants, but she absolutely will need to show something else in order to survive once the competition moves into the very late rounds.
Melanie Amaro – Everybody Hurts – In addition to making this as smooth and polished as possible, Melanie also seemed uninterested in making any sort of connection to the song–this was a vocal performance, not a stage/television performance. That noted, her voice is still gorgeous and powerful, and on a night when many failed to put their best foot forward vocally, she still belongs in the upper tier.
Rachel Crow – Satisfaction – In a case of “what the hell were the judges watching,” all four judges gave this one a standing ovation. Why? She sounded okay, and the performance was cute, but this was every bit “an adorable little kid singing a rock song” and every bit not “a $5 million pop artist killing it on stage.” Rachel proved she can indeed sing last week…this was a huge step back into “American Juniors” territory. It ranks higher than some of the other performances because it didn’t notably “suck” in any category–it just underwhelmed in all of them.
Lakoda Rayne – Your Love/Go Your Own Way – I want to like them. They try hard. They’re fun. They’re gorgeous. And they represent something that’s absolutely missing in American music–the girl group. But this was just a mess. Hayley, who has a great look and definitely likability, does not have a great voice, perplexingly reprised her role as the lead singer. This always sets the group off on the wrong foot. Even as the mash-up continued, it never really carried any “punch” and always felt inferior to the original two songs. Worse, the choreography was a mess–the four girls inexplicably moved away from the center of the stage to thrust some male backup dancers into the spotlight. The cameras actually failed to find Lakoda Rayne for a few seconds. And, when they did, they revealed the extent to which the girls were out of sync, literally dancing to the beats of their own drums.
Leroy Bell – We’ve Got Tonight – As always, Leroy sounded fine. But “fine” is bad for rock week. His vocals were utterly boring and detached, and he seemed to be moving aimlessly around the stage. There is no way this guy spent his whole life wanting to be a rock star, because the second he got his chance, he froze up like an absolute amateur. A very disappointing showing for Bell, who seemed totally in his element the week prior.
Chris Rene – No Woman, No Cry – This was just terrible. The Bob Marley song felt completely out of place on the show, and even if one ignores that fact, he could not possibly like Chris’ painfully-uninspired vocals. This guy was so awesome in his initial audition, but with him finding himself unable to reproduce the sincerity of that moment, he is running into trouble. His vocals are too limited to create a great performance when the emotional honesty is not there to compensate.
Stacy Francis – It’s All Coming Back to Me – What happened to her? Her brilliant audition performance, along with what seemed like immense likability and a wonderful underdog spirit, was used to promote “The X Factor” to potential viewers. Yet since the live show has started, she has been vocally-uninspired, emotionally-unattached and seemingly plagued by a bad attitude. This was a miserable song choice sung miserably with no personality and excitement, and yet when the judges called her out, she maintained this evil, unlikable scowl. Is it possible she doesn’t know how awful she’s been these past few weeks?
Who Will Go Home?:
Voters have not at all been kind to groups, and while it seems somewhat unlikely all three groups will be eliminated in a row, Lakoda Rayne definitely did not make a compelling case to stay.
Still, one would have to assume that Leroy Bell, Chris Rene and Stacy Francis are all just as likely to end up in that bottom group. No one, except for maybe Astro, has been consistently-dominant enough to make an elimination at this stage of the game “unfair,” but it would be surprising if the contestant sent packing is not one of the aforementioned four.