When the live performance shows began on “The X Factor,” Headline Planet declared their superiority to even the best live “American Idol” shows. In recent weeks, that assessment has become less and less accurate–several of the key performers have actually regressed in recent weeks, and true “moments” on the show have become almost non-existent.
The Michael Jackson-themed episode generally followed true to that disillusioned reality; for proof of how mediocre the show was, just look at how little excitement and emotion any of the performances generated from the Jackson family members that were in attendance. This was not a great night for “The X Factor.”
Interestingly, it did bring some redemption for Drew, an early frontrunner who had lost her way in recent weeks, bottoming out with a vocally-atrocious rendition of Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper.” This week, she served up a somber, emotional version of “Billie Jean,” even more so than David Cook’s acclaimed cover of Chris Cornell’s cover of the song, and scored.
Josh Krajcik went in the opposite direction. After stealing the show with a stripped-down version of “Wild Horses” last week, he fell very flat on “Dirty Diana.” Though it was nice to see him with the guitar, the performance was so over-produced and over-choreographed that one could barely tell there was even a vocalist on stage. He could not have seemed less comfortable and connected to the song.
Of course, given the judges’ tendency to distract from actually discussing the performances, it is nearly impossible to determine how they will be perceived by “X Factor” viewers.
This week, for instance, the gameplan seemed to be to throw Simon’s two young contestants under the bus, perhaps to squash sentiment that Simon’s contestants are “favored” by the show. Drew seemed to get worse feedback for her brilliant take on “Billie Jean” than her awful take on “Skyscraper,” which is just astounding. And while Rachel Crow did deserve her negative marks, it was not like she was the only one who underwhelmed.
How did the contestants match up? Rankings follow:
Melanie Amaro – Earth Song – Though Drew’s performance was more beautiful and seemed far more meaningful towards her run on the show, Amaro’s take on “Earth Song” just felt far bigger and more fitting for “The X Factor.” She always brings it vocally–and this time, she really got into the song, showing the passion and energy required to be a true star performing artist. As with “The World’s Greatest,” the arrangement was heavy on background vocals at times, but her stage command was impossible to ignore.
Drew – Billie Jean – Emotional, poised and powerful, Drew’s affected diction and singing style absolutely worked here. There is always something stunning about Drew’s tone, especially given her age, but this one actually showed some true vocal chops–she was not simply using a folk style to compensate for weak technical ability.
The lyrics, themselves, were not at all relevant for a 14-year-old girl, but in terms of “making a connection,” she did as well as could be expected.
The judges’ comments could not have been more misguided; Drew was actually criticized for not moving around, simply because it was Michael Jackson week and MJ was a great performer. This, on a night in which usual standouts struggled by trying to do too much on stage.
Chris Rene – I’ll Be There – The sung vocals on “I’ll Be There” ranged from “not good” to “surprisingly alright” and the weird varsity jacket and hairstyle seemed out of place, but the confidence, poise and emotion truly clicked–this was a star’s performance. The arrangement was also so pure and honest, making for a totally-believable and compelling performance from the “Young Homie” singer.
Obviously, Rene’s technical limitations make his status on the show forever uncertain, but as a standalone performance, this was definitely one of the more enjoyable Wednesday night.
Marcus Canty – PYT – Marcus looked like a star and throughout some confident dance moves, but the vocals were really not special at all. Moreso than almost any other reality competition contestant, Canty is able to do the over-the-top dancing without coming across as excessively cheesy, but at some point, the singing does have to matter. And so while Marcus might have looked the part of an Usher or Chris Brown, he sounded like an average music competition contestant.
Astro – Black or White – For the first time thus far, Astro’s act felt really stale. In prior performances, Astro showed a lot of personality and flexibility as an artist, delivering an honest interpretation of classic rap songs. This week, he seemed to phone in a beat, and the lyrics were far from his best to date. He still, arguably, has more star quality and marketability than anyone in the competition, but this was not the kind of performance that shows off his talent beyond his years.
Josh Krajcik – Dirty Diana – What else is there to say? This performance just didn’t work. Whereas “The Pretender” clicked because he was out, front and center, as a convincing rock star, this performance had absolutely no emotion whatsoever. The provovcative dancers, while perhaps relevant to the song, were not consistent with Josh’s image as a performer–nor even the image he comfortably projected Wednesday night. And the vocals were just there–drowned out by the musical production and hefty visuals.
Rachel Crow – Can You Feel It – This was just awful. She seemed stiff on stage, her vocals bordered on painful, and there was no emotional connection whatsoever. In certain instances, Crow has shown that her voice far eclipses what should be expected of someone her age, but this was not one of those instances. This was a teenager performing mediocre karaoke.
Two acts will be eliminated Thursday night.