The types of reality shows I enjoy, are the ones where you watch people evolve. It’s the same satisfaction I get from building a character in a novel and taking them through a series of challenges so that they emerge stronger and more complex at the other end. So I tend to enjoy Dancing With the Stars and now, The X-Factor.
I have been more moved by the X-Factor than I ever was with American Idol. Perhaps it’s the show format that lends itself to such intrigue and emotional investment, but whatever the reason is, I’m hooked.
In general, the finalists in recent weeks have been outstanding, and deserved a shot. Though as the competition zeroes in, there are some who should have been cut earlier, some who should have stayed longer. With only 4 contestants left, the investment is richer, the payoff, huge. The winner of this contest will receive a 5 million dollar recording contract and star in their own Pepsi commercial. They are seeking that one performer who has the X-Factor–hence the name.
Last night, I watched my DVR recording of the elimination of two from the final 6, and have to say, it was the most emotionally intense of every episode so far. It managed to engender some strong responses in me. No one but the most hard-hearted of us would not have been touched by the emotion of Drew Ryniewicz, known simply as “Drew.” I wanted to gather her up in my arms and tell her everything would be okay. She’s young, she’s uber-talented, she’s unique in persona and in vocal style, and she has been weathering a storm of pressure and stress that the best of us would avoid even in our finest hour. I agreed with Paula Abdul, that her rendition of Billie Jean was her best vocal performance so far. It made me forget the drug-addicted, freak-show pedophile that made it famous, and that’s a good thing.
The fact that a young person like Drew (and Astro and Rachel, as well) can walk onto a stage in front of thousands of people, knowing millions were also watching at home, and deliver a near flawless performance without breaking down in tears, is in itself phenomenal. I couldn’t have done it and I was the lead singer and songwriter in two bands for 7 years. Praise must be heaped on any person, young or old, who can do that. That alone, is worthy of our respect and admiration.
Rachel Crow is impressive on a lot of levels. She seems particularly well-adjusted, has a great attitude and I believe a bright future in the music business. She hasn’t always nailed every note, but that’s not surprising since she isn’t exactly a seasoned performer. She does, however, have a sensibility, a wisdom, natural ability and a confidence rarely seen in one so young. And she’s from the great state of Colorado. Props.
Simon made a really good decision when he went back on his previous one and brought Melanie Amaro back to the competition. I don’t think I’ve heard anything but FLAWLESS out of her, and she has some pipes on her that most vocalists would kill for. She also has a natural stage presence, and the ability to sing more than one kind of music, which was one reason, I believe, that Stacy Francis had to go. I especially liked Melanie’s Virgin-Islands-Accent-Outing on stage a week ago, when she became verklempt and suddenly began sporting the Caribbean accent she had been hiding for fear of judgment.
Earlier contestants like Dexter Haygood, The Brewer Boys, LeRoy Bell, and Stacy Francis have a chance for careers, but only in niche markets that might not have much stamina. I was a little surprised that LeRoy stayed in as long as he did, because he was often flat, and seemed to stumble on things that challenged his range.
The last hold-out groups, Lakota Rayne, inTENsity and Stereo Hoggz were three completely different vocal styles, and I liked Lakoda Rayne the most, and feel they still have a place in the music industry. Stereo Hogz were multi-talented, great dancers and singers and performers, and also have a niche in the market. But inTENsity just sort of reminded me of the Brady Bunch and I’m not sure there’s a place for them or not. I’m a long way from the teeny-bopper crowd, and don’t exactly have my finger on that pulse. So Perhaps I’m wrong about them. I did notice that at least one of their singers was flat almost every time she performed.
Phillip Lomax was excellent, and I believe there is a market for him, even though he was compared to Frank Sinatra. Refer to Michael Buble, Harry Connick, Jr., Chris Issac. I’d enjoy listening to him on a lazy Saturday over a cocktail.
I cover the subject of rap in the next blog, but Brian Bradley, AKA “Astro” and Chris Rene, are the oddballs in this competition. Astro’s meltdown a few weeks ago only goes to show his youth, and the pitfalls of thrusting a youngster into a often-pressure-filled vocation. If Astro was an adult, his little fit of pique would have been inexcusable. He let his arrogance get in the way. Yet, while Astro is a more accomplished and natural rapper with incredible natural talent, but Chris Rene is the guy you want to support, because he’s trying so hard to change his life, and I admire that he’s pursuing his dream after getting off drugs. He also at least makes an effort to mix some singing into his act–which he’s not the best at, but he has a certain appeal, and definitely a lot of heart. Astro I believe had a lucrative career ahead of him and plenty of years to do it in, so I’m not concerned that he’s out of the competition. He’s young, and he’ll be signing a contract soon enough, if for no other reason than he’s unusually young to be that good.
Marcus Canty is another contestant who probably has a large degree of every element of the x-factor. He’s cute, he can dance, he’s a great vocalist and performer, he’s versatile, and he has a good personality. I have heard him hit a few sour notes, but overall, he’s consistently excellent.
If I were to judge the most qualified for that criteria at this point, I would have to say Josh Krajcik has the whole package. He is older, so more mature. He has a unique voice, but one that reminds us of other vocalists we admire like Ray Charles. Sometimes he sounds like Michael Bolton on crack. But in a good way. He plays guitar and piano, and demonstrated his skill at both on stage, nailing every song he’s been given, even if it was originally out of his usual comfort zone, genre or originally from a female vocalist. He’s not the best looking guy ever, and I wish he’d wash that sometimes-greasy hair, but other than that, I think this guy is actually the one who has the best chance of winning, all things considered, and assuming the viewing and voting public can keep all the criteria in mind.
The Show Itself
I think the show went astray a few times, sometimes in definition, sometimes in management. One of those instances was illustrated in the types of performers who competed against each other. Rappers vs. singers, groups vs. individuals, over-30’s vs. under-30’s.
I will cover the rap aspect in the next post, but a few words now, about the other competitors: while the format of including all these variations made it more interesting, it did not serve the fairness-aspect. How can you choose between a girl-group like Lakoda Rayne and a gospel-oriented singer like Stacy Francis? How can a 14-year-old rapper like Astro equitably compete with a 59-year-old crooner like LeRoy Bell? I imagine the show’s producers and creators hung their hat on the idea of the “X-factor” itself. They wanted to find a performer with that special combination of potential stardom. Good idea, in theory, but it carries its own form of futility.
Another faux pas would be the sniping judges. A few weeks ago, they began to get downright mean. The petty sniping and snarky posturing by the judges is a real buzz-kill. Can’t we all just get along? That behavior is both unnecessary and unprofessional, and they ought to reel that in.
Also, while I like the curmudgeonly Simon Cowell, and often (but not always) agree with his opinions, I feel he ought to reel in his arrogance, as well. It’s not pretty. Perhaps its intentionally to push ratings, and perhaps he’s expected to be that way, but I just think it’s more harmful than helpful. I was shocked last night, though, when he accepted full responsibility for Drew’s exit. He even admitted he should have listened to his fellow judges about her song choices and presentation. I agree partly with their opinions on that. I do think Simon could have pushed her into more upbeat songs, and showcased her range and versatility more. But I like Simon so much more when he’s honest, fair and nice.
My understanding of the x-factor concept is that they wish to find that one person who embodies all that makes a musical star. Vocal ability, stage presence, appeal, originality, and viability in the marketplace. This does not, as many seem to think, mean that they can be good at one or two aspects and be considered someone with the x-factor. This means that they have to be all those things, and also be able to withstand the rigors of the entertainment business, to include a thick skin against criticism, and a confidence that will allow them to put themselves in a position of vulnerability for all the world to see.
Another bump in the road came when Simon chastised the other mentors for choosing songs that were not rock songs, during Rock N Roll week, then summarily introduced his acts doing languid songs of their own. He seemed to think that a “rock” song was any song performed by a rock band. This simply isn’t accurate. Many musicians and singers perform mostly songs in one genre, but that doesn’t make every song they do a part of that genre. It’s a departure from their usual fare. So I would contend that if you are going to do a Rock N Roll week, the chosen material should belong in that genre, which is necessarily upbeat.
Then came Michael Jackson week. Don’t get me started. I think that our appreciation for the creations of a certain artist should never be more important than who that person really is. I have always been appalled by the general public’s willingness to turn a blind eye to the horrible truth about this guy, just because they like his music. It’s sickening to me to see him honored, because all I can see when I look at his image or hear his songs is a drug-addicted pedophile whose family rides his coattails and tries to capitalize on his death at every turn. I also recall his father, the day after Michael’s death, interrupting the reporter who asked about his grief, to plug his newest money-making venture. Pond scum, that man. No wonder the King of Pop turned out the way he did, personally. Look where he came from. But good-music or not, defiling and molesting children negates all that. So it was tough for me to get through Michael Jackson week.
Finally, I believe that the producers ought to get rid of Steve Jones. He steals valuable critique time from the judges, disrupts the flow, and often appears a little too full of himself. The format, in this area, needs some serious reconsideration. Though I do realize it would be hard to put this show on without an M.C. Too bad they couldn’t have gotten someone who is REALLY good at it, like Tom Bergeron of Dancing With the Stars.
Overall, I’m excited about The X-Factor, and I think it might be around a long time. And it’s most assuredly going to be responsible for launching some stellar careers.