Saturday, October 15, 2011

X Factor USA Judges' Homes Pt 1 Recap

This is the show in which three pretty girls ask Simon Cowell "Help, be mine tomorrow, touch me now" while one can't get no satisfaction either. As he says at the end, "It's going to get hard.."

Enrique Iglesias, Rihanna and some guy called Pharrell join the other judges to help them decide which of the 32 remaining acts make the 16 to appear in the Live Shows. Mariah Carey should also have joined Simon but rain stopped her play or plane for this first part of the next round.

I lost count of the number of times we get told who was going where and with whom. If you don't know you'll find out soon enough. Suffice it to say we're talking about grand, really impressive sets in glorious sunshine except for Paula's Place where it looked like it was a typical English rainy afternoon in October and as drab as anything compared to the picture perfect scenes that Simon and Nicole had created.

The girls rushed to clutch Simon as he entered and, with some teenagers made up to the extent that they were looking like they could have been in the Over 30s group, the scene was slightly uncomfortable viewing, especially the bit where Caitlin Koch, who didn't do the run and scream and grab bit, realises she does need to compete and attempts to give as many as she can a group hug from behind. Maybe she thought she was in a rugby scrum.

Little Brian B was first up at LA Reid's place. You have to be impressed with this kid. He's got piles of words and awkward rhythms to remember and just gets everything right in his way and in his style. He is a complete, marketable package and is bound to get some deal from someone soon. He'll be good TV for a while too so is pretty much a certainty for the Live Shows now. Not a winner but he'll be there for a few weeks. Until the round where they have to sing, that is. And can you really imagine him doing the synchronised dance number in matching tops that they're bound to introduce the Live Shows with? No. Still, the clips of him getting stroppy during rehearsals should be amusing.

Simone appears with even longer legs than I remembered and moves gracefully down the immaculate decking next to a mirror-like pool. Any shot of that scene would make nice desktop wallpaper and, whatever happens she'll surely have a calendar full of really nice photos to take home and send to her friends at Christmas. Performance-wise, Simone's been unimpressive so far. She's here because Simon likes her and, with just young lads around for advice, you get the feeling she'll get through somehow. She does have more than a passing resemblance to Sinita too, which will help. "You look fantastic," says Simon, something I just don't reckon he'd have started with had Mariah been there. She does a nice version of the Beatles' Help, restrained and thoughtfully presented. A safe audition and if she's on the Live Shows you have to wonder at whose expense? Now that's the question.

First of the groups is The Anser. Nice harmonies, great singers but not sure where they'd fit in commercially these days. They have talent but how memorable are they going to be? Hmmm. I can't remember what they did and it was only a few minutes ago.

Dexter seems to have got through largely on personality and being occasionally different enough to stand out. He's made good TV so far with a lot of after performance emotion and Jagger moves and James Brownesque bursts of delivery. He's a natural entertainer, fun and lovable. Who would have expected him to attempt a classic Beyonce track? Plenty of props to the guy for that - and he wowed Nicole on the beach in a scene he couldn't have imagined in his wildest dreams a few months back. There's always an odd act or two that gets into the Live Shows in the UK and he could be one if Simon's going to follow the same plan. Paula will be batting for him too so I reckon Nicole will be getting a few calls to help her with the decision.

Skyelor is one of the weaker acts to make it this far. A nice guy and, yes, nice voice and he even threw in a nod towards the country vote but I see him in a group rather than a solo success. Ah, too late for the groups - unless they change InTENsity to InELEVENsity. Having said that, I can't imagine ten kids staying together for long so he might still get a chance. He's probably due for the tearful "Sorry I have to let you go" shots in part 2 or 3.

Tora, on the other hand, is a strong contender. Once we get past the annoyingly obviously set-up shots of her with a spanner under a car, leaning into the engine bay with a low cut top and tight shorts, Sir Mick features once again as she hits Simon with Satisfaction. An awkward start but then she gets going and she'd be an exciting addition to the Live Shows. Rock Chick needed. She'd fit that bill nicely. Pity about the tattoos  though. Her dancing seemed out of sync with her singing - or at least with the track we heard which did make me wonder how much re-editing there'd been. The sound quality at all the scenes seemed amazingly good for open air performances. In the UK X Factor Judges' Houses shows it was really poor. Here we're getting decent lengths of tracks too and much better viewing all round. I'll not criticise the editing although I'm sure some will, especially after the autotune problems of the past!

Lakoda Rayne perform for the first time for us. Four girls who didn't make the solo categories but each with talent and, of course, looking great too. We even get a caption to say "Cari's House" where they rehearsed initially and, by the looks of it, the prize money might not make that much of a difference to her family finances. I accidentally ran their performance twice which was just as well for this review as I just didn't get it first time round. They seemed more like four girls doing their own thing, doing it competently but not exactly inspiring anyone. Second time round it clicked. They're actually very good. there's tension in there and I can't imagine them all getting on that well off camera and they'll never win but they do have appeal and clever management and song choice might get them through.

Stacy gets a much improved appearance with the makeover, although the mouth still troubles me. What comes out of it does too when she starts screeching the long high notes. If she could stop doing that then people will love her because otherwise she is one brilliant performer, confidently and expertly presenting Purple Rain with a version Prince would have been proud of. The notes were all spot on and she's got that presence already that says she's going to get somewhere. Stacy's a sure-fire Live Show act and we'll be seeing her on screen for a good many weeks yet. Enrique Iglesias made the quote of the evening with "I think the neighbours heard that!" (Cue horizon shot and not another property in sight!)

The Brewer Boys - another act that had virtually no screen time before. I guess they were too busy playing computer games. Once you stopped wondering what kids Roy Orbison and Bob Dylan might have had together and could concentrate on their performance you got the impression that here's an act that you could just say "Hey, kids, go and entertain people," and they'd do it. Really accomplished. Geeky dancing that wouldn't have been out of place in a Footloose movie but, strangely, it didn't seem to matter. They were doing this as if it was in their own back yard. They have to be in the Live Shows. Pharrell didn't get it but I think Paula did.

Phillip Lomax has stayed under the wire so far and neither got the big write-ups or the embarrassing put-downs either. You had to have some respect for the guy doing a Rihanna number whilst she-with-the-big-forehead sat there a few feet away. Some challenge but he took it and brought yet another quite unique style to the show with his Brat Pack 50s style and good looks. A good job done here and I'd love to see him make it but he'll need five of the other boys to be less impressive. A difficult time ahead as I couldn't call it as to whether he gets through or not.

Elaine G does an Oasis track, and does it confidently and almost immaculately. Maybe too perfectly, I wonder? She is very professional but she has Stacy to compete with and I don't see both of them getting through. I wonder what she'd have done with Purple Rain? That would have been interesting. As she finished on the predictably annoying big high note the scene panned back as if the camera guy had been blown away, literally rather than being that impressed! Or both, I suppose, as she was pretty damn good.

Back to Simon's pad - and it's interesting that the places are called Judges' Homes in X Factor USA as opposed to Judges' Houses in X Factor UK. I suppose you folks get to see the actual places they live whereas UK contestants are flown off to what look more like hotels in foreign lands (or a small holding in Ireland for Louis Walsh's unfortunate guys in the past). Caitlin graces our screens and we're reminded that she's a 'Cook' not a 'Cock' once more. She's obviously realised that Sinita, I mean Simone, has made all the moves so far and asked for "Help" from the boss so she tops that completely by looking him straight in the eye and gently singing "Tonight you're mine..." Completely. Once you got over wondering what on earth must have flashed across Simon's mind at that point you'd hear a beautiful version of this 60s number. Every note and intonation spot on. Why hasn't this girl already been taken on by someone? In a way, it may be too late for her as she lacks that modern edge that would make her stand out. Or she could have lied about her age and not been out of place in the Over 30s where she would have stood a better chance of getting through. She's another excellent act who will be on the margins of coming or going in the next shows and, strong though she looks, tears could well fall. Steve, brace yourself.

Nick Voss next. I keep hearing Elvis which I suppose could be regarded as cool nowadays rather than just an impression act but I just don't see how he'll fit in to the Live Shows where he'll be told to do something else. Sometimes he looks and sounds very good and then sometimes he looks and sounds plain wrong. Had he stayed in character all the way through his track then it might have been better but switching from the 50s to 70s style actions served only to confuse us all, not least Rihanna.

Quite how Steve Jones managed to get from one part of the world to another in such a short time I do not know and perhaps the editing team could at least make sure he wears the same things for the sake of continuity if nothing else. Sun up, sun down, rain - and they say the English have crazy weather. Thereagain he is Welsh, and that might explain a lot.

4Shore are the band with the silly name but they can sing and sing well, naturally together and they've flown through the rounds so far. They may have come to a halt here though, without LA Reid on their side. They get a poor song and just didn't make any lasting impression other than memories of something like The Four Tops in red. They know what they're doing and deserve another chance to get through but are probably up against the StereoHogzz for the one place to fill with their style.

James Kenney is another act that has escaped a lot of the cameras to date. he reminds me of David Cook and might have stood a good chance in that year's American Idol. Here, today, 2011? I don't know. He's a solid, reliable performer but will he sell records? I say that we've hardly seen this guy so far but maybe we have and just haven't remembered him as much as the others. And that could be his problem. If he does scrape through then good luck to him and it would be good to see more of an earthy rock element too from someone not bordering on 50. Nice guy, though.

The first part of the Judges' Homes edition ends with Drew. This is a fabulous way to leave us wanting more. In a stunning scene this 14 year old going on 24 year old absolutely shows how it should be done. A standout audition so far and watch the download figures for this clip on YouTube. Amazing. But...  "It's going to get hard," says Simon afterwards, ominously.

Now what he could do instead is put Drew with Janet Devlin from X Factor UK and there he would have a guaranteed Christmas No 1 Album across both continents. Neither need win their respective competitions to make their money and leave the show clear for someone else to have a chance.

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