What up, my fellow X-Facstronauts! It's Day Two of the auditions and we are immediately plunged right back into the scene at the aptly named Cow Palace arena, where a disorganized horde of San Franciscans grazes around like so much hope-filled cattle. For all the meaty bodies and leather taking up space, however, there is also an acutely felt void, one which used to be occupied by U.K. himbo host, Steve Jones, now gone the way of the Scherzinger (which is to say, in a way that isn't particularly missed.)
While Jones may have been short on personality, and clumsy with time-fills, he was still a pro who gave good exposition. Now that we are host-free for the moment, the show is exploring other avenues to flesh out storylines. Without a narrating force on hand to do the debriefing, though, contestants' life stories are being dredged up in the most forced way possible: staged encounters. When hopefuls with elements in common somehow end up next to each other on line, like Wednesday night's boy band refugee Vincent Thomas and the boy-band-in-denial Emblem3, it has the feel of sub-Jerry Springer-level fake-coincidence.
The lack of a host also creates room for a Greek chorus of praise from random line-dwellers talking about their favorite judges, which sometimes comes off inadvertently as backhanded (e.g. "Britney Spears made some of the first songs I heard in my life!"). Apparently these brief interviews are meant to remind us that the judges are super famous, lest we have an embolism during the Verizon X Factor app commercials and forget.
Speaking of our megawatt judges, we should probably talk about Britney Spears for a second. Hearing her talk on this show reminds me that I've almost never heard her not-singing anywhere else. The only problem is that there isn't enough of this talking. Homegirl is starting to distinguish herself more through her range of facial expressions rather than her commentary or astute judgment skills. When she encounters an obsessed fan tonight, she looks at him as though somehow his water just broke, and then she pushes pause on that face for the entirety of his ridiculous performance. I want nothing but the best for Britney on this show, but Iguess that means I want something like the best from her as well.
Enough about the judges, though, let's see how tonight's crop of contestants fared.
The Real Deal
Dressed like the count of some haunted goth cabana on Fire Island, there's no way to not notice Jason Brock on line at the auditions. Considering how staged some of the contestant intros feel, it's hard to tell where Jason is coming from. His endless confidence seems ripe for a comeuppance, unless the self-love is actually earned. "I have some talent, and I think this room already knows it," Jason says before launching into some Billy Joel. He goes through more runs than Ussain Bolt, and holds them far too long, but clearly the guy has the talent to back up all that braggadocio.
Carly Rose Sonenclar is the night's other standout, a spunky tween whose mom has arms buff enough to make Michelle Obama tremble. Carly sings "Feelin' Good" by Nina Simone, another reality show standard, which is probably where she first encountered it. Unlike Jason, she uses her runs sparingly and to much better effect, heightening throughout the performance all the way to the climactic end. Everybody rises to their feet once she's done, and damn right they'd better: this girl is far and away the best contestant so far.
Johnny Maxwell is a 16-year rapper-crooner with shades of Astro and Chris Rene from last season. Like Rene, he wants to perform an original song, always a risky move for an audition. Before getting started, he announces that the song is about "doing it big, and not letting anyone get in the way of your dream," which is usually something you sing about after you've already done it big and not let anything stand in the way of the dream you had. Sure enough, the chorus is a recursive meta-loop whose refrain is actually, "doing it big in front of all these people." The crowd, excuse me, all these people, go nuts afterward. "You have swag," declares amateur swag aficionado Demi Lovato. Eh, time will tell.
Looking like he was hatched and grown in the Abercrombie & Fitch laboratories, potential heartthrob Dylan Osborne does not have the voice to match his good looks. He is swiftly booted off the stage. Fortunately, he has plenty of company, as his appearance on the show kicks off a montage sequence of sexy people who can't sing very well, a scene that is scored by (wait for it) "Sexy and I Know It."
Even more forced feeling than Wednesday's encounter between blonde Texan meanie Kaci Newton and momentary heroine Paige Thomas, last night's skirmish between uber-buxom Lexa Berman and another female contestant has all the hollow acting of an America's Most Wanted reenactment. Lexa is a 22-year old dancer who laughs in the other female contestant's face when the second girl meekly claims her modeling bona fides. She also says things like, "There's no plan B for me, I either make it or I marry rich into someone's family." This can only end one way. Look out rich men of the world: there's a rusty-voiced vixen a-coming for your wallet.
Finally, Pat Ford is the above-mentioned obsessive fan who asks the next auditioner in line whether he himself looks like Britney Spears. It's pretty damn creepy. He stops short of wearing a blonde wig onstage because, as he says, he doesn't want to creep Britney out. But then, he still brings her flowers and stares at her like a Magic Eye poster, all before singing Britney's own "Circus" in as awful a voice as can be imagined. After he's dismissed, Pat continues haunting the stage for what feels like at least a few hours, projecting shades of a Monica Seles situation, which the producers only amp up with scary movie sound cues. Boo?
Last recap: Britney Spears Makes Her Debut