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'X Factor' Recap: Simon Cowell, Paulina Rubio Miss Auditions
Judges' panel cut to three as contestants look for redemption and overcome odds

Last night's X Factor episode showcased a hot pink cowgirl hat, a glittery hippie headband, a tiara, a blood orange poncho, an oversized black flower barrette, dozens of pairs of fingerless gloves and a potential baby bump – and that was just what Paulina Rubio was wearing. When she wasn't absent from the judges' panel, that is.

Yes, the newbie judge was a no-show at the start of the second week of X Factor auditions, missing a good quarter of the night's performances, as she had a concert of her own to attend to. (And, not to be outdone, Simon Cowell also showed up late one day and left the three ladies on their own for a few minutes.)

Rolling Stone's Complete Coverage of 'The X Factor' 

Quite honestly, we thought the panel worked better as a threesome. No disrespect to Paulina (or, especially, Simon), but four judges who, so far, have done nothing but agree ("you've got four yeses" vs. "that's four no's") and have nothing groundbreaking to say in terms of critiques (see: Simon telling several rejected acts they were "too old-fashioned") is just plain overkill.

On that note, let's dive into the night's auditions, which featured a handful of winners, an endless parade of losers, the unexpected return of a former finalist and the requisite tug-at-the-heartstrings contestant du jour.

And is it just us or is there a pattern emerging in terms of The X Factor seemingly hoping to find its own Michelle Chamuel, last season's geek-chic runner-up on The Voice? Last week, dorky 19-year-old Latina Simone Torres fit the bill. This week, the honor went to 15-year-old bespectacled bookworm Danie Geimer, who, when someone complimented her on her glasses, awkwardly replied with "I read books . . . about, like, neuroscience." But when she stepped onstage to sing "The House of the Rising Sun" she knocked everyone's socks off with her confident, controlled and soulful voice. Of course, all Demi Lovato cared about was asking her to take off her hat and tousle her hair so everyone could see how "beautiful" she was underneath it all. Le sigh.

In terms of other stand-out "winners" (i.e., acts who "got four yeses"), 21-year-old country girl Brandie Love "took us to church," according to Simon, with her twangy yet soulful rendition of "Up to the Mountain"; 14-year-old R&B crooner Josh Levi turned Selena Gomez's "Come & Get It" into a slow jam that made the judges' eyes light up with dollar signs; and the 20-something group of brothers called Aknu won everyone over with their Motown-meets-Bruno Mars version of "Valerie," complete with high-energy dance moves.

Then there was frumpy 16-year-old Carlos Guevara, who suffers from Tourette's syndrome, a condition characterized by uncontrollable physical and vocal tics. Though the disorder got so bad that he had to drop out of high school, he has found a safe haven in music, which amazingly allows him to be seemingly symptom-free while performing. He solidly tackled John Mayer's "Gravity," leading Paulina to say, "I don't even know you but I'm so proud of you." While the more blunt Simon admitted, "What I like about you is you're not a victim." We're not sure how far someone like Carlos can realistically get in such a competition, but he certainly provided the requisite feel-good moment of the night. 

Following that up was familiar face Jeff Gutt, the 37-year-old single dad who easily cleared auditions last season with his rock-infused take on the classic "Hallelujah" but got cut before the live shows began. This time when he walked on stage, Simon and Demi were determined not to lose him again – "you were the one who got away last year," Simon admitted – and talked him up to the newbie judges. But Jeff's performance of Aerosmith's "I Don't Wanna Miss a Thing" was a nasally, shrieking mess that Simon called "really disappointing." But have no fear when they really want to push someone through . . . er, we mean, when they see a diamond in the rough that just needs some polishing. Jeff was given a second chance, doing much better ­– but still not as great as the judges made it out to be – version of "Creep" by Radiohead, getting the green light once again to move on to the next round.

But not everyone was so talented. There were just as many who left us asking, "This is a joke, right?"

Such was the case with sister act Shirley & Cynthia, who did a nails-on-chalkboard take on the Jackson 5's "I Want You Back." The tone-deaf older sister, who inexplicably took the lead, was a high-pitched, warbly mess who dragged kid sis down with her. The look on Kelly Rowland's face said it all: a combination of confusion and horror. And Simon said, "It was like a competition for who could sing the worst, and you both win." But Kelly did encourage the younger girl to come back next season, sans sister.

Then there was the utterly confounding – and unlistenable – Vincent Crisostomo, a 29-year-old Italian guy who swaggered in with a bodyguard and entourage in tow. Between hyping himself up, he rattled off such influences as the Notorious B.I.G., Tupac Shakur and Method Man before unleashing his version of – wait for it – LeAnn Rimes' "How Do I Live." For a moment after he announced which song he would be singing we thought maybe he would turn the tune into some sort of mind-blowing rap track. But no, he just stood there like dead weight flatly singing in a monotone. Once the torture ended, Demi said, "I'm concerned about the people you're surrounding yourself with who are telling you this is good."  

Truer words have yet to be spoken this season, Demi. 

Previous episode: Simon Cowell Sings, Demi Lovato Scowls


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