"This is like Navy SEAL Hell Week," tow-headed teen Nick Deen says of X Factor boot camp. "There's no sleeping." While some amateur sleuthing (a/k/a just watching the show) reveals that there is some sleeping, Nick is only barely exaggerating about the tension in the air. By the end of boot camp, Simon and crew will have thinned the herd by 132 aspiring singers.
This episode picks up right where the previous one left off. After a third of the hopefuls were cut, everyone else was divided into groups to perform songs together. Most of these polygamous unions went during that first episode, but at the start of the follow-up, there's still more to come.
First up is a group containing soulful Marcus Canty, 12-stepper Chris Rene, part-time model Brennin Hunt, and a group I refuse to believe is actually called Equality. They perform a doo wop-informed "What's Going On?" which moves Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger so much that they hold hands and appear to arm wrestle in the air.
The next act is a bunch of unfamiliar faces performing a country song it would be difficult to pick out of a lineup. They take a new tact, though, with each member entering the stage at different points in the song. When a plus-size singer hovers into view over Tim Cifer's shoulder, it looks like he's coming after Tim in a scene from a horror movie. Somehow the judges are on board with this performance.
The final ensemble features Christa Collins, a hair dresser whose fashion sense is Suicide Girls: Diva Edition. The rose in her hair is roughly the size of her entire face, and a moment later she's wearing some kind of I Dream of Jeannie shawl that neatly doubles as a burka. Also in this bunch is Emma Henry, who has a lovely voice but seems adamantly opposed to staying on key, and The Brewer Boys, whose magic trick, apparently, is "singing in harmony". This take on Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars" is among the least successful numbers we've seen so far.
A mediocre performance serves as a great intro to a downsizing. Sure enough, some of the people about to be sent home are those we've just seen floundering on stage. After the judges divide everyone up and lower the boom on the first group, the episode morphs into sadness-porn – everyone visibly grappling with Tough Realizations. (This will prove to be a leitmotif later.) Knotty-dreaded Tatiana Reina Williams freaks out a little: "Maybe I'm just too talented and it would be a rap putting anyone against me!" I'm still waiting for that statement to make sense.
The next group is promptly informed they survived this round of cuts, but when the final assemblage is brought out, Simon toys with them before cutting to the chase: "This was a very easy decision to make." (Whew!) "It's not good news." (What!?) "It's great news." (I hate you.)
The survivors are too happy, though, to dwell on Simon being Simon. Tiah Tolliver does the robot. Marcus Canty does backflips. Tiger Budbill has this touching exchange with his wife: "You had more faith in me than I did." Truth be told, she had more faith in him than I did too.
One more round of eliminations is left for the 64 remaining contestants. Another half will be cut after the next day's challenge, which is… another song. (Surprise!) These performances went by in a blur almost, but here are some highlights:
• Adorable, lion-hearted, probably media-coached Rachel Crow crushes with Beyoncé's "If I Were a Boy", even though that song seems slightly beyond the experiential scope of a 13-year old. Someone get this girl the songbook from Annie!
• Josh Krajcik, who always looks like he skipped his most recently scheduled shower, does a way-credible Joe Cocker.
• Simone Battle either forgets the words to "Your Song", or decides to freestyle instead: "I'm just gonna sing, cuz it ain't comin' to me, and I want this so bad, baby baby." The crowd looks horrified for her. Rightly so.
• After several others put their own spin on a song's arrangements, Simon finally loses his cool and calls a break after Brennin Hunt's guitar-based Alicia Keys situation.
• One of the groups is called Little Ladiez. I can't even.
• Sinatra-wannabe Phillip Lomax does an Ella Fitzgerald standard because of course he does.
• Stacy Francis announces that her father died on the day of the first auditions. Sad as this news is, it sort of feels like she's gunning for the gold medal in the Sympathy Olympics. Predictably, she wrings every ounce of drama out of every syllable in "Summertime".
• Leroy Bell puts his seasoned pipes to work on Adele's "Make You Feel My Love." "This is his last chance," Paula says to the other judges afterward. "Imagine having all that talent and being frustrated for 59 years," Simon observes, pinpointing the theme of the whole series.
The judges take at least fifty hours poring over headshots and speaking entirely in pronouns to determine who stays. There are very few surprises (Simone Battle is still with us somehow! Fare thee well, Makenna and Brock!) but a whole lot of crying as the judges list off winners' names in each category. Leroy Bell, who clearly uses Joe Perry's line of skin creams, looks gut-punched when his name is called; he cries in the dignified way of your dad at a funeral. Dexter Haygood completely loses it when his name is called, and Paula joins him in a teary embrace.
There is, however, one more surprise to go. A bunch of rejected contestants are summarily informed that while they weren't quite ready as solo artists, they would work well in teams. Therefore, two new Wu Tang-sized groups enter the fold.
What terrible names will these new groups choose? What exactly is going to happen when everyone starts training at the judges' homes? How ridiculous will Simon's house be? Until next week, all we can do is speculate. In the case of the last question, though, the answer is probably ‘completely ridiculous.'
Last Episode: You Sound Like Five Million Bucks, Baby