When last we left them, the judges seemed to be in some unspoken groupthink experiment, voting in unison for most of episode three. Will the final round of auditions find them on the same page, or deadlocked in discord? Although energized by some standout performances, the judges seem fatigued this episode, and that weariness translates to some knives-out critiquing.
Let's talk about the bright spots first. Brian Bradley comes off like the Hollywood version of a scrappy hip-hop kid, with Beats headphones around his neck and an outsize ego on blast-mode. "My competition is people like Jay-Z and Kanye West," he says. With his confidence and ease onstage, it's a shock he's not a secret member of Will Smith's brood.
When Brian picks a fight with Simon, things look tense. "If I saw you out on the street," the kid warns, "this is what I'd say . . ." That's when an old school Rick Rubin-style beat drops and Brian launches into a poised, yet adorable self-penned jam called "Stop Looking at My Mom." The crowd goes bananas, and the judges echo the sentiment. "When I used to work at this place called Def Jam," LA says, faux-humbly, "I was waiting for someone like you to walk through my door." Better late than never.
A pretty young blonde in ripped jeans, Cari Fletcher has a robust voice beyond her years. She makes an astute choice with Heart's mulit-octave spanning "Alone." After busting out the big guns on the chorus, though, everybody except Simon is impressed. ("The problem is you're boring.") Even he caves in when it comes time to vote, though.
Tora Woloshin is bound to be a series favorite. She has Marilyn hair, an asymmetrical cut peacock-feather dress Lady Gaga might wear, and the tattoo proclivities of Kat Von D. Paula seems to have it in for her, though. ("You're just full of life, aren't ya?" she notes, pre-audition, with eyes full of dagger.) But eventually Tora's upbeat attitude and funky Jackson 5 cover earn Paula's respect and overall high marks.
We're set up to dislike part-time model Brennin Hunt. A song called "I'm Sexy and I Know It" plays during his introduction and the first thing he says is, "I have a mark against me, looking like I do." (For the record, he looks like a slightly more rugged Dennis from It's Always Sunny, with way bigger hair.) When he tells Simon that the reason he never got a deal is because he's been "honing his craft," it seems like he's just blowing smoke. Turns out dude really can sing, though, and his original song, "How We Make It," is an understated gem.
Strong contenders aside, the final night of auditions is a bit of a fiasco. Diminutive ginger Andy Silikovitz and his scruffy billy goat beard barbarically torture Mariah Carey's "Hero," leaving only one question: why is this man here? The judges, who respond as kindly as TV personalities must, don't seem to know either. "I'm gonna say no," LA says. "But it looks like you had fun out there." With that, The X-Factor momentarily transforms into a funhouse mirror Make-a-Wish Foundation.
The next aspiring singer is equally aloof, but less sympathetic. Cashmere makes Simon laugh, saying she got encouragement from all the people "yelling and screaming" during her karaoke sets. After surviving her flat warbling through the looong opening of "You Will Always Be My Baby," Simon pounces. "People yelling and screaming at karaoke might not be paying you a compliment," he says before collapsing into fits of laughter with Paula. This is what too many auditions will do.
Nouf Taraman has a voice haunted by off-pitch ghosts, and an overt camel toe that appears to be drinking her champagne-colored dress. When the crowd turns on her about 30 seconds into her Snow Patrol cover she futilely pleads with them: "If you keep booing me, I'll never get finished." In the series' worst pun so far, Simon tells her "Enough's E-Nouf."
Jor-El Garcia, does something new by starting his cover of Madonna's "Lucky Star" off-stage. His serpentine arm emerges from behind the curtain, flouncing around like Thing from The Addams Family. When Jor-El finally makes it onstage, he solo Lambadas. The judges are unmoved by the Forbidden Dance, though. "The singing was terrible," declares Simon. "The dancing might have been worse." LA Reid softens the blow, saying "It was fun, but that X on the wall stands for someone worth $5 million."
The award for "Tightest Pants of the Evening and Also Ever" goes to androgynous Devon Talley, whose whiny "Seasons of Love" from Rent is almost unspeakably bad. It will be at least 525,600 minutes before I'm ready to hear even the word 'rent' again.
The most representative act of the night is the unfortunately homonym'd boy-girl duo, Ausem. Although their performance is not bad, Austin is obviously a much better singer than his counterpart, Emily. "The audience you're aiming for will understand you," Simon says, not mentioning the disparity in talent. LA doesn't tiptoe around it, though: "Austin, you're a star," he says, "but I just don't believe in the duet." He still gives the duo a pass, somehow without mentioning that Ausem sounds like an energy drink marketed toward small children. Will they get a third Yes from Nicole Scherzinger? Not right away. "I like you . . . and I feel you, but . . ." Nicole trails off because she can't bring herself to further humiliate poor Emily, whose father is practically having an embolism backstage. "Yes or no," Simon demands while Nicole hems and haws. Eventually he gives up and walks away. The crowd then strongly urges Nicole to vote yes, and she complies. This collision of true talent, hot mess and utter exhaustion is what the episode was all about, and a final reminder of how different the auditions are with a live audience around.
Next week we finally move out of the auditions and into boot camp, which raises the important question: How will basic training compare to the "Hollywood" episodes of American Idol? Simon must have some tricks up his sleeve.
PREVIOUSLY: Almost Everyone's a Winner
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