Man, oh man, The X Factor is one hot mess of a show. But that's what makes it charming, right?
After being on hiatus for a few weeks to make room for the World Series on Fox, the singing competition returned for the first of its live shows in what can only be described as the most stressfully jumbled and jam-packed two-hours imaginable.
The show herded 16 acts onstage one after the other to perform, and the judges immediately cut the field down to 12 – with hardly a moment in between for anyone to catch their breath.
In a nutshell: The four remaining acts from each category – Boys, Girls, Groups and the Over 25s – performed live for the first time, with one act from each group sent home on the spot by their mentor.
The most frustrating part of the whole thing was that viewers were repeatedly asked to go online and "vote" for their favorites in real time in order to help the judges decide. But those viewers' opinions were pretty much ignored from the get-go when Girls mentor Demi Lovato completely bucked the overwhelming majority when making her final decision.
In terms of online support for the Girls, pitch-perfect 15-year-old bookworm Danie Geimer consistently topped the viewer-influenced poll with 30 percent or more while physically challenged 13-year-old Rion Paige scraped the bottom with 10 percent, but Demi inexplicably – and shockingly – tossed Danie and kept Rion. Like, huh?
OK, so Danie's performance of Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" was a little disappointing, mostly because it didn't pop in terms of presentation. (Although, really, how can you top naked Hannah Montana?) But her vocals were amazing – and have consistently been that way all season. At the same time, Rion's vocals were good too (on Demi's "Skyscraper," ahem), but viewers clearly aren't on her side, so how far will she really go?
The truly infuriating part wasn't necessarily that Demi kept Rion, it was that 16-year-old Season One reject Ellona Santiago, who middled out in the poll and did an average take on Britney Spears' "Till the World Ends," squeaked by while Danie got thrown under the bus.
Somehow, the other star on the team, Khaya Cohen, who also pulled in close to 30 percent in the poll, wound up on the chopping block too, rounding out the bottom two alongside Danie after a vocally fantastic performance of Duffy's "Mercy." Bah! It was all so infuriating.
On the flipside, the Over 25s category wasa case where mentor Kelly Rowland shouldn't have paid attention to the poll (yes, yes, we know), since it meant that stellar vocalist Lillie McCloud almost bit the dust – and the smooth-voiced James Kenney did, as both were tied with 17 percent of the vote.
That someone like Lillie was even being considered for elimination was just ridiculous – she's the best singer on the show! But she's also 54 and a grandmother of seven who looks like she belongs at a disco, and that's probably not going to rope in the younger demographic. Singing Percy Sledge's "When a Man Loves a Woman" probably didn't help her cause, but she still easily deserves to be in the finals.
Staying put with an equal 33 percent share were country girl Rachel Potter, who did a squeaky take on Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance," and rocker Jeff Gutt, who put a hard-edged twist on Pink's "Try."
Meanwhile, for Paulina Rubio and the Boys, the clear frontrunner with online voters was 16-year-old Carlos Guevara, who raked in 30-plus percent while the rest of the Boys were hovering in the low 20s. After singing Swedish House Mafia's "Don’t You Worry Child" without a hitch, the judges dropped lines like "I love your spirit" and "I love your courage" when critiquing Guevara, who has Tourette's, with kid gloves. So, he was an easy keeper on the Boys.
The judges also went oddly wild for Latin lover Carlito Olivero, who sang an all-over-the-map version of Santana's "Maria Maria." Dressed like a gang member and surrounded by scantily clad women, he danced his way through the tune while singing in Spanglish. Simon Cowell went ape, saying, "You made yourself unique, you stayed true to your heritage, the chicks are gonna love you and the guys are gonna love you. That was absolutely fantastic." Uh, OK, whatever you say, Simon.
With those two through, the bottom two consisted of frumpy Tim Olstad (whose name Paulina couldn't remember and whom Simon basically called a "funeral director") and Will Smith-in-the-making Josh Levi, who got the boot after failing to impress with his frenetic take on Rihanna's "Only Girl (In the World)."
Finally, bringing up the pressed-for-time rear, Simon's Groups was the most uneven category – with girl group Sweet Suspense nabbing a whopping 50 percent of the viewer vote while Roxxy Montana got an embarrassing five percent. And yet Simon tried to build suspense at the end of the show about which act he should keep, hemming, hawing and stressing out while trying to make a decision.
It's definitely sad to see someone's dreams dashed, but Roxxy Montana was never that great to begin with – cut 'em loose! And eventually he did, after making a big theatrical spectacle of the whole ordeal.
Also sticking around were cutesy couple Alex and Sierra and manufactured country "man-band" Restless Road, who both fell somewhere in the middle.
Next week, the viewers finally take control of the situation as voter-based eliminations begin.
Previous recap: Simon Cowell Picks Final Four Groups