'X Factor' Recap: Lightning Strikes and Britney Spears Is Spooked - Rolling Stone
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‘X Factor’ Recap: Lightning Strikes and Britney Spears Is Spooked

There’s a storm brewing outside the arena, and inside too

Demi Lovato, Britney Spears and Simon Cowell on 'The X-Factor'Demi Lovato, Britney Spears and Simon Cowell on 'The X-Factor'

Demi Lovato, Britney Spears and Simon Cowell on 'The X-Factor'

Ray Mickshaw/FOX

After all the crazy faces Britney Spears has already made during this young season of The X Factor, the one that we’ve all been waiting for finally arrived last night. Earlier episodes relentlessly teased the newbie judge screaming as the studio lights flickered, with a frantic look toward the camera like, “Are we okay?!” The harsh weather outside that provokes this reaction has an indoor counterpart, though.

There’s no question that this episode belongs to Britney. When we first see our siren, she’s in a bathrobe, getting ready. Reinvigorated by being back in the south, even if Greensboro, North Carolina, is a far cry from her native Louisiana, Britney sashays into her dress like she’s got some spark in her step. Embracing her heritage further, when a goofy old coot lowers the temperature in the room by a lot, Spears says, “I’m scared I’m related to you,” which is her best bit of off-the-cuff humor so far.

The good vibes dissipate eventually, though, when lightning strikes the building midway through the episode. The roof springs leaks, lightning visuals appear and the crack of thunder sounds off. Just to make dead certain we know something is coming, the opera movement “O Fortuna” from Carmina Burana, from every movie trailer, starts playing, accompanied by a parade of terrible contestants. It’s all building up to an explosive reaction more intense than the arrest and ambulance getaways of Wednesday’s show.

Let’s meet the contestants from last night’s episode.

The Real Deal
Easily the best high-top fade I’ve seen in some time belongs to Willie Jones. (It even has long zigzags carved in on the side!) He’s dressed like he’s a member of 1988 Public Enemy’s entourage (the S1Ws), with an acid-wash denim jacket. Demi Lovato and her Amy Winehouse eye makeup say he reminds her of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which comes back to haunt her as it turns out he’s singing the very traditional country-western tune, “Your Man” by Josh Turner, with a power-warble voice. The judges let it go on long enough for it to sound half like a parody toward the end, but that’s not to take any away from Jones – he’s the man. On a sidenote, I can see Vanessa Bayer play Demi Lovato already. It has to happen, and I can’t wait.

All the judges grill Julie Bullock about how her band members feel about her pretty much ditching them to audition as a soloist. If that scenario weren’t dramatic enough already, one of the band members is her ex-boyfriend. His name is Christian and he has an upside-down cross earring. This is an absolutely ridiculous setup, but it doesn’t matter because her “Pumped Up Kicks” sounds cool with a Pat Benatar-meets-Sia  upbeat lounge vibe. A shot of an especially pale cluster of kids in the audience standing up and clapping, bathed in blue light is just creepy as hell, though, considering what the song is about. (Look it up.)

Kinda Meh
Jeffrey Gutt is your classic last-chance case. He’s a jaded lifer who hasn’t quite got abreak yet, with an adorable moppet of a son named Talon. Jeffrey sings the Leonard Cohen standby “Hallelujah” the way it might sound in a production of Rent, but the audience goes nuts and the judges are with them.

Leading with a chandelier-sized necklace, Krysten Colon enters the stage in red high platform heels and matching bra strap showing beneath a black tank. You know this isn’t going to go great when she announces she’ll be performing the Adele song “Don’t You Remember?” We already learned yesterday how sick Simon Cowell is of Adele. It turns out Krysten isn’t bad – just perfectly adequate. Simon sentences her to the performance of a more classic song later in the episode. (To be continued …)

Total Jackasses
“Kalvin, that’s a great name,” Simon pronounces after finding out the wacky old Southern gentleman I mentioned in the intro is for-real named Kalvin McManigle. Although he doesn’t give his profession as “old-timey prospector,” that’s what he looks like. (He claims to be a guy who puts handles on lawnmowers, but who knows anymore.) This grizzled old geezer – did I mention he has no front teeth? – forgets what he’s going to sing, and then the words are completely unintelligible too. Seriously, what is this guy doing on this show, besides letting Britney get off a good self-effacing joke (see intro)? In any case, by the time he gets done, the audience is so quiet we could hear a pin, or a tiny, tiny nugget of gold, drop.

He’s only on the screen for a short while, but Matthew Handen makes an impression with the look, basically, of the gay gym-rat version of Eminem. His original song, which is mostly him saying “Baby lay it on me,” makes Britney wince. Hard.

Finally Colon comes back to do an older song: “I Have Nothing.” In a twist, there is no moment of redemption. Her voice just isn’t working. The crowd isn’t into it, and they ignore her. But not before lightning comes back one more time, shutting down the stage lights. The judges tell her that it’s just as well that it happened. “You have a decent voice, but you’re not quite there yet,” L.A. Reid says. When you start debating the judges about why you shouldn’t be kicked off, you’ve already lost. Krysten won’t leave peaceably, though, and the lightning effect continues as she gets more upset and starts bugging out. “You said you weren’t going to do this,” someone from her team says. Uh-oh. Pretty soon, she starts cursing and eventually throwing chairs. From the department of on-the-nose music cues, the song that plays during this indoor storm is “Set Fire to the Rain.”

Last recap: Judges Strike Gold in Texas


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