During post-production, someone must have watched last night's auditions for The X Factor and noticed how not even the good ones had a plausible shot at winning. (Words we hope we won't regret in a few weeks.) And so, buried among the endless hopeless singers and the winners-for-now who get one note of screen time, last night gave us two contestants we could totally see $5 million richer.
This means, of course, that you'd have a more enjoyable X Factor experience (re-)watching their segments on YouTube than slogging through the hellish remainder of the two hours without even having Cheryl Cole as your Geordie-accented Virgil. After all, that just about anything would be a better use of your time than re-acquainting yourself with the antics of...
50. Dillon Lawson: The Lawson who lives in the boondocks, sang Lil Wayne’s “Swag Surfin” with all profanities and probably decided to do the song at the last minute as a diss to Simon’s diss.
49. Curtis “Phoenix” Lawson: The Lawson with the Jesus hair and dreamcatcher/Nicolebait belt buckle who sang like licking a fan blade.
48. Representative Miami Girls in Bikinis on Beach: No "yaaaaar," but in tandem, they squeal: “Miami has the X Factor!” That sounds contagious. Someone alert the CDC!
47. Xander Alexander: Simon's least favorite diva and disser of Jay-Z who sings "I'll Be" (?!) poorly. He strikes us as someone who acts out to overcompensate for extreme nervousness. This excuses nothing.
46. Backstage Crew Member Who Comforts Xander: Stop wasting your time with this bozo -- there’s a ghost on the loose! Oh, wait...
45. The Ghost: Ominously dimming the lights? Come on, The Ghost.
44. Wesley Kimbell: Too screechy...
43. Kid Who Would Use $ to Give Back to Community, Church: Too goody...
42. Kid With Glasses Who Would Use $ to Buy a Helicopter: Too easy...
41. Kid Who Would Use $ to Buy Neverland Ranch: TOO SOON! (But easily the most fun plan yet!)
For another Internet blogger, a very confused man and our least favorite judge, click NEXT.
40. Nicole Scherzinger: Second-most improved, probably because it’s not her birthday! But still Paula Abdul without her likability. “Y’all” is not a singular pronoun.
39. Marivana Viscuso: The mating-wolves woman. Could be amazing if 50 things went differently. We might find out whether they do!
38. Marisa Hopson: Her “Internet blogger” title was (still) more interesting than her Usher song.
37. Gloria Estefan on a Balcony: Screams, “Go in there and show them what Miami is made of”...and nobody does. Wherefore art thou, words of inspiration?
36. Kyle Corr: Sang “oh-whoa,” was o-kay.
35. Guy Who Would Sing Like A Bird for $5 Million: A truly odd thing to say, especially considering #34...
34. Hannah Jackson: Made a bird metaphor! But it’ll take more screentime to make $5 million.
33. Pepsi: An improvement over Yesterday’s #34 placement. Hopefully, we’ll learn how to swallow that.
32. Chanel Simone Dixon: Was that a Geordie accent?!
31. Simon Cowell: In the worst mood tonight, in the worst advertisements tonight, but sure pleased with being Simon Cowell. Least improved.
For a judge who ain't bringing it, a girl who ain't a princess, and some people who actually auditioned to boot, click NEXT.
30. Woman In Bathroom For Some Reason: Before Caitlynne Curtis (later ranked) performed for the judges, there is a quick scene in a bathroom where an elderly woman in a white fur coat asks how she is. The camera zooms in to the woman’s giant ring as she washes her hands. That is all. While we’re kind of obsessed with this moment, we were left wanting more.
29. Taylor Swift’s Voice: Speaking of Caitlynne Curtis, Swift’s “White Horse” played after the 16-year-old got the boot. Something about a young superstar singing a song about dreams not coming true to a young girl whose dreams very recently did not come true seemed a bit wrong. (But kinda funny.)
28. Soraya Narasallah: One of many one-note wonders.
27. Kevin Martin: One of one only-falsetto wonder.
26. Kanan Road: Salesmen and account managers who wear cowboy hats, like plaid and harmonize fine.
25. Austin Simmons: Can we see more of him in future episodes besides blowing kisses and being thankful? Will we have to eat those words?
24. Steve Jones: Appears on screen solely to say the words “five million dollars.” To be fair, he does a great job. Especially “mil-lion.”
23. Ma’at Bingham Shango: Appears on screen solely to sing one note. To be fair, it is a great note.
22. Ashley Rose Sansone: Her audition gave us so much: hot dog eating, everyperson cred, cornball antics, blown raspberries. If only it gave us a better rendition of Janis.
21. Jonny Rogers’ Mom: The mother of Jonny Rogers (stay tuned for more on him) was practical (plus) but lacking in parental pride (minus). After her son was (spoiler!) axed, she noted, “I could see your heart pounding...It’s going to take practice and experience to be calm.” More vocal coach-y, less mom-my, but refreshing.
For mothers, kids soon to be scolded by their mothers and someone who looks nothing like Justin Bieber, click NEXT.
20. Michael and Michelle: Simon’s nightmares apparently include being so moved by sweet singing that he reaches out for and clutches Paula’s hand under the table as the camera swoons. Don't feel bad; they (not Simon and Paula) are no doubt blissfully happy together when you’re reading this.
19. The Dreamgirlz: Good singers kiboshed by (again) Simon for vocal reasons. Again, don't feel bad; a parade of family members came out after their audition to successively stomp on any impression made of talent
18. The Dreamgirlz’ Potty-Mouthed Nephew/Cousin: Was the parade master. We watched him pass through all 5 Stages of Grieving (“This is bull.” “$%#@&^.” “Come on, ya gotta say yes!” “I wanted them to make it, they’re great.” “I don’t care, get me out of this freakin’ place.”). While we don’t necessarily advocate this behavior, he was a welcome shift in tone.
17. Brendan O’Hara: The judges loved him; we found more love in the cluster of excellent auditioneers around him. Sadly, this was the only such cluster on the show.
16. L.A. Reid: Still the most consistently right of any judge, and we gave him points for calling out Nicole ("You like everything. I want to hear what you say."), but more and more surly; all that already-protracted Simon feuding must be rubbing off on him. Let's blame it on the heat for now.
15. Nick Voss’ Mom: The mom of highly ranked Nick Voss was all parental pride (plus), little practicality (slight minus). During his performance, she reaches out to the monitor as if to hug it, screaming and crying. Before Simon says (spoiler), “yes,” she screams “SAY YES, SIMON, SAY YES!” Happy to see a proud mama, but whaddaya say we cool our jets just a touch.
14. Jonny Rogers: Jonny’s hair looks nothing like Justin Bieber’s. It looks like the hair of every proto-frat boy south of the Mason-Dixon line. Nor did his audition remind us of the Bieb, a Bieb doll or any bastardized form thereof. The jerky synths, the slightly staccato delivery -- Jonny clearly missed his calling as the cute-ish one out of a turn-of-the-century boy band. And what’s wrong with that?
13. Caitlynne Curtis: Much better than the judges gave her credit for, although Simon's got a point that she'd be better bolstered by a girl group. "Firework" is also much better in this piano arrangement.
12. Melanie Amaro’s Mom: Our choice for top mom, with the perfect balance of pride and practicality. She keeps her cool before Melanie performs with a simple but honest “I love you,” mouths along with smiling eyes as her daughter (spoiler) kills it, and doesn’t explode with cries of joy until Simon gives Melanie the affirmative. The perfect progression, buttoned with a Lasso Dance.
11. Dexter Heygood: This just might be his last shot at a second chance, the voiceover marvels. A chance, that is, for this Memphis-jacketed former rocker to become James Brown. He tries twice: once with "Sex Machine," with all the machine-precise funk imitations but none of the sex, then after Simon asked him to sing 15 seconds a cappella to be himself, far more than 15 seconds of another James Brown song. But before that happened, the show took a commercial break and his segment got an injection of instant backstory.
For our seven favorite auditioners, favorite judge, favorite object and favorite disembodied entity, click NEXT.
10. The Sponge: By its lonesome, abandoned in the corner of the stage, this was the best part of the entire Dillon Lawson (#50) segment. Don't trust our opinion? Trust Paula Abdul's opinion! Why would she be so insistent on giving the sponge more screen time than three advancing contestants combined if it wasn't completely worthy?
9. Kendra Williams: Well on her way to becoming this season's Pia Toscano, depending on how many singers come through with her exact vocal precision. But then again, Pia Toscano's not doing so poorly. Does Kendra just need an unshocking elimination?
8. Jeremiah Pagan: There are more than seven male sopranos in the world; if Jeremiah hadn't said anything, who'd know he wasn't just a high tenor? Fortunately, he's a good
tenor soprano. Song choice will be tricky, but he's probably known that for years.
7. Nick Voss: Heartbeat sound effect, cut to commercial: yep, you're watching a winner's package. Nick turns out to be something like a male version of Idol's Haley Reinhart: a raspy singer (showcased here with Elvis) with a voice more interesting by far than his competition. It's not a perfect match--Voss relies too much on nasal delivery and glottal stops and other tricks that make it seem like he's a nonsinger auditioning for a biopic--but on charisma, he's flawless. Extra points for never saying "like a boss."
6. The Hand That Presses Play: Disembodied and cloaked in a haunting blue light, The Hand makes The Ghost (#45) look like a total loser. The Hand carries out its singular duty (unless it is also The Hand That Does Construction to Indicate We’ve Moved Cities) with a dramatic flair, holding out until the proper suspense level is reached. The Hand is manicured, yet strong. Firm, yet graceful. Perhaps you didn’t even notice The Hand. Now you will, forever.
5. Ashley Deckard: The producers shroud her ghost-hunting in spooky lighting and running gags and judges priming her with asking about anything "very interesting" haunting her past, but ghost hunts totally aren't scary. Haven't they read that one Nancy Drew book where it's a guided lake tour? (With criminals, but still.) Anyway, Ashley's not here for that. Nor is she here for her audition--singing "Price Tag" wasn't a good look for Jessie J either. She's here because she's by far the most likable person of the night. Plus, she's 14. Her voice is promising for a 14-year-old. Give her four years; maybe she'll have found a ghost by then, or a phantom.
4. 2Squard: If it takes The X Factor to make us utter the vaunted words "En Vogue" and "Destiny's Child" on these pages, then The X Factor is already worthwhile. Both name and harmonies are intact! Granted, we wonder how they'll fare in Simon's commercial-act sieve (R&B girl groups aren't on Billboard's pages much now, either), but talent gets you far.
3. Paula Abdul: L.A. is the most correct of all the coaches, but Paula might be the most fundamentally decent--comforting Caitlin never felt anything but sincere. It's a good sign when the screen instantly fills up with goodwill and sparkles during the too-few times when she speaks, and when you consistently want to see more of her.
2. Melanie Amaro: If Nick got the pre-performance coronation, Melanie got the lavish reaction: one "X Factor" comment, one note of hyperbole from Simon that she's why The X Factor is airing in America, one still black-and-white shot to close her segment. Mostly, she deserved it; her "Listen" was almost as good as Beyonce's, and her humility ("Do you have a good voice?" "I'll let you determine that.") wasn't even a thing like Deena's.
1. Caitlin Koch: Caitlin is a rugby coach. We know this because rugby is mentioned roughly once every two seconds. (Nicole is awed that such a thing exists.) Caitlin isn't a singing coach, but she could be one. After two audition nights where even the standout contestants were haphazard and loud, her performance of the Supremes' "Stop (in the Name of Love)" was a revelation, perfectly paced and genuinely surprising. It's an quick twist to make a pop standard slow and sparse, but when the last twist was splicing a Britney Spears song into the Adele song, we'll take it.