The X Factor returned with its first live show Wednesday night, which featured the Top 16 contestants performing songs with the theme "Made in America" in front of the judges and America. The episode also marked the introduction of new co-hosts Mario Lopez and Khloe Kardashian.
Lopez, who has hosted before and is a correspondent for Extra, predictably held his own, but Kardashian has a long way to go before proving that she was the right choice for the job. Other than calling Simon Cowell "sexy" repeatedly, and awkwardly putting Demi Lovato on the spot to identify which individual member of one group Lovato thought stood out, Kardashian had little to offer in the way of commentary. (Though it's likely many viewers were too distracted by her extremely low-cut top to pay much attention to what she was saying.)
Read on to find out how the Top 16 contestants fared, see what prompted tensions between Cowell and L.A. Reid, and find out which judge made Fox happy for live tape delays!
Young Adults, mentored by Demi Lovato
Paige Thomas: Thomas, who shaved her head at the behest of Lovato before the live shows, offered a rendition of Haddaway's "What Is Love" that seemed tepid, save for the "Woh-oh-oh-oh-oh" choruses. But the judges thought otherwise. Reid said he wasn't thrilled with the song choice, but complimented Thomas' performance. And Cowell said she "nailed it."
Jennel Garcia: It seems Lovato is just as concerned with making over her protégé's appearances as she is with fostering their vocal abilities. Garcia debuted a new rocker chick look to match her song choice, Motley Crue's "Home Sweet Home." It was an odd choice for the singer, but one that paid off. Cowell, who called Garcia a potential "dark horse" in the competition on a conference call yesterday, gushed over her performance while at the same time gently accusing Lovato of "complete narcissism" in trying to make Garcia a carbon copy of herself.
CeCe Frey: Lovato's makeovers continue with a now blonde Frey (sans cheetah face art!), whose dance version of Patti Smith's "Because the Night" resembled Lady Gaga Lite. Frey brought the whole package — singing, dancing and working the stage like nobody's business. But all the judges, including her mentor Lovato, agreed that while her overall performance was great, her vocals left a little to be desired.
Willie Jones: Jones gave a rather subdued performance of Gretchen Wilson's "Here for the Party," which Cowell called "cheap" and "silly." "I don't think that you were taking yourself seriously," Cowell said. "I don't think your mentor has done you any justice with that whatsoever." Lovato took issue with that, flicking Pepsi on Cowell and saying that, as a 20-year-old, she has a better idea of what would be popular currently as opposed to "100 years ago." So much for respecting your elders!
Teens, mentored by Britney Spears
Arin Ray: Ray, who's in the competition for the second time after being a member of one of the groups last season, took the stage with a slew of backup dancers for The Supremes' "You Keep Me Hangin' On." Cowell said the gyrating women around Ray appeared to distract him, but said the teen's "swag and self-confidence" were impressive. Lovato, on the other hand, said his vocals were "a little stiff."
Diamond White: White proved she's a real force to be reckoned with this season, looking like she was thoroughly enjoying every second of Train's "Hey, Soul Sister." The judges thought so too, with Reid saying White started off "mechanical" but owned the song by the end, and Lovato calling the performance "a little reserved" but assuring White she has "one of the most powerful voices in this competition."
Beatrice Miller: Unfortunately for Miller, who's now donning crimped hair, Jason Mraz's "Up" was way out of her range. Lovato said she appeared nervous and Cowell pointed out that there were "some real tuning issues" with her performance.
Carly Rose Sonenclar: Oof. One of the most talented vocalists in the competition was felled by a poor song choice (Flo Rida's "Good Feeling") and a ridiculous outfit modeled after Spears' schoolgirl chic in the "Baby One More Time" video. Reid, Lovato and Cowell all said she appeared uncomfortable with the song and didn't look like she was having fun during the performance. Still, Cowell told her, "it would be criminal if you were to leave the competition tomorrow."
Over 25s, mentored by L.A. Reid
David Correy: Correy, who's the strongest member of this group by far, offered a spirited take on Whitney Houston's "My Love Is Your Love." But for Cowell, who also called the song choice "random," it might have been a little too spirited — he told Correy it felt "a bit manic, verging at times on what I would call desperate, like you were begging the audience to like you." The other three judges had nothing but good things to say.
Vino Alan: Alan's rendition of Nickelback's "Gotta Be Somebody" sounded like bad bar karaoke, and the judges didn't sugarcoat their criticism. Spears said she was "a little bored," Lovato told Alan she "had a hard time" seeing him as a pop star, and Cowell really let loose. "I think the song and the arrangement was completely and utterly wrong for you," he said. "It made you into like some horrible cover singer ... and I don't think you're that kind of singer." Cowell also targeted his criticisms toward Reid, telling his colleague, very Britishly: "You completely and utterly c---ed this up." Thank goodness for tape delays!
Tate Stevens: Stevens gave a snoozy performance of Craig Morgan's "Tough," fulfilling his role of being the only strictly country soloist in the competition. Lovato complimented his ability to stand on his own without the aid of backup dancers and a band, and both Cowell and Reid agreed that he's a "keeper." We'll see what the viewers have to say if he makes it through to the voting rounds!
Jason Brock: Things really got heated between Cowell and Reid after Brock's performance — but this time it wasn't just Cowell criticizing the song choice. Lovato and Spears also said that Brock's selection of Jennifer Lopez's "Dance Again" was ill-advised, but Cowell was particularly harsh, telling Brock that everything from his stage entrance to his outfit (not to mention his singing) was "utterly horrendous." "Everything about it was wrong. It honestly, for me, doesn't get worse than that," Cowell said. Reid's response? "He's a hater. Don't worry about it." Brock managed to pinch Lopez's butt before he exited the stage, so maybe that will bring him some good luck!
The Groups, mentored by Simon Cowell
Sister C: Cowell has spoken about what he believes is this trio's main vulnerability — the fact that they don't appear likeable in interviews. They didn't fare much better onstage Wednesday night, with Lovato saying she "expected a better performance" and Reid saying he now understood why their song ("Hell on Heels" by Pistol Annies — the same one they used in the auditions) was truncated in the audition footage.
Lyric 145: The rap trio got the crowd on its feet with DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince's "Boom! Shake the Room" (with a little "Gangnam Style" thrown in for good measure). Spears said she was "genuinely entertained" and Lovato said the group's talent left her "a little worried." But for Reid, the performance gave him a chance to get in his own dig at Cowell. "The good news is that I love you guys," Reid told them. "The bad news is it sounded like somebody put you in a washer, dumped in bleach, and took all the soul out of you. ... That's not hip-hop."
1432: The group formerly known as "Lylas" furthered the feud between Cowell and Reid, with Reid saying their performance of Taylor Swift's "We Are Never, Ever Getting Back Together" was "very talent show, very karaoke." "Your mentor really failed you," Reid reiterated. Lovato said only one of the five stood out to her Wednesday night, and even Cowell himself admitted the group could use some improvement — but pointed out that they've only been working together for three weeks.
Emblem3: It's official: it is possible for all three members of the group to keep their shirts on during a performance. Even though they were fully clothed, however, a giggly Lovato said she couldn't even look at the boys because as a judge she wasn't supposed to flirt. (Spears concurred, calling them "adorable.") And even Reid couldn't find fault with the surfer trio, telling Cowell, "Even a broken clock is right twice a day. You got it right this time. ... I think we have just witnessed America's next pop sensation."
And that's it! Tomorrow night's results show will reveal the Top 12, based on the judges' decisions. Viewer voting doesn't begin until next week, but tell us in the comments who your favorites are so far!