Tonight, at long last, The X Factor's top three contenders come into view. That's right: one contestant blew us away like no one before on the show has, and then a second and third arrived, just as good. It almost made suffering through the two-hour audition episode worth it. Here comes the rundown:
Last episode of auditions, this time in Newark, N.J. — let's do this! I hope for future episodes we don't get the full judges intro. Too much padding as it is in these here supersized episodes.
Brian, 14, from Brooklyn, says in five years, he'll be better than Jay-Z. He's a confident little fellow, mouthing off to Simon right off the bat and then getting the crowd on its feet while he raps his original song "Stop Looking at My Mom." "Brian, honey, I am scurred of you," Nicole says. Here's where the producers try to fool us into thinking Simon's so angry at this kid for showing him attitude — and of course, he's not:"Brian, you are arrogant, obnoxious, argumentative -- but you are one of the most talented young people I've heard in a long long time." Shocker. I'm going to try and be less cranky for the rest of this recap, but that bit is so played out, X Factor. Brian gets through. (Duh, turns out he's a YouTube sensation!)
Here's the key to the montages: If they're set to something sappy or a Katy Perry song, they're all getting through. This first montage, set to Perry's "Firework," introduces us to Kelly, 22, a haircutter who works in a nursing home. She sings 20 seconds of "Hallelujah" and apparently got screen time because she's got, I don't know, nice hair herself? With equally luscious locks, Aaron, a store manager, sings "Don't Want to Miss a Thing," and not particularly well. Simon's the only one who notices. He gets through with three yeses. LA shoves it to Simon for someone who gets all of 40 seconds of screen time? Credibility is slipping, sir. Liliana Rose, 26, works in an office and does the coffee-shop version of "Please Don't Take My Sunshine Away" with no track. Will she get through? "Firework" comes back on full-blast. Of course!
"Firework" ends and we meet short, bespectacled Andy, 43, and he's never kissed a girl before, and that's all you need to know about how he got booked onto the show. I'm sure he can't sing. He's also brought his mother. If he won, he'd get "a nice house, a nice car and a lot of girls would..." You get the picture. (Simon agrees cash helps.) Andy, regrettably, is going to sing "Hero" by Mariah Carey. I'm bracing myself. X Factor, I hate you. Yes, these people put themselves up for this, and most of them probably know what's going to happen, but...ugh. The audience, of course, cheers, because he's a sweet sort of fellow, and the judges let him down gently. But people, this is still ex-ploi-ta-tion. It's not touching. It's gross.
More bad on the way: Clarissa, aka "Cashmere," 27, a cheery, seemingly well-adjusted office worker who attempts to sing Mariah Carey's "Always Be My Baby," without any knowledge of the words or sense of tone. Simon is laughing so hard he's crying. "Cashmere, when you said people scream for you after karaoke, I don't think that was a compliment..." Cashmere looks genuinely sad. Anouf gets mad at the audiences when she's cut off; a hula hooping guy named Jean Loup gets 10 seconds through "Think" before being stopped; Maya, 58, might not even speak English fluently, and fortunately, there's only a few seconds of her "We Are the Champions" to suffer through. Fun!
Cari, a very pretty, very blonde high school junior — picture a clean and cleaned up version of Kesha? -- says she's been classically trained. Her version of Heart's "Alone" is OK, but she's not a very dynamic performer, and not a particularly amazing singer... but like I said she's very pretty! So Nicole and LA love her. Fortunately, Simon says there's nothing distinctive about her voice and also that she's not memorable. But who cares what Simon says, she only needs three yeses and the other three judges want to date her. She's in!
Montage to some sappy piano music: a couple more girls — one young and one old -- get through in the 20 seconds before commercial break. I didn't get their names. Literally, though, it was 20 seconds. I'm sorry.
Ausem, Austin and Emily, both 15, met in their school play. They sing/act out "Jar of Hearts" — I think Austin is slightly better than Emily? Maybe? He would be OK on the Disney Channel, where they would Auto-Tune the hell out of him. "I think the audience you are aiming at will understand you... I'm going to say yes," says Simon. And hey now, LA agrees with me: Austin is better than Emily. He says yes to the pair but only because of Austin. Nicole says no because she also doesn't think Emily is very good. Simon tries to bully her into changing her mind. Nicole wavers, and so Simon leaves the judges' table. Draaaama. Nicole puts on her sad face, and the crowd starts cheering so of course she changes her mind.
Tora, 21, is a college student who wants to own a car shop and race cars. She also looks like Lady Gaga. She's going to sing "I Want You Back" by the Jackson 5 — and ladies and gentlemen, we have an honest to God contender. She knows how to move, she looks like a pop star, and she sounds fantastic. I'm loving it. Simon is also loving it: "I absolutely love you, Tora... I think you could be special." That was like a shot of espresso. Suddenly, I'm more interested in the remaining 50 minutes. Don't make me regret it, last 50 minutes.
Something tells me that Tora is going to be followed by someone who is her polar opposite. Jor-El, to be fair, isn't a total train wreck, he's just bad enough at doing Madonna's "Lucky Star" to qualify for the post-Tora spot. In the same vein, John's "When I Grow Up" by the Pussycat Dolls is pretty bad. Oh! They're part of a montage of more bad people. I don't have the energy to grab all their names, guys. They're all bad, not in very memorable ways. Blame The Voice but I only want to see people with real shots at winning this thing. This is my third music competition of the year. Pity needs to be paid.
The Stereo Hoggz are up. They're an R&B foursome, and I can't tell what they're singing. Chew me out in the comments, but I really couldn't hear what they were saying. Simon says whatever it is is over-rehearsed. Nicole likes the energy. Simon still gives them a yes, and they're through to the bootcamp round.
Make fun of Nicole time. She likes saying "you have an amazing instrument" a lot.
Nashville native Brennin, 26, says he's already got a strike against him because he's hot. He's modeled a little, yeah. His ultimate goal is to rule the world because, as he puts it, "he's the total package." He's going to sing an original called "How We Make It." If he weren't so immediately off-putting and obnoxious, I'd get more excited, but I must say, there's no denying he's really, really good. His original song isn't even that bad — certainly, it's the best original one we've heard. Simon wants to work with him. I'm sure there are going to plenty of people who aren't featured in the auditions who are going to be awesome — or, I hope so — but right now, it's Tora and Brennin for the win in my eyes.
Montage! This one is set to Chris Brown's "I Gotta See You Tonight" and you know what that means! Paige Elizabeth, sings Lady Gaga's "You and I" and from the 15 seconds I heard, she's got some solid chops. Could it be the audition episodes are going out with a bang? I approve. Leroy, who has to be lying about being 59, does an admirable a capella job of "Lean on Me." Ditto: The Brewer Boys, 13 and 17, and Nick, 14.
Spoke too soon. Montage ovah: Meet Devon, 21, who sings "Seasons of Love" from Rent. He seems sincere. And because he's timid, the audience cheers throughout some of the most excruciating parts. Because Simon knows this makes "good TV" we sit through almost the entire thing. He tries to sing over Simon's judgment. Nicole says, "I love how you brought us all together... " Paula says "I appreciate you..." Both are followed by big ol' BUTS. He doesn't go through.
Final contestant!!! Jazzlyn, 16, is a very nervous sophomore. No, really, she's very, very, very nervous and tells us about a video she posted online that only got 500 hits, awww... do you feel those heartstrings being pulled yet? Because here it comes...a flawless performance of Mary J. Blige's "I'm Going Down." Well, at least we're ending on an up note! "You're the one to watch," Simon says.
Time for bootcamp! What did you think of the night? Did you also like Tora, Brennin and Jazzlyn — or did you have other favorites? When the groups are divided into boys, girls, over 30s and groups, what do you think would be the best pairings? Should Paula get the over 30s or the groups? Or should Simon have the over 30s? Do you already pity the group Nicole gets? Tell us in the comments.