photo: Michael Becker/Fox
Psych! That would've been awesome, huh? But of course that did not happen. Instead, there was plenty of olde Englishness to go around — not just because of all the Elton, Beatles, and Stones covers, but from onstage panto like jolly bobby cops dancing behind Josh Levi for no reason, Alex & Sierra playing next to some sort of Renaissance Faire moat, Jeff Gutt reclining in a giant iron throne, Ellona Santiago performing on an Elizabethan fainting couch…honestly,I practically expected to see Kelly, Paulina, and Demi feasting on tea and crumpets while wearing Princess Beatrice royal wedding hats and speaking in Eliza Doolittle accents all night long.
As for the performances themselves, some of them were bloody brilliant. Others were a bit dodgy. Here's how everyone did:
Jeff Gutt – Jeff was assigned "one of the most iconic songs of all time," according to Simon Cowell: "Bohemian Rhapsody." Mamma mia, mamma mia! This was either going to be a performance fit for a Queen, or now he'd go and throw it all away. Luckily, Jeff handled this tricky vocal well. Sure, he was no Freddie Mercury (or Adam Lambert, for that matter), but he did prove that he's got some solid rock chops. "What a powerful way to start the show!" raved Paulina Rubio. "You rocked this week!" said Kelly Rowland. Demi Lovato and Simon even declared this Jeff's best performance yet. I wouldn't go that far — let's face it, Jeff's best performance was his "Hallelujah" audition last season — but this was very strong. Jeff pulled off a song that many singers would not have been able to handle…and he even looked good sitting in that "Game of Thrones" castoff prop while doing it!
Tim Olstad – Tim left the stage in tears last week after his "Against All Odds" performance was criticized for, well, just being odd. So Tim returned this week with Elton John's "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," literally pleading to the judges, "What have I got to do to make you love me?" The answer: Sit and play the piano every week. Tim seemed so much more comfortable doing just that (he should've stayed at the bench the whole time), as it gave him something to do instead of flailing onstage. It just worked. The vocal was nice, too — Tim is an adult-contemporary singer, even if he insists that he's not, and Elton songs are very much in his wheelhouse. "You definitely stepped it up a couple notches this week," said Kelly. "I don't even think you needed the piano to be sexy…You sounded like Robin Thicke. The R&B, soulful thing is so sexy for you, and it's not boring anymore. You've found your lane," said a flip-flopping Demi, who usually slams Tim's performances. I wouldn't ever use the adjective "sexy" to describe Tim Olstad, and I sort of agreed when Simon said that Tim would be better off as a Broadway or cabaret act. But you know, with his throwback talent, Tim could probably do just fine in Vegas — Elton John did, after all!
Khaya Cohen – Khaya's "Borderline" was one of my favorite performances of last week, and I was bitterly disappointed when she ended up in the bottom three. She did not deserve to be there at all. So I wonder if Khaya's mentor, Demi, assigned her the Beatles' "Let It Be" this week in the hopes that such a well-known and much-loved song would help her connect with viewers. (Demi said Khaya still "had a wall up," which was a nice way of saying she's not likable enough.) I personally think this ballad, complete with gospel backup singers, sanded down Khaya's edge. It didn't really work with her trademark sassy rasp, it made her seem too serious, and come on, we've heard this song covered way too many times already (and covered better). Overall, it was a respectable performance (as Simon said, "The beginning was OK, then you got your stride halfway through"), but I am worried that if "Borderline" wasn't enough to get Khaya votes, this won't do the trick either.
Josh Levi – The first truly bloody-brilliant performance of the night was this kid's cover of the Eurythmics' "Sweet Dreams," sort of a less-Goth remake of the Marilyn Manson version, slowed to a soulful crawl. The staging was ridiculous — boogie-ing bobby cops, Josh emerging from an old-fashioned red telephone box — and Simon was right to describe it as "insane" and accuse Josh's mentor, Paulina, of drinking (Guinness?) on the job. But Josh's vocal, dancing, and arrangement were all on point, and he gave one of the most memorable performances of the night. Demi compared him to Chris Brown (she meant that as a compliment, by the way), and both she and Kelly expressed jealousy over the fact that Paulina got to be his mentor. "You are one of the artists I look forward to every week," said Simon. I'm looking forward to seeing what Josh does next week, myself…because there's no way he's going home after this.
Alex & Sierra – Like Josh, these two also got some super-silly staging (they were performing on a wonky cardboard bridge that looked like it'd been borrowed from the Romeo & Juliet episode of "The Brady Bunch"). But, like Josh, they gave one of the night's top performances. Their mentor, Simon, naturally assigned them a One Direction song, in an attempt to pimp his pet project and remind viewers that the "X Factor" franchise really does create superstars, albeit not superstars in the States. Anyhoo, Alex & Sierra turned "Best Song Ever" into the best cover ever (well, at least one of the best covers of the night), changing it up drastically but doing such a good job of it that even diehard Directioners would probably approve. "Brilliant, brilliant performance. That is a record. That is original," said Simon. Yes, Alex & Sierra can always be counted on to put their own distinctive stamp on a song, and there's only one direction they should be headed in: straight to the Season 3 finale.
Rion Paige – Belting Elton John's "Your Song," Rion delivered her technically best vocal of the entire season, with her usual distracting gaspiness and over-enthusiastic hairography under complete control. However, even if Rion's emotion was coming from a real place (she dedicated the song to her beloved baby brother, which was sweet), it still felt forced, especially towards the end; her screwed-up facial expressions came across as a little precious and theater-y. Still, though, this was a nice effort. "I'm speechless! That was incredible! You allowed yourself to be vulnerable," gushed Kelly. "You give us that beautiful feeling of your soul," said Paulina. "I can feel the emotion when you sing," said Demi. "That was beautiful to listen to; it sounded like a record," said Simon. Simon made a good point: This was probably Rion's most download-ready song yet.
Carlito Olivero – OK, Paulina really must have been drunk when she thought giving Carlito a karaoke cover of the Rolling Stones "Satisfaction" (or more like the Britney Spears version of "Satisfaction") was a bright idea. What a terrible song choice for this Latin lover. He tried his darnedest to sex it up, but he did not have the moves like Jagger, and the close-up camera angles of his pelvis were just icky. (This is a family show, Fox! Back that camera up.) I couldn't get no satisfaction from this, and neither could the judges. Kelly complained that something was "missing" from the performance. Demi said Carlito needed to embrace his heritage and be more Ricky Martin-esque. Simon, though, was surprisingly kind, praising Carlito for giving his usual "110 percent" and even saying, "I hope the public keep you. I respect you." Carlito seemed thrilled to finally receive a rare positive critique from Simon, but I'm sorry, I don't think lyrics have ever rung more true than the line "Can't you see I'm on a losing streak?" did tonight.
Lillie McCloud – Simon thought "This Woman's Work" (popularized in the U.S. by Maxwell, but original, gorgeously done by Britain's own Kate Bush) was the wrong choice for Lillie. Simon is obviously an idiot. Even though Lillie had never heard the song before (whaaaa?), she clearly deeply connected with its subject matter — motherhood, childbirth, and sacrifice — and she poured her entire self into the song. This was flawless. This seriously seemed like a Grammy performance, something by J.Hud or Whitney. Said Demi, "That really reminded me of the Lillie I first saw." Simon, clearly realizing he'd been all wrong about the song choice, said, "It's so easy to take for granted what a good singer you are, because I think by any standard that was brilliant. I genuinely feel you've arrived." Kelly proudly said, "I love the fact that you're still able to share your gift. After 54 years, you are so on your game." Finally, finally, Lillie had another moment as magnificent as "Alabaster Box."
Ellona Santiago – Ellona got one of the more current songs of the night, Ellie Goulding's "Burn," which should have worked in her favor. But this was kind of a weird song for her, and in her attempt to prove how great a vocalist she really is (there was no distracting advanced dance routine this week), she sort of let the song get away from her. Nothing felt natural or at ease about this performance, even though she did hit some very impressive notes. Kelly loved Ellona's big voice/little body combo, but Simon said, "It's like watching an actress. I don't know who you are yet. You're like a dancing, singing puppet, and I think you're better than that." I think Ellona is better than that, too — and that she is better than Simon's rude comment implied. The poor girl seemed really stung by that remark.
Restless Road – The least British-y act in the top 10, good ole country boys Andrew, Colton, and Zach, took on Coldplay's "Fix You," and I thought this had the potential to be great. I expected Restless Road to countrify it and turn it into Rascal Flattsian ballad. But that didn't happen. The obnoxiously over-amped track nearly drowned them out, and from what I could hear, their harmonies were not perfect. (Side note: I also didn't think it was a good look when the show tried to teach Zach confidence by having him pick up girls on the street — and not a single girl recognized him or gave him her digits. Aren't Restless Road supposed to be heartthrobs?) The judges seemed underwhelmed by this performance. Kelly wanted more cohesiveness. Paulina wanted more personality. Demi shrugged, "You did good. I think you've done better." Only their mentor Simon, of course, was brimming with praise, calling this "by far one of the best performances of the night." I'd say it was more like the sixth- or seventh-best performance of the night.
So now, it is prediction time. Who will be the two to get cut Thursday night? My guess is Carlito will receive the fewest votes, Ellona and Khaya will then sing for survival, and the judges will save…Ellona. But Carlito was safe last week, so who knows what might happen?
Come back Thursday to find out if my predictions are correct…and, oh yeah, to see One Direction perform. Squee!
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