‘The X Factor’ recap: It’s now in your hands, America

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As the ‘X Factor’ judges/mentors and host Steve Jones periodically reminded us Wednesday night during a two-hour live show in which the top 12 performed, it’s now up to you, America. Yup, we’ve moved on to the voting stage.

So now that the judges have no actual choosing to do, how are they amusing themselves? By offering exceptionally bland commentary on the contestants’ performances (‘You’re amazing,’ ‘I like you,’ ‘I love your voice’) and by picking on each other in a way that’s increasingly discomfiting. (‘The grownups are talking’? Really, Simon?)

We’ll find out the results of the voting tonight. Based on overall appeal, if I were making the decision, I’d send home those fresh-faced kids in the ‘X Factor'-manufactured group InTENsity. But because they have the advantage of having all their mothers vote for them -– the group is so big even Simon Cowell hasn’t bothered to learn any of their names -– it’s really anyone’s guess who’ll get the boot. We’ll have to wait and see.

One thing you don’t have to wait any longer to find out is whether the show will be back for another season. It will, as Cowell smugly announced Wednesday to those who hadn’t already heard. That means I might as well get out my suggestions right now for things the producers might want to change next year, while there’s still time.


1. Ditch the cheesy disembodied voice-overs at the beginning of the show: Who’s talking? And why does he keep barking that ‘it’s time ... to face ... the music,’ as if we did something wrong? Likely someone made the decision that host Jones’ Welsh accent was too difficult to understand, which is an understandable concern, but using Mr. Generic Voice to cover for him isn’t the answer. I think we all know what the answer is. 2. Swap out Steve Jones: Actually, before last night’s show, this would have been a top-of-the-list no-brainer. But on Wednesday night, for the first time, I found myself kind of liking Jones. He seemed warmer toward the contestants. (Did I mishear, or did he command Josh Krajcik to hug him ‘immediately’ after that great performance of Christina Perri’s ‘Jar of Hearts’?) He seemed a little less stiff (though no less absurdly tall). And I liked the way he called out Cowell on his nasty comments. There may be a kind heart beating under all that be-suited brawn and carefully cultivated stubble, a heart yearning to be heard, funny pronunciations and all.

3. Rein in Simon Cowell: He was in even rarer form on Wednesday, taking swipes at all the other judges, though his claws were out particularly for Nicole Scherzinger, puffing himself up like an alpha ape (what was that you know you want to hug me moment with Stacy Francis, anyway?), taking credit where it may or may not have been due, and just generally making a pain of himself (hands off Paula Abdul’s chair, dude). You know how Scherzinger said at one point that she wanted to make her comments about the contestant and not Cowell? A similar refocus would do well for the whole show.

4. Turn down the noise: On the live shows, it’s often been difficult to hear the contestants’ voices over the backing vocals -– and to focus on their song delivery (their facial expressions, their moves) when there’s so much stage business going on (the dancers, the dizzying lights and video projections, the smoke and pyrotechnics and prop petals). On Wednesday night, I could barely look at poor Rachel Crow as she sang that strangely tinkered-with version of Katrina & the Waves’ ‘Walking on Sunshine.’ (Scherzinger was so right about the wrongheadedness of that lyric change.) The swirling, seizure-inducing background image felt assaulting -– and wasn’t fair to the chipper little girl who was bopping along in front of it.

5. Bring in more back story: ‘The X Factor’ needs to focus more squarely on its contestants, not just their performances. The show lacks some of the emotional pull of, say, ‘American Idol’ because we really don’t know all that much about where the competitors are coming from, what it means to them. Sure, they each have their one oft-repeated story line: Krajcik’s the burrito guy; Drew’s the small-town Beiber fan; Chris Rene is the former druggie; LeRoy Bell is the oldster. But those stories starting to wear thin. We need more depth. We need a reminder of the stakes. Fleshing out the contestants’ lives, their hopes and dreams, a bit more would make us care more about them, and about the show.

What would you like to see change in ‘The X Factor’? And who do you hope will make it through to the next round?


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-- Amy Reiter