Friday, September 14, 2012

'The X-Factor' Season 2, Episode 2 Recap: Oops, Britney Spears did it again - New York Daily News (blog)

The second night of season two of “The X Factor” began to clarify the show's guiding forces. The judges continued developing their own particular niches, while the auditions became more polarized, alternating between towering successes and embarrassing failures.

From the start, the producers seem intent on developing Britney Spears as a force to be reckoned with; the opening recap of last night's action showcased mixed reactions from the other judges, but quickly gave way to a montage of Spears cruelly rejecting several contestants. Spears, to her credit, has remained critical but fair, but the show is clearly singling her outâ€"playing dramatic music as she arrives at the San Francisco venue, detached and celebrated differently from her peers at the judges' table.

Small talk by the masses waiting on line for auditions quickly gives way to the story of Johnny Maxwell, a 16-year-old student from Castro Valley, California. 
"There's hecka people here, mom," says Maxwell, as he arrives with his mother to the venue. And though snippets of those people are visible though out the show's beginning moments, the camera stays largely trained on Maxwell. 
He makes an excellent showing once he's on his own. He strides confidently to the center of the stage, raising his arms and asking "X Factor, how y'all doin'?" and performs his own original song, "All These People," to an initially skeptical but eventually impressed panel of judges.
By the final chorus of a song that's evenly split between rapping and sung choruses, L.A. Reid is singing the titular lyrics along with Maxwell, and Demi Lovato and Spears share the same grin with Maxwell's mother, who is frequently shown beaming throughout his performance.
"You have swag," Lovato declares. "You are so driven and passionate when you perform, it's amazing to watch." The rest of the judges agree, with Cowell accurately pronouncing him a better rapper than singer. He leaves the stage with four "yes" votes, and Cowell mutters "That's what we're looking for," as he goes.
Lexa Berman, a 22-year-old from Boca Raton, goes next. She is pompous, and that fact has been teased throughout the episode thus far; she is pictured explaining to a younger performer how difficult the competition is, and how she’s seemingly able to handle it.
Much is made of her appearance once she hits the stage--even Reid asks if she's single or married--but her performance doesn't measure up to her personality. Her voice has a nicely full body to it, but she doesn't bring any feeling. Cowell throws her a "yes" vote, perhaps acknowledging an arrogant, if kindred, spirit, but she is flatly denied by the other three and leaves the stage dejected.
The next montage of performers could easily be titled the "But you're hot," segment. A parade of men with steely eyes and six-pack abs cross the stage, drawing mild flirtation from Lovato and Spears, but the two are immediately left feeling cold once the performers open their mouths to sing.  A few obvious testosterone-inspired jokes are thrown out by Cowell ("This is why I love this show," Cowell says, when a modestly-sized girl group takes the stage), but all acts have one thing in common; their singing is terrible. Off-key and off-tempo singing scores the march of the eye candy, which could have ended halfway through on Reid's sage advice.
"You know what we need?" he asks backstage. "Someone with great looks and talent."
After a commercial break, we return to follow the story of Jason Brock. A San Francisco resident who resembles a stockier, more hilariously personable Adam Lambert, he is nothing if not an accurate judge of his own character.
"When my voice comes out, it's unbelievable," the tech support employee says of others' reactions to his voice. "It stops them in their tracks."
He has a similar effect on the judges. The first thing to give them pause, though, is his entrance. Cordial hellos quickly give way to him describing a fantasy concert in which he is surrounded by backup dancers, smoky white light and dismissed with a "confetti explosion," and the judges' patience begins to wear thin. But when he begins his rendition of Billy Joel's "New York Sate of Mind," jaws drop and remain in that position for most of the performance.
"You sparkle and you ooze of joy while you're singing," Lovato says, and his expressive voice--which sounds at times like Cee-Lo Green's full-bore crooning--breathes enough life into the song to make Joel's original vocals seem tame by comparison.
"Your voice is a song's best friend," Reid adds, explaining how songwriters adore a voice as flexible as Brock's. He receives four "yes".
Up next is 20-year-old Patrick Ford, an unnervingly dedicated Britney Spears fan. He exposes his inner fanboy to the camera when he wonders aloud if they might be siblings, and his performance only gets worse from there. Once he hits the stage, he neither sings in time, nor on pitch, and Spears visibly grimaces as he brings a literal meaning to her own song "Circus." 
"It was like you had an argument with Britney Spears, got drunk, and decided to scream the song at her," says Cowell. The flowers Ford brought onstage to give to Spears are hand-delivered by Cowell, who in this situation seems like the chivalrous guy trying to keep Spears at arms' length from a potential stalker. Ford's exit interview employs horror movie filmmaking tropes--quick zooms and random quotes echoing into the distance--and provides the icing on an entirely disturbing cake before the show departs for Providence, Rhode Island.
Presumably saving the rest for later shows, there is only one performer from Rhode Island shown to round out the end of the hour-long episode. But she is a knockout. At 13, Carly Rose Sonenclar (born in New York City and no stranger to Broadway, having performed in several musicals) is obviously precocious. Initial reactions to her adorable appearance give way to skepticism from the judges when she announces she will attempt Nina Simone's "Feeling Good," a soulful number seemingly impossible to replicate as powerfully as Simone sings it after 13 short years on this planet.
"Honey, you may be 13, but your soul is old!" raves Reid after a performance that saw this season's first standing ovation from all four judges.
Her pitch was the most accurate of the night, but the emotion and grit in her voice overshadows that, allowing her to add tasteful accents and expressive movements to the performance. Lovato admits being "obsessed" with her, and the judges send her back to her parents with four "yes" votes.
"Remember this day, everybody," Reid says as he casts his vote. "A star is born."
“The X Factor” seems to be approaching a formula. The show remains heavily focused on the judges, who have already begun to mature beyond the expectations placed on them before the season started. But the show is beginning to shoot for the extremes in order to give us more of what we expect; at least one conceited character whose personality will be their undoing, and a brief series of train-wreck acts each episode. But the show's high points make it worth paying attention to, at least at this early stage, because they are surprising, organic and fresh.

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