September 22nd, 2011
09:58 AM ET
After months of hype and a judge switcheroo, Fox's "X Factor" has arrived.
A lot was crammed into this two-hour premiere. It was slick, glossy, fast-paced and at times over-produced. But I LOVED it. No other singing competition has shown that vast amount of talent in a long time, although NBC's "The Voice" came very close.
But before we get to the contestants, let's talk about the host and the four judges.
Welsh-born TV host Steve Jones kicked things off (and yes, he definitely had my attention. Who is this über good-looking guy from across the pond, and why hadn't I heard about him before?) as auditions began in Los Angeles and Seattle.
Simon Cowell, former Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger (who replaced U.K. singer Cheryl Cole), record label executive L.A. Reid and my favorite "American Idol" judge of all time, Paula Abdul, sat together judging countless contestants of various ages. The sometimes mean but always frank Cowell didn't pull out the fangs, but he was honest and told a few contestants "no" when it came time to vote them to the next level.
My favorite line from him of the night was when he told a female duo who were auditioning that one was singing while the other sounded like she swallowed poison! Good old Cowell is back. All four judges have their distinct styles, and when put together it becomes the perfect puzzle. That's enough to make me want to stay tuned the entire season.
On to the contestants: The ones that advanced were beyond stellar. They either had distinct voices, were extremely entertaining or had that...well, "X" factor.
Let's focus on the unforgettable contestants. First up was 13-year-old Rachel Crowe. She's an adorable kid who showed up to the audition with her sister and single mother and won the crowd over within seconds of doing her cover of Duffy's "Mercy." Her voice is bigger than any 13-year-old I've heard in a long time. Paula told her afterwards that she did exactly what we need people to do on this stage.
Of all the remaining contestants, Siameze Floyd, Simone Battle, Stacy Francis, Marcus Canty and Chris Rene were all memorable.
How can I describe 30-year-old Siameze? Well, he's 1/2 Prince, 1/4 Rick James and 1/4 Lenny Kravitz in size 2 jeans and a mesh T-Shirt. His voice is okay, but it was his stage antics and diva mentality that caught everyone by surprise. He actually said, "I have the look . I have the attitude. I have the talent. So let's do it!" Hmm.
When he finally takes the stage, the music plays and he immediately starts doing a dance that was very reminiscent of Michael Flatley's "Lord of the Dance." From there he launches into singing Rick James' "Give It To Me Baby," and it took off from there. He gyrated all across the stage doing the splits and jumping up and down. It seems he took a few pages out of Prince's handbook. Very entertaining for sure, but I don't know if he has the vocal chops to get far in this competition. He was given the thumbs up, so we shall see in the coming weeks.
USC student Simone Battle described herself as fierce, which Simon declared was annoying. But after doing her rendition of the Pussycat Dolls "When I Grow Up," Simon became very interested. All the judges wanted to see the 21-year-old progress to the next level except for L.A. Reid, who said he was underwhelmed. But it only takes three out of the four to agree for the contestant to head to the next round.
Single mother Stacy Francis, 42, had the tearjerker story of the night. She has two kids and for years had her self-esteem squashed by a boyfriend who constantly told her she was too old and not talented enough to become the singer she wanted to be. The "X Factor" was her chance to step out and prove she's got what it takes.
She stepped up to the mic and belted out Aretha Franklin's "Natural Woman." She hit all the right notes and was super polished in her delivery. The judges loved the way she held notes for what seemed like forever. She's going to be the one that many people root for because of how far she has come later in life. She might just be the one to watch on this show.
Twenty-year-old Marcus Canty took the stage and explained to the judges that his two-year window post-high school to make it in the industry was drawing near, so this is it. He then leaps into Stevie Wonder's "I Wish." And boy, he probably made Stevie Wonder proud! L.A. Reid was dancing and so were Nicole and Paula. All four judges said yes.
And then there was 28-year-old single father Chris Rene. He admitted to abusing drugs and alcohol at a young age and thus was sent to rehab. He told the judges he had been clean for 70 days, and this was it for him. He performed an original song called "Young Homey." He rapped part of the song and sang in other parts, and it was a really nice mixture of hip-hop with some R&B notes.
He was one of the few contestants to get a standing ovation from all four judges. Paula and L.A. Reid even high-fived each other. Such a great moment. Simon chimed in saying, "There is something about you...What I like is that maybe you need the show, and maybe we need you!" And there you have it. Rene moves to the next level, but he did have to promise Reid and the rest of the judges he will stay clean and out of trouble.
If the talent pool in Los Angeles and Seattle is any indication of what is to come on Thursday night, then I will have to stick around for this must see TV.
What do you think? Did "X Factor" live up to the hype?
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