X Factor competes with American Idol in many not so subtle ways. It’s got the obvious: carbonated, sugary beverage sponsor, pop singers as judges, and Simon Cowell (who’d be a legitmate bragging point if the ratings were higher). But this week, they pulled out the big gun: bring on a famous person’s daughter.
You may remember that during January’s American Idol auditions, we were introduced to a young woman named Jane. She had a decent voice and her father just happened to be Jim (freaking) Carey. No big deal. She went on a talent search in an effort to win success on her own, without using her father’s connections to attain her goals. It was admirable, the problem was that she wasn’t nearly as good of a singer as her competitors were. Still, Idol did a little dance around her for the time she spent on the show throughout the audition rounds.
Now, enter the final week of the X Factor auditions, in which they play with time like a rubber band and hop back to San Francisco auditions, where we started in episode one, to meet a young woman named Sophie Tweed-Simmons. She introduces herself as a student and shows up in a black SUV with a chauffeur, forcing we, the students of reality TV, to assume she’s going to be nothing more than a rich brat. It turns out she’s the daughter of Gene Simmons and Shannon Tweed. Just like Jim Carey’s daughter before her, she wants to do this on her own. (Strange then, that she brought her famous father with her. But we’ll move on from there.)
Now, so far, X Factor and Idol are almost on par in the “Children of a Celebrity” category, except that all we got on Idol was a phone call from Mr. Carey. Here, we get the actual Gene Simmons. Plus - and oh, is there a plus - we get a one-sided rivalry concocted with the help of good editing and one young woman’s serious attitude problem.
Meet Tara Simon, a 27-year-old vocal coach and chronic woo-woo-er who should know better. But she doesn’t and she spends the entirety of her on-deck time making fun of sweet Sophie for getting by on her dad’s fame. Yes, Tara. That’s clearly why she even bothered to come to a cattle call in a San Francisco parking lot full of crazy people. Because she’s a privileged brat who's succeeding on her father’s music industry connections. Music execs always send you to a reality show before they really consider you. Oh wait, no they don’t, because that’s insane.
The producers, however, are keen to promote this insane “rivalry” and put both girls’ auditions back-to-back. Demi recognizes Sophie because she knows Nick Simmons, and just like that, the judges all realize who Sophie is and her face drops like she just found out sunshine was discontinued. Besides the fact that she didn’t know “Make You Feel My Love” was actually by Bob Dylan and not Adele, her rendition of the song was sweet and sultry, though it did lack that extra punch you seek in a famous singer. Still, they’ve fawned all over lesser singers on this show and she’s a joy to watch. When voting time comes, L.A. is unconvinced and delivers the first judges’ spilt of the night. He says no. However, the others aren’t quite as hard on her and send her on through on the basis that she needs work, but she’s got the goods.
Take that, singing Regina George! Right? Right?! Wrong. Just when you think they’ve pulled the usual reality show schtick and played up the sweet girl who’s actually pretty terrific while the mean girl is sure to be full of herself and awful (hello, episode one of this season), that’s not the case.
Just before she takes the stage, Tara talks even more crap and waltzes onto the stage calling herself the Simon Cowell of her vocal studio, waving her arms claiming she’s the next Christina Aguilera (whoa, dream big) and chirping that she’s primed to take over one of the ladies’ judging seats. Thankfully, Simon tells her to shut up and sing, just in time for her to not be the worst singer ever.
And this is when we have a dilemma. Hey, X Factor, you just set us up to hate this girl. She’s the worst kind of human, according to everything you’ve showed us. She’s mean, spiteful, proud. She’s cheesy and yells like she’s a caricature of a country star. There’s no way she’ll be good. And then, she’s still over-the-top, but she too has the raw goods. She’s simply the victim of over-training. She gets four “yeses.” Damnit. You know what this means, don’t you? This rivalry is going to be milked for at least a few boot camp episodes. At least Simon knows that she’s an “utter drama queen.”
Next: All aboard the insanity train!The rest of the episode was colored with even more absurdity: splicing in newscasters like Superman is about to swoop down and save a group of young ladies in mortal danger, staged Demi-love, Simon on a scooter, and Britney’s “prank” on the judges’ assistant which consisted of simply asking the poor kid to do annoying useless tasks. Oh no! Don’t make him go out looking for a stupid hat! That’s definitely not demeaning and probably not any different from anything else you usually ask for. Later, when we find out the thrilling conclusion of this saga, our reward is Simon in a tiara and an unrelenting sense that Britney might own the best leather jacket ever. Seriously, I want it. Where can I get it?
Finally, we were treated to a string of folks with potential, some of whom are reminiscent of other famous singers, and another set of folks who are so bad, we're left with no choice other than cursing the producers for including them in this two-hour engagement.
First up, Adonis, the bandana-ed wonder and his “uh-ing” friend Jon. Yes, all Jon can do onstage is say “uh.” Riveting stuff. They attempt “Hello” by Lionel Richie, and by attempt, I mean the wildly inaccurately and probably self-named Adonis wailed onstage while his friend provided the appropriate amount of grunting support while Britney cackled and screamed “Oh, gawd.” And if that and the audience’s ubiquitous booing wasn’t enough, we actually had to watch the whole panel tell them no.
After a string of tragedies including a girl with a tragic case of oversized coat with short shorts and no singing ability, a guy who confused himself with a Backstreet Boy turned russian dancer, a girl so boring she put us to sleep with a single note, a slutty Charlie Chaplin, and a steampunk sad sack who cried his way off the stage, we were greeted with a refreshing sight: a human being.
Fifteen-year-old Dinah Jane, made me feel old by admitting she used to sing “Oops I Did It Again” at age four. When the soundtrack switched gears to Selena Gomez’ “Who Says” it was obvious she is going to be good. And then she lathered it on with a story about her 20-person family living in a four-bedroom house. Luckily, her talent delivers on this classic reality show promise. She sings “If I Were a Boy” and she’s a little over dramatic, but she’s got the aura and the raw goods: a very full, mature tone. She just needs to learn a little more control, and the judges are willing to give her that chance.
Next up is Aaron Ray, a 16-year-old Ohio-native who was cut from group rounds last year. He’s adorable and grounded and of course Demi thinks he’s cute. Underage alert! He sings an original song, but it’s clear he’s been listening to a lot of Chris Brown. He’s a little shaky, but he’s got Demi and Britney giggling like teen girls while the actual teen girls squeal in the audience. Demi looks like she’s going to take a bite right out of him. Mission accomplished: yeses all around.
A series of good singers including Little Suzy country singer, the charming and cute 16-year-old Nick Perelli (he does have one hell of an ugly-cry though), the living personification of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird, and a rap duo comprised of a man with a stuffed animal on his arm and a Milli Vanilli zombie build us up.
And then it all falls down. We meet Changyi Li, age 52 with a serious aging complex. She’s dressed like Shirley Temple sailor and says she wants to be like Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, and Britney right before she absolutely butchers “My Heart Will Go On.” And while I could regale you with the tales of the judges’ reactions, I’m drawing the line. This practice should have died with Idol circa 2005. This is just cruel, producers, and I won’t participate. The poor woman is sent home after witnessing an entire stadium laughing in her face.
When we skip over to Greensboro, North Carolina, we’re greeted with Draco Malfoy, faux hawk edition. Austin Carini has girls walking up to him like he’s Justin Bieber. The producers clearly put these fame-mongering little girls up to their task to ask this pimply kid for his autograph. He’s not even on TV yet and he’s just some dopey kid. Of course, when he gets on stage, it’s clear he’s been studying his idols: Bieber and One Direction. He’s an alright singer and he gets the girls going. All you need to be a teen hearthrob is fake charm and a decent voice. Oh and a cute face. Maybe some stupid hair. L.A. points out that his schtick isn’t all that special, but they still send him through on hope. That’s all we need, another kid who hopes he can be the next Bieber. There aren’t enough squealing teenagers at concerts across the country.
Next: Meet Donnie and Marie go to Wet Seal.And then, we’re disgusted more than we thought possible. Jaime, a pop duo made up of a boyfriend and girlfriend with magnetic lips take the stage. They’re basically like Donnie and Marie go to Wet Seal. ”We wake up and stare into eachothers eyes for 20 minutes” and “then we sing all day” - these are actual words they say to the cameras. When they kiss onstage, Britney has no qualms about casting some serious shade. And it only gets worse when they deliver their original song and dance inadvertently inspired by the work of S Club 7. In case you couldn’t guess, they were sent packing.
Finally, we got to end on a few high notes: David Corey and Daryl Black. First up is David, who’s basically a gruff Bruno Mars. And surprise of all surprises: he sings a Bruno Mars song. The good thing is that he actually does it pretty well, taking on the upper register challenges with ease. I’m not sure why his song made Britney break down, but his four yeses were certainly deserved.
Next, Daryl is married with two teenage kids and steps up to the plate with “Stereo Hearts” by Gym Class Heroes. He looks like some regular Joe, but presents a deconstructed version of the song that allows him to appear more hip while exercising his strength: true R&B flavor. He’s so good, Britney gives him her happy, squinty pixie face and Simon compares him to Nat King Cole. Now look, Nat King Cole was a velvet-voiced god among men, so let’s not be hasty, Simon. Daryl is good. Let’s wait until he start singing on the real stage with a little training before we start throwing around ego-boosters we can’t take back.
But, we can’t end with a pleasant, good singer. Nay. This is reality television. The penultimate auditions episode drops us with 13-year-old Trevor Moran, who has so much energy the atmosphere spontaneously bursts into a round of “Call me Maybe.” Then he gets sick and the paramedics have to come, and with zero shame, the show uses it as the sole teaser for tomorrow’s final episode of the auditions. Why’d you have to go and ruin everything, X Factor? Is it time for boot camp yet?
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Fox]
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The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.