Oh X Factor, your double eliminations are merciless. How many hearts must you break? This was certainly one of the more surprising sing-offs we’ve had in a while. Mostly because CeCe Frey wasn’t performing. Somehow America warmed to her circa-2001 rendition of “Lady Marmalade,” cut-out dress, big hair, and all, and voted her safely into the Top 6. So much for L.A. Reid and Simon Cowell’s powers of prognostication, huh? Giving Frey a backhanded compliment on performance night, the Epic Records chairman said, “You’re going down. But you’re going down fighting.” And Cowell? Cowell simply said, “Pack your suitcase.” No, she didn’t go down nor pack her suitcase. CeCe was sent through automatically to the Top 6.
Miss Paige Thomas was not so lucky, however. Despite a lot of booing and the sight of Demi Lovato shaking her perfectly-coifed head at the news of America’s decision, Paige got sent home first. Part of me thinks that if she had again worn her sea urchin hat last night the nation might have been intimidated enough to vote her through. The truth, though, is that Thomas’ repertoire of all-karaoke songs had to come back to bite her at some point. In the past few weeks she’s sung Berlin’s “Take My Breath Away,” Haddaway’s “What is Love?” and Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.” (What? No “Everybody Dance Now”?) That was an untenable pattern for her to continue if she really wanted to be taken seriously. The amazing thing is how much unqualified support she received from the judges. Simon said her rendition of “Never Gonna Give You Up” on Wednesday night was like her “making the record.”
Thomas passive-aggressively said she was happy about being voted off because this would allow her to move on to “bigger and better things.” I wonder if, after America’s rejection, she’ll remove “Faith” from her fingernails? Personally, I think fingernail messages are pretty useless unless, like Sideshow Bob, you have “Luv” printed on the indices of one hand, with “Hat” on the other.
After Paige’s departure, we were treated to a performance by last season’s runner-up Josh Krajcik, proof that a non-winner of X Factor will fade into obscurity as quickly as…the winner of X Factor. Boom! Krajcik now looks like a schlubbier, scruffier version of Javier Bardem’s Silva from Skyfall. All he’s missing is blond hair dye and an ascot.
Then it was time to figure out who’d be singing for their survival. In the Top 5 were the following: the aforementioned Frey; Simon’s girl-group Fifth Harmony, who I suspect got a sympathy vote for their performance of “Stronger” Wednesday night after group member Ally shared that her grandfather had just died and was dedicating the performance to him; the sleeve-challenged trio Emblem3, who paid tribute to boy-band history with their performance Wednesday of the Monkees’ “I’m a Believer”; Carly Rose Sonenclar sang “Rolling in the Deep,” so she was pretty much assured the No. 1 spot; and Tate Stevens is Tate Stevens, so he’ll always make the cut.
That meant that Vino Alan and the previously-saved Diamond White were in the Bottom Two and had to get ready for their sing-off. The only time they had to prepare was during Alicia Keys’ 13,782nd rendition of “Girl on Fire.” I’ve long held a crush on Mrs. Swizz Beatz, so this was a welcome sonic sorbet if you ask me. Keys had her girl-power tableau lit like a Cirque Du Soleil show, complete with Japanese taiko drummers. And she was wearing an American Apparel-style rig that showed off her perfectly sculpted and bronzed shoulders and arms. Oh, yeah, she sounded pretty great too. My Mom overheard her performance in the next room and, not knowing it was Keys, said, “Wow, this contestant sounds so much better than anyone else on this show.” Then she walked in and saw who was on the TV: “Oh, wait. It’s Alicia Keys.” So that’s why!
Diamond is so cute, sparkly, and Gabby Douglas peppy, that it’s easy to forget what a solid singer she is. She killed her sing-off rendition of Beyoncé’s “I Was Here,” looking like she’d just put herself through a major cardio workout by the time it was all over. And screw L.A. Her performance of Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” last night was fun and energetic.
Vino Alan, on the other hand, might as well have pressed our collective “snooze button” with his take on Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble,” easily the most overperformed singing-competition (and pet-adoption commercial) ditty of the past eight years. This was basically Alan’s strategy all along. The previous night he performed “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” the most overperformed song of all time. Also, Alan, with his cranial tats, is the scariest-looking guy to appear on TV since Kim Richards’ boyfriend on the last season of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. This is a guy who seems to have a fedora for every occasion. (However, I was particularly pleased to see that Britney was wearing her trademark fedora again this week. That, even more than her midriff-baring poptart ensemble a couple weeks back, proved that Britney really is back, bitch.) Was there any question about who the judges would vote through?
L.A. showed support for his man Vino by choosing to send Diamond home, but all the rest, starting with Britney, voted to give Vino the boot. Diamond is safe to sparkle another week!
And here, my friends, are the rankings of the Top 6.
1. Carly Rose Sonenclar (number 1 again!)
2. Tate Stevens
3. Emblem 3
4. Fifth Harmony
5. CeCe Frey
6. Diamond White
We know you’re upset about Frey, but are you happy with the rankings otherwise? I will be spending the next week trying to purge my cerebral cortex of Paige Thomas' karaoke playlist. See you then!
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: Ray Mickshaw/FOX]
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In a post-Harry Potter Avatar and Lord of the Rings world the descriptors "sci-fi" and "fantasy" conjure up particular imagery and ideas. The Hunger Games abolishes those expectations rooting its alternate universe in a familiar reality filled with human characters tangible environments and terrifying consequences. Computer graphics are a rarity in writer/director Gary Ross' slow-burn thriller wisely setting aside effects and big action to focus on star Jennifer Lawrence's character's emotional struggle as she embarks on the unthinkable: a 24-person death match on display for the entire nation's viewing pleasure. The final product is a gut-wrenching mature young adult fiction adaptation diffused by occasional meandering but with enough unexpected choices to keep audiences on their toes.
Panem a reconfigured post-apocalyptic America is sectioned off into 12 unique districts and ruled under an iron thumb by the oppressive leaders of The Capitol. To keep the districts producing their specific resources and prevent them from rebelling The Capitol created The Hunger Games an annual competition pitting two 18-or-under "tributes" from each district in a battle to the death. During the ritual tribute "Reaping " teenage Katniss (Lawrence) watches as her 12-year-old sister Primrose is chosen for battle—and quickly jumps to her aid becoming the first District 12 citizen to volunteer for the games. Joined by Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) a meek baker's son and the second tribute Effie the resident designer and Haymitch a former Hunger Games winner-turned-alcoholic-turned-mentor Katniss rides off to The Capitol to train and compete in the 74th Annual Hunger Games.
The greatest triumph of The Hunger Games is Ross' rich realization of the book's many worlds: District 12 is painted as a reminiscent Southern mining town haunting and vibrant; The Capitol is a utopian metropolis obsessed with design and flair; and The Hunger Games battleground is a sprawling forest peppered with Truman Show-esque additions that remind you it's all being controlled by overseers. The small-scale production value adds to the character-first approach and even when the story segues to larger arenas like a tickertape parade in The Capitol's grand Avenue of Tributes hall it's all about Katniss.
For fans the script hits every beat a nearly note-for-note interpretation of author Suzanne Collins' original novel—but those unfamiliar shouldn't worry about missing anything. Ross knows his way around a sharp screenplay (he's the writer of Big Pleasantville and Seabiscuit) and he's comfortable dropping us right into the action. His characters are equally as colorful as Panem Harrelson sticking out as the former tribute enlivened by the chance to coach winners. He's funny he's discreet he's shaded—a quality all the cast members share. As a director Ross employs a distinct often-grating perspective. His shaky cam style emphasizes the reality of the story but in fight scenarios—and even simple establishing shots of District 12's goings-on—the details are lost in motion blur.
But the dread of the scenario is enough to make Hunger Games an engrossing blockbuster. The lead-up to the actual competition is an uncomfortable and biting satire of reality television sports and everything that commands an audience in modern society. Katniss' brooding friend Gale tells her before she departs "What if nobody watched?" speculating that carnage might end if people could turn away. Unfortunately they can't—forcing Katniss and Peeta to become "stars" of the Hunger Games. The duo are pushed to gussy themselves up put on a show and play up their romance for better ratings. Lawrence channels her reserved Academy Award-nominated Winter's Bone character to inhabit Katniss' frustration with the system. She's great at hunting but she doesn't want to kill. She's compassionate and considerate but has no interest in bowing down to the system. She's a leader but she knows full well she's playing The Capitol's game. Even with 23 other contestants vying for the top spot—like American Idol with machetes complete with Ryan Seacrest stand-in Caesar Flickerman (the dazzling Stanley Tucci)—Katniss' greatest hurdle is internal. A brave move for a movie aimed at a young audience.
By the time the actual Games roll around (the movie clocks in at two and a half hours) there's a need to amp up the pace that never comes and The Hunger Games loses footing. Katniss' goal is to avoid the action hiding in trees and caves waiting patiently for the other tributes to off themselves—but the tactic isn't all that thrilling for those watching. Luckily Lawrence Hutcherson and the ensemble of young actors still deliver when they cross paths and particular beats pack all the punch an all-out deathwatch should. PG-13 be damned the film doesn't skimp on the bloodshed even when it comes to killing off children. The Hunger Games bites off a lot for the first film of a franchise and does so bravely and boldly. It may not make it to the end alive but it doesn't go down without a fight.