Judging The X Factor: Britney Is Entrusted With Teenage Lives, L.A. Reid Is Disgusted by Old People, and Simon Cowell Frankensteins Up Some New Groups

For reasons still not entirely clear to them, Grantland editors Jay Caspian Kang, Mark Lisanti, and Emily Yoshida have decided to track the second season of The X Factor. No, you shut up, YOUR job is ridiculous.

The X Factor death march trudged along last night from the frozen tundra of Boot Camp to the verdant paradise of the “judges’ homes,” a land where Simon Cowell unbuttons his shirt to the fourth button, a land where Demi Lovato pours salt in her bathwater and unleashes her mermaid tail, a land where the beleaguered X Factor stylists can say, “Maybe we can make Britney wear sunglasses so America doesn’t have to look at her batshit-crazy eye makeup anymore.” But to reach this Land Before Time, where Littlefoot, Cera, and Spike re-unite with their Jurassic family, we had to kill off some cute little dinosaurs like Freddie Combs, the wheelchaired inspiration who apparently couldn’t heed Simon’s command to lose 200 or so pounds before the show started.

ANYWAY. Just like those brave little dinos in Land Before Time, let’s get along with this. I CALL CERA.

One note: We just realized that we had been separating the categories incorrectly. We assumed the show had continued the BOYS, GIRLS, GROUPS, OLDS formula. Instead, we have “Under 17s,” the “YOUNG ADULTS,” the OLDS, and the GROUPS. — Kang

YOUNG ADULTS

WILLIE JONES

Kang: Willie Jones is no Scotty McCreery. He’s not even Bucky Covington. But he’s the only contestant who can sit on his ass and sing the damn song without resorting to wild hand motions, over-emoting or white-rapping his way through Ke$ha. (By the way, Nick Youngerman, stripping down a Ke$ha song so that it requires even less talent is like bringing along a whoopee cushion to a bean casserole party.) He has a definite ceiling, but he’s the only person who didn’t inspire the following conversation in my head.

Kang: “Oh man, I fast-forwarded too far. They’re singing.”
Kang: “Maybe you could just hit ‘Play’ and miss half of it.”
Kang: “Nah, you should really do your job properly.”
Kang: “But the rewind button is all the way over there!”
Kang: “Good point.”

Yoshida: I’m only rooting for Willie at this point because if he’s out that means that either Nick Youngerman or Paige Thomas are also out, and I need both of them to be out. (If there was a way I could forget about his hair in between each episode so it was new and surprising and fascinating every time I saw him, I might reconsider my position.)

Lisanti: Move over, Carrie, Scotty, and Willie! There’s only room for one country music crossover sensation in my heart at a time, and last night it was Juliette Barnes!!!

[Full disclosure: The Walt Disney Company owns both ABC and all of us. Tune in to Nashville, the fall's best new drama, for more of Juliette's hit songs!]

CeCe FREY

Kang: I would like to take this opportunity to point out (sincerely) how great Demi Lovato has been this season. She’s been through five hair changes already, she’s worn a jean jacket with shoulder spikes, she’s sternly told the contestants exactly why they suck. Since this show’s started, I’ve listened to “Skyscraper” at least once a week, which really shaves the edges off my usual, prickly triceratops personality. I’m ready for her Fiat 500 commercial.

As for CeCe Frey, I started to like her this week. I knew it was going to happen eventually, but damn if her LMFAO wasn’t actually kinda, well, fun? And she somehow did the entire narrative arc of Mean Girls in five or six episodes of a singing competition. I always love when the overly driven mean girl in teen movies breaks down and screams, “YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND HOW MUCH PRESSURE I’M UNDER, WHAT I PUT MYSELF THROUGH!”

I don’t know if CeCe should have blown that move before the actual competition, but it was well-done, nonetheless.

Yoshida: Totally Team CeCe now in this arbitrary rivalry the producers kindly arranged so that we could at least pretend to have a stake in the outcome of this show (they even dressed in red and blue this week!). My Paige Thomas allegiance, which was shaky already, could only really withstand about three Celine Dion concerts’ worth of pointless hand gesticulation, and the poor girl shot the load within the first 30 seconds of her “sad” version of that one Chris Brown song with all the whoa-oas. Also not in her favor: her animal-print romper that appeared to be leaking blue tulle out of the crotch area (there is a pretty decent/gross line about Paige’s Blue Period somewhere here, but I am neither Michael Kors nor RuPaul, so I’m not even going to attempt to make it.) But worst of all: She’s a crier. And above all, I cannot deal with criers. (Sorry, Jillian Jensen.)

So, yeah: Demi’s advice came at the perfect time and resulted in just the right amount of lightheartedness in CeCe’s LMFAO. That’s the kind of performance that teen girls can see themselves in and vote for. For all we know, this turnaround could be an act — it’s very likely CeCe’s aware of her own Mean Girl arc, but who cares when it results in a fun performance?

So now that I’ve moved to the other side, I have to say: There is something so Canadian about CeCe. Was she on Degrassi at any point?

Lisanti: This is how you identify “good coaching”: One of the mentor/judges somehow hears the maddeningly obvious critique you’ve been screaming at your television — maybe the throbbing vein in your forehead becomes some kind of magical anger-transmission antenna? — and communicates it in a friendly and nonthreatening way to the offending contestant. So when Demi finally took CeCe aside and told her, “Hey, girl, me and all of America were just having a friendly chat, and we think that maybe, if you’re into it, maybe you could stop being such a giant bag of dead baby pandas? Don’t get me wrong, it works for you, but we don’t want to take a chance that maybe a couple of people out there might not be down with the fact that sometimes you blaze with an unlikability so intense that people at home are either bursting into flames or drowning their pets in the bathtub. So glad we had this talk. Now sing us a song, girl! You be you, but less the part of you that’s a waking nightmare!”

(It should be noted, however, that Demi’s advice to Jennel Garcia totally broke the girl. “Be less borderline inappropriately sexy” took away the only weapon in her arsenal.)

CeCe’s song was fine. It was just as much of an act as the rest of her schtick, but who cares, really? The acting will serve her well; she’s going to be just fine when she moves to L.A. and becomes “that intense cheetah-faced girl at the QuiBids.com audition who just threatened to stab the casting assistant in the stomach.”

GROUPS

PLAYBACK

Lisanti: Here are the remaining groups, just so we’re all up to speed:

EMBLEM3
Sister C
Dope Crisis
LYLAS (created from discarded, promising teen contestants)
Playback (ditto)
Lyric 145 (the female rapper with the eye patch combined with Werewolf Will.i.am and his partner, Noncomittal Demolition Man)
Skizzletruck
xx Nine 8 Fourteen xx
Incredulity
The Brothers Grime
Flonzie
GIFtown
Pantz
$ ===> $$$ (pronounced “Dollars to Dollars” [cash register sample from "Paper Planes"])

Yeah, they’re a little hard to keep track of because the audition rounds skipped over most of them, and many are ad-hoc groups thrown together by the judges after they drank peyote smoothies, covered themselves in organic honey, and rolled around in a pile of head shots. We’ve got to winnow this list down to four by tomorrow night, so let’s have at it.

Kang: I think we’ve found our winner! Four tweens whose earnestness and gumption will carry them to the promised land. Both those dudes can actually kind of rap in a Disney sort of way, and I can already start to ascribe personalities to each one of these little bros. “Little Pointy Blondie” is totally the neurotic control freak like that dude from The Big Bang Theory, the tall one is “the tall minority,” the white rapper in the hat is “the closest to Bieber” and the other two dudes are “the two who didn’t make it to the final album cut and are living in Guantanamo with those two girls from the original Destiny’s Child who weren’t Kelly Rowland.”

Yoshida: I’ve got 50 bucks on EMBLEM3 kidnapping the kid with the hat during eliminations and holding him hostage in a “if he goes, we go”–type situation. There will definitely be some negotiations — which will more likely than not end up with the blonde kid with the unbuttoned shirt who got distracted by the sun and missed his cue being thrown into the bay (is that what they have in Miami? A bay?) so that they could remain a trio and avoid the logo redesign — but I’m pretty sure that’s the endgame here.

LYRIC 145

Yoshida: I was so excited that Lyric Da Queen and One4Five got a second chance, and I love that they already love each other anyway and can bond over a shared love of unconventional optical accessorization, but then they started rapping to Miley Cyrus and I forgot that The X Factor almost goes out of its way to make sure all the hip-hop contestants look as lame as possible. That said: It does bode well that they caught the ear of noted elitists Sister C. Either that, or this is them realizing that Lyric 145 just stole their song.

Lisanti: This was, by far, the greatest thing that’s ever been done on the first Judges’ House Week of Season 2 of The X Factor. Toss them the keys to the yacht and let them take us wherever they want to go. Hopefully it’s not to Flint, Michigan, because Lyric Da Queen does not seem very high on that place.

Kang: I’m glad they’re bringing back the “urban”-groups-with-three-numbers-in-their-name phenomenon. Going to go listen to “Peaches and Cream” now.

I can’t get down with Lyric Da Queen, even though I think there’s a chance we’ll be hearing her songs in 2015. The eye patch, the backpack, and her Da Brat flow walk on one too many graves for me.

BRITNEYWATCH


Lisanti: Don’t worry, everybody. Britney’s not going to watch the teens unsupervised. Will.i.am is her court-appointed guardian. These children are in very, very good hands.

Pray for the Olds, though. L.A. Reid stood in front of them and basically said, “I am disappointed to be burdened with you ancient shitbags. Let’s just try to survive this. Oh, meet Justin Bieber. I created him in a lab. You’re old enough to be his parents, and he’s rich enough to buy you a thousand times over. [World-weary sigh.] Fuck this, I’m out of here. Kill them, Justin.”

Poor Olds. No chance.

Jay Caspian Kang is currently in five different boy bands.
Emily Yoshida has perfected her cheetah makeup.
Mark Lisanti fathered the nervous one in Emblem3.

Filed Under: Britney Spears, Demi Lovato, Justin Bieber, La Reid, Simon Cowell, The X Factor

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Jay Caspian Kang is a Grantland contributor. His debut novel, The Dead Do Not Improve, is on sale now.

Archive @ jaycaspiankang

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