Emblem3 performs live on "The X Factor." (Ray Mickshaw / Fox )
"The X Factor" kicked off its Season 2 live shows Wednesday, a Halloween night in the middle of what was for many an incredibly scary week. The show made brief mention of both the spooky holiday and the tragic losses brought by super storm Sandy but mostly went about its business of manufacturing stars, which the producers no doubt hope to do more successfully this season than last, when there was nary a One Direction-esque breakthrough in the bunch.
Certainly, some of the 16 acts who'd made it to the live rounds offered promise, as did the show's new co-hosts, Khloe Kardashian and Mario Lopez.
Kardashian displayed some rookie nerves but also showed signs that she'll prove interesting to watch, rattling Simon Cowell by naughtily flirting with him and repeatedly calling him "sexy." (She was kidding, right? Please tell me she was kidding. And if she wasn't kidding, please tell me her willingness to call him "sexy" on the air isn’t why Cowell hired her for the hosting job.)
But Kardashian dealt relatively smoothly with a few live-show hiccups, as when L.A. Reid didn't make it back to the judging table before the cameras started rolling. She even managed to seem pleasant and likable as she pressed the judges for clearer critiques, something last year's stiff host Steve Jones could never quite get the hang of.
Lopez, the more experienced host, became mildly flustered only once, when contestant Jason Brock inquired on camera if he could pinch the "Saved By the Bell" star's butt. Lopez reminded Brock that the show was "PG-13, buddy," and the moment was slightly uncomfortable, but imagine how much worse it would have been if Jones were the one clutching the mike and fending off a male contestant's cheeky advance.
No, don't imagine it. Let's move on.
Before the performances, unified under the meaningless theme "Made in America," Kardashian and Lopez reminded us that there'd be no audience-vote component to the week's eliminations. The judges would decide which singers would be cut from their teams. We'll see how that plays out Thursday night, but here are a few things we learned from Wednesday's show:
1. Britney Spears and Demi Lovato transitioned seamlessly to the live shows, though I continue on my crusade to get Spears to borrow Lovato's stylist and hair-and-makeup artist. Can't the producers hold an intervention to stop her from using whoever she's been using, which may well be no one at all?
2. Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid should take their feud outside and settle it once and for all by comparing, I don't know, the size of their stack of platinum records or something. On Wednesday night, their slapfight really got out of hand. Cowell got so caught up in it he used a questionable term for messing something up, prompting the censors to reach for the dead-air button, albeit too late.
3. On the other hand, Cowell proved himself to be in fine form as an arbiter of talent, or more pointedly, of misguided coaching. When he called Brock's performance "utterly horrendous," Willie Jones' a bit "silly," and the song Reid had chosen for Vino Alan "completely and utterly wrong" for him, he was right. He was correct too in identifying Lovato's mistake in turning Jennel Garcia, a contestant whose girl-next-door softness and likability were a big part of her appeal, into, well, into Demi Lovato. I still love Garcia, but I miss her hot pants and hair flips. OK, maybe not her hair flips.
4. CeCe Frey has to go. For a while there, I thought her vocals sort of offset her abrasive personality, but her voice sounded weak and breathless Wednesday, removing any justification for her still being around. Maybe her vocal power washed out with her leopard spots and dark hair. Please, Demi, lose her already.
5. The show is upping the ante in terms of production values. For proof, see the set, costume and lighting for Paige Thomas' dramatic performance. If Thomas doesn't make it as a singer, she really needs to be at the very least a model or a person who carries off outlandish costumes with incredible grace. She looked amazing last night in her twisted, futuristic getup. Very few people could make that work, and she totally did.
6. My favorites and runners-up in each category are …
Teens: Carly Rose Sonenclar (fave), Diamond White (runner-up) Young adults: Jennel Garcia (fave); Willie Jones (runner-up) Over 25s: Vino Alan (fave, provided Reid doesn't mess up his authenticity); Tate Stevens (runner-up) Groups: Lyric 145 (fave); SisterC (runner-up) — though clearly the show expects us all to fall head over heels for Emblem3, whom I actually do like.
7. The ones I'd be fine seeing head home are …
Teens: Either Arin Ray or Beatrice Miller, doesn't really matter which Young adults: CeCe Frey Over 25s: Jason Brock (that performance really didn't work, and I love kitsch) Groups: 1432, formerly the Lylas, who probably needn't have bothered to change their name, for all their anticipated longevity
What did you think of the first live show? Any favorite performances or moments?