This season of "The X Factor," from which Paige Thomas and Vino Alan were only somewhat surprisingly eliminated on Thursday night, as the top eight dwindled to the top six, often comes off as a strange, seat-of-the-pants affair – an overproduced, unpolished hodgepodge of random quirks and unplanned gaffes. Such as …
-- the way hosts Khloe Kardashian Odom and Mario Lopez sometimes step on each other's lines and forget how to appropriately arrange their faces for whatever they're reading from the teleprompter. (Is it good news or bad news? Lopez, in particular, often has to abruptly adjust between his dimpled smile and his somber look.) Also the way Odom creepily flirts with her boss Simon Cowell.
-- the way Britney Spears makes those terrified-looking faces and then very carefully says pretty much the same thing into the microphone whenever she's absolutely required to say something.
-- the way the camera sometimes isn't sure where to look. (Remember that first big "rankings" reveal, when the camera locked on now-departed contestant Beatrice Miller for a loooong moment while Lopez tried to prolong suspense by not saying her name?)
-- the way earnestly competing singers are unsuspectingly overpowered by cheesy backup dancers or background vocals or flashy lighting.
-- the way the guest performers don't seem to be adequately apprised of the proceedings or given their due after they've performed. (Why have Alicia Keys, whose performance of "Girl on Fire" on Thursday night was among the highlights of the show's entire season, stand center stage and then rudely ignore her to read bland copy about forthcoming eliminations?)
-- the way the infantile spats at the judges' table can get super-icky, super-fast, especially when Cowell bullies Demi Lovato, who we all know has struggled with being bullied in the past.
-- the way Lopez says Simon Cowell and makes it sound like "Simon Cow."
Clearly, I could go on, but instead, I'll skip to the most random and peculiar thing about the Season 2 live shows: the way eliminations have been handled. Last year, if memory serves, one winner went home each week, and the bottom two singers competed for the save. It was a slow and painstaking process, and so this year, presumably to speed things up, double eliminations are the norm. That would be an improvement, except the singer with the least amount of votes on any given week is unceremoniously dropped – with no chance of being saved and barely time to say goodbye -- while the two next-lowest vote getters sing for the save, with one ultimately sent home by the judges and the other returning to the competition.
Treating one elimination so casually and giving the other such prolonged consideration feels emotionally imbalanced, and makes the results shows somewhat unsettling.
It felt particularly off-kilter on Thursday night's show, when talented contender Paige Thomas, who had never before been in serious danger of elimination, was unceremoniously booted early in the show and barely had a moment to say goodbye. Lopez (who maybe hasn't been paying much attention) didn't even register that Thomas' ouster was a "shocker" until after the show returned from break. But then everything hastily moved on.
The next two lowest vote recipients – Diamond White (somewhat surprising) and Vino Alan (less so, given his weak showing this week) – sang for the save. White did well enough with Beyonce's "I Was Here." Alan dug deep and soulfully reprised his audition song, Ray LaMontagne's "Trouble." But he was a goner.
Sure, he had mentor L.A. Reid's vote, though Reid admitted he hated having to send White home. And no, of course he didn't have Spears' backing; she naturally chose to save her own team member. Lovato reluctantly voted to send Alan home as well. Which left Cowell to either seal Alan's fate or send the decision to "deadlock" and let the audience's vote determine the result. Both contestants were talented and had sung well for the save, Cowell said, but too bad for Alan, Simon voted with the pack and sent him packing.
Truly, until this week, or perhaps last (when he sang the patriotic "God Bless the USA"), Alan had been among my favorites this season. He has a great gritty tone to his voice. You can hear a life of hurt reverberate around in there. But it helped that his elimination came the very same night last year's runner-up Josh Krajcik performed. Vocally, you could argue Krajcik was last year's Vino – a soulful voice, a hard-luck story. Krajcik's return reminded us that his performance style has an approachability and warmth that Alan's, ultimately, has lacked. Alan was undoubtedly talented, but he never entirely stopped being a little bit scary. And it wasn't just those tattoos on his head.