L.A. Reid, Britney Spears, Demi Lovato and Simon Cowell on "The X Factor." (Ray Mickshaw/ FOX )
On Thursday, "The X Factor" brought us back to Boot Camp in Miami, where the 60 remaining contestants vied to be among the 24 acts to make it through to the next round, to be held at the judges' homes.
To prove their worth, the singers would have to tackle "Task 2": They'd be divided into pairs, and each duo would be required to agree on a song and then take the stage together to sing it. These performances wouldn't really be duets, since the performers would take turns singing, with no overlap. It also wasn't a pure head-to-head competition, like the battle rounds on "The Voice," because there wouldn't necessarily be one winner and one loser. Of each "X Factor" pair, one singer could make it, both could make it, or neither could make it, Simon Cowell told us.
That's not to say there weren't some cutthroat moves. Several singers seemed to select songs based, in part, on what might cause their partner to choke. The sneaky gambit may have paid off for some (we won't know who made it through until next week), but more often than not it, it seemed to backfire.
Take, for example, the first pair we heard perform, Tara Simon and Jennel Garcia. Simon, much the elder of the two and a vocal coach to boot, chose "Landslide" over Garcia's objections, feeling it would showcase her own "softer side." "It would have been nice to sing a song that was actually in my style," adorable spitfire Garcia noted. But after watching Garcia perform as if all the life had been drained out of her, and Simon oversing, Cowell let both contestants know, in no uncertain terms, that the song choice had been a dreadful mistake. And it didn't take him long to figure out whom to hold responsible.
"I'm gonna guess, Tara, you chose the song," Cowell said. "I feel really bad for you, Jennel."
Other young hopefuls – country singer Willie Jones, Rihanna-resembling Paige Thomas – were similarly pressured by their partners and stumbled, at least to some degree, as a result.
"I think Tate knew what he was doing," Demi Lovato said after Jones faced off against the much-older country singer Tate Stevens on "Nobody Knows" and fluffed his lyrics, later admitting the song, which Stevens sang well, hadn't been his choice.
"Tate hustled him," L.A. Reid agreed, with a laugh, adding, "No, he should have known the song."
"I think there's an agenda," said Lovato, to which Reid replied, "Yeah, the agenda is to win."
Would the judges take pity on singers who'd been railroaded by stronger-willed competitors? Or would those talented but softhearted unfortunates be tossed aside for lacking the killer instincts that might net them the win?
Certainly, if the judges were to toss every contestant who forgot a lyric or suffered a stumble Thursday night, they'd be left with far fewer contenders from which to choose. There were lots and lots (and lots) of forgotten lines, sometimes from singers who'd previously shined.
In one memorable case, both vocalists in a pair forgot the lyrics, leaving one of them, Jessie Bryant, weeping disconsolately at his blown opportunity.
"Simon just looked like he was disgusted," he said, sobbing. "All my eggs was right here. All my eggs was right here, man."
So, brushing aside lyrical lapses and leaving out, for the moment, the probability that the show will cluster some singers into insta-groups for the competition, whose eggs would I like to see gathered in the judges' baskets? Hmmm, my favorites to move forward include Vino Alan, Jennel Garcia, Paige Thomas, Carly Rose Sonnenclar, Diamond White, Dinah Jane Hansen, Julia Bullock, Ally Brooke, Jeffrey Gutt, Willie Jones, Tate Stevens, Arin Ray, Jillian Jensen, Jason Brock, Lauren Jauregui and David Correy.
Who am I leaving out? Let me know.
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