Playback performs in front of Simon Cowell and Marc Anthony on 'The… (Ray Mickshaw/ Fox )
Boot camp on "The X Factor" came to an end Wednesday night, crushing dreams as the 60 remaining acts shrank to a tidy 24. It was the best of times for some, the worst for others, and probably completely confusing for the singers who were eliminated and then called back shortly thereafter to be told they were no longer soloists, but rather part of groups that could either take over the world (like the British "X Factor"-created boy band One Direction) or sink like stones and never be heard from again (like all the groups from last year's U.S. "X Factor").
The acts would be divided into four categories, which were not the same as last year's categories. This year, age served as a divider and genders in each category were mixed. This is how it all broke down:
Teens (13-17): Beatrice Miller, James Tanner, Carly Rose Sonenclar, Diamond White, Reed Deming, Arin Ray Mentor: Britney Spears, who'd said she really wanted to work with this age group -- "the kids," as she called them Guest mentor (for the judges' homes round): Will.i.am
Young adults (18-24): CeCe Frey, Willie Jones, Jennel Garcia, Nick Youngerman, Paige Thomas and Jillian Jensen Mentor: Demi Lovato, who also got the group she wanted, noting that, as a 20-year-old herself, this was a group she realy knew how to work with. Guest mentor (for the judges' homes round): Nick Jonas
Over 24s: Jason Brock, Daryl Black, David Correy. Tara Simon, Tate Stevens and Vino Alan Mentor: L.A. Reid, who definitely was not happy when he heard which group he'd be working with – slamming down the phone and walking away from the cameras in a huff. Beforehand, he'd said that if he had to choose between the groups and the Over 25s, "I'd have to say I have no interest." Guest mentor (for the judges' homes round): Justin Bieber and his manager, Scooter Braun.
Groups: Sisters C, Dope Crisis and Emblem 3 as well as the instagroups: boy band Playback (Josh Metzler, Owen Stuart, Austin Corini, Brandon Hassan and Johnny Maxwell), rap group LYRIC 145 (Lyric Da Queen and ONE4FIVE), and girl group LYLAS (Dina Jane Hansen, Lauren Jauregui, Ally Brooke, Normai Hamilton and Camila Cabello) Mentor: Simon Cowell, who admitted that, while working with the groups would be challenging, he'd had success in that category before and planned to "make the most of it." Ever modest, he said, "I'm happy for them." Guest mentor (for the judges' homes round): Marc Anthony
And so it was on to the judges' fab homes, where the contestants discovered which mentor (and guest mentor) they'd have. It was warm and fuzzy everywhere ("I want to hug all of you," Lovato told her group, and then did) except at Reid's Beverly Hills place. Reid was still so mad to have been assigned the "Overs" as he called them, he could barely stand to look at them. "I can't really say that there's anybody who stands out in the category," he told us. Then he told them he was "a little bit disappointed" to learn he'd be mentoring them, but, "Here we are. I've gotta now figure out how to get one of you guys to win." There's a rousing speech that'll really rally the troops.
Leave it to Bieber to save the day. The Biebs told the poor, unloved washed-up-at-25s that when he started, people thought he was too young, so he knew what they were up against. "You're never too old or too young," he told them, as long as you have the voice and the talent, though he didn't sound entirely convinced. Reid tried to take the clue. "What he's really saying is that you guys are gonna prove me wrong. At least one of you," Reid said, but then still couldn't quite bring himself to play the nice guy, adding that when they prove him wrong, "I'm gonna take credit for it."
He's honest, old L.A., you've got to give him that.
Mercifully, Reid was given a little more time to shake off his disappointment and put his game face on, as we only saw two categories perform for their mentor/judges this time around.
First we found ourselves in Lovato's sleek L.A. loft, where the young adults all said earnest, hopeful things about excitement and opportunity. That is, all except for leopard-spotted CeCe Frey, who bared her fangs and showed her claws yet again. Each one of the other contestants "is a roadblock," she said, "standing in the way of the ultimate goal, which is to win. I don't want them to win. I want to."
Before the singers performed in what appeared to be Lovato's living room, she and her old pal Jonas made the rounds issuing a few last-minute words of advice. Jennel Garcia was told she might want to resist flipping her hair quite so much. Jillian Jensen was cautioned about the faces she makes when she sings. And Frey? "When you perform, you have a lot of attitude," Lovato told her, adding, "sometimes it's borderline a little bit unlikable." Borderline?