Patrick Ford performs on "The X Factor." (Ray Mickshaw/ FOX )
"The X Factor" actually scared me a little Thursday night, and I began to wonder, what, exactly, the producers are trying to do to Britney Spears.
On Wednesday night's premiere, they'd ushered onto the stage an injured soul from the pop star's past, a guy with whom she'd long ago shared a duet and who in the intervening years had clearly spent a lot of time – arguably way too much time -- thinking about her. He seemed, if harmless, a bit unstable, sobbing after he'd left the stage, saying, "I never meant to hurt Britney." After the encounter, Simon Cowell left his seat to ask a shaken Spears if she was OK.
That same show had also brought us a delusional auditionee who got nasty when the judges rejected him, prompting Spears to strike a protective pose and say, "I want to know who let you onstage. I feel uncomfortable with you even staring at me."
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You could see where she was coming from. What we didn't know then was that it was going to get even worse. Thursday night, on Season 2's second show, Spears was brought face to face with a 20-year-old man named Patrick Ford who brought her a large bouquet of flowers and portrayed himself as her biggest, strangest fan.
"I can't believe I'm going to meet Britney Spears," he said before going onstage. "I love everything about Britney Spears."
In the holding room, Ford declared, "I think she might be my sister." (Cut to weirded-out faces of people around him.) "Do I look like her at all? I just need a blond wig. Honest, I thought about doing that, but I just thought it would be, like, too creepy."
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"I would do anything just to get a glimpse of her in person," Ford said, expressing a wish that she were his girlfriend.
Cue the ominous music.
Then, after Ford butchered Spears' "Circus," Cowell invoked the pop princess' name in a weirdly intimate context, saying it sounded like the result of a tiff between the contestant and his megastar beloved. "It wouldn't happen. I would never argue with Britney. Never, ever," Ford countered. "Britney, I love you."
Eerie stalker music played over the remainder of Ford's time on the show, accompanied by a few blurry inside-the-head-of-madness effects.
Ultimately, Ford's chapter faded away with him obsessing about Spears turning him down with a single word: "No." And then, in echo, over shots of throngs of fans (as if to indicate this guy could be anywhere) "I still love her."
So the producers had deliberately creeped out Spears – and us. And she had rewarded them with some wonderfully shocked and sour expressions. But the revelation that Ford also auditioned for Cowell on "American Idol," back in 2010, singing Spears' "Womanizer," has left me, at least, more confused than anything. What does it all mean?
And why didn't whoever so cleverly negotiated that the show make a big deal of Spears' entrances – to heighten the celebrity effect – negotiate a no-stalker-on-the-stage clause?
Less creepy, more talented contenders from Thursday night's show included …
An ambitious, but (according to his mom) good-hearted 16-year-old rapper named Johnny Maxwell, who performed an original song that prompted Demi Lovato to admire his "swag" and L.A. Reid to say he was "exactly what we need."
Jason Brock, a chatty 32-year-old tech support guy who started out seeming strange but won the judges over with his take on Billy Joel's "New York State of Mind." "Completely flawless … Amazing," Reid said, adding, "Your voice is a songwriter's best friend." Lovato said it was "one of the easiest yeses I've ever given."
Thirteen-year-old cutie Carly Rose Sonenclar, who totally shocked everyone by singing a very mature sounding rendition of Nina Simone's "Feeling Good." "Wow, Miss Thing. You are a little diva," Spears said appreciatively. Cowell called Sonenclar (already accomplished, it appears) "a star," and Reid said, "Honey, you may be 13, but your soul is old."
Lovato, meanwhile, declared herself "obsessed," a word Sonenclar's folks repeated on their way out the door, "Demi Lovato is obsessed with you."
Guys? Enough with the obsession theme. It's just creepy.
What did you think of this season of "The X Factor" so far?
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