Well, they’re late, but only because our list was especially contentious this week. It’s funny how a week can change perception. This round wasn’t the fun trainwreck that last week’s The X Factor was, but there’s a sense that the show we got was definitely better in terms of showcasing talent. In all but two or three baffling cases, the song choices were on point, and we were given some indication of just who these acts intend to be as artists. I’m going to be more objective about this than I was last week, and not let personal preferences come into play, since my intention is to give an unbiased assessment of where each contestant lands in the rankings from week-to-week. Granted, while our lists may not reflect mine or Trey’s personal preferences (I don’t think either of us wanted to put Emblem3 as high as we did last week, but by any objective standard, they were the most buzzed-about act of the night), it does reflect our combined opinions of who came out strong, and who stumbled a bit each week.
1. Carly Rose Sonenclar
Carly really came through with a powerhouse performance that was as vocally impressive as it was emotionally resonant, and it’s hard to argue that she hasn’t just made a serious Final Three case for herself with after last night. If nothing else, it’s hardly any coincidence that Carly has had two of the most current song choices over the last two weeks. Britney is positioning her as her pedestal contestant, in much the same way Nicole seemed much more invested in Josh than in any of her other contestants last season. I think Britney realizes that if she’s going to get an act through to the finale, it’s probably going to be Carly.
2. Fifth Harmony
As for Fifth Harmony, I think it’s finally becoming apparent why Simon put these girls through. There’s still something rough around the edges about them, but that’s part of what gives them their X Factor. They feel like real, relateable people, and not a polished, beyond-their-years act that have been doing this forever. There’s also something to be said for how a group grows together as vocalists. Their harmonies, while not a huge surprise, were one of the biggest pluses of last night’s show. Don’t know if that will translate to votes, since Lakoda Rayne is our only precedent for a girl group on X Factor USA, but even if they land in the bottom 2, we think that, short a disaster of historic proportions, they’d come out of the sing-off with the win. Although I personally thought the same thing about David Correy (still furious about that one) so…
3. Vino Alan
Vino, meanwhile, pretty much obliterated the memory of last week’s minor trainwreck with a seriously soulful vocal that marked the return of the soul singer we haven’t seen since his audition with Ray LaMontagne’s “Trouble.” If it had just been a matter of his vocal, we probably wouldn’t have ranked him THIS high, but it was the vocal combined with his poise onstage, and the video package that revealed his service to the troops, all elements that, when put together, go a long way in erasing the image many people might have had about Vino going in. Not that they’re going to release vote totals or anything, but it wouldn’t surprise us if Vino came in with unexpectedly high totals.
4. Lyric 145
Lyric145 tend to get shouty an awful lot, even for a rap group, but their energy and wordsmith skills can’t be denied. They’re probably the most interesting act in the competition in that they’re limited by being rappers in a competition that’s ostensibly about singing, and which has themes and sing-offs and everything. This didn’t hurt Astro, but then Astro was only one person. So it’s kind of miraculous, and pretty awesome, to see how naturally these three blend together not only as an onstage presence, but as lyricists. This was a major step up from last week, if for no other reason than that they’ve shown the season’s first instance of real balls-out artistry (since we haven’t really seen many radical reinterpretations of popular songs just yet. Of course, it’s early in the season, which is why the potential of Lyric145 is through the roof).
5. Arin Ray
Arin Ray was the night’s biggest surprise, for us. Everything about his performance suggests a radio-ready star. His dancing was a bit on the silly side, but the awkwardness was offset by how impressed we were that his dancing didn’t really affect his singing, as it would the night’s roughest act. His video package and his composure also gave us a sense of who Arin is as a person. He comes across as slightly cockier Marcus Canty. Still a good kid, at heart, and very family-oriented, but with a swagger that could take him places. Britney might be underestimating what she has with Arin, and she’d probably be better served not to put all her eggs in the Carly Rose basket, and focus some of that attention on developing Arin into an artist that could conceivably crack the midway point of the competition.
6. Beatrice Miller
However, all that said, Beatrice Miller really is the dark horse of not only Britney’s category, but possibly the entire competition. She’s immensely likable, and where Carly feels a bit over-rehearsed and beyond-her-years, Beatrice feels like just a regular kid, who happens to have a killer voice. Personally, I wasn’t really feeling her performance this week for most of it, and I chalk that up to Britney’s spotty mentoring, as she doesn’t seem to know what to do with Beatrice, since she can’t really do with her what she tried to do last week with Carly, Arin, and Diamond: she can’t turn Beatrice into a dancer, because it would just never work. Carly was enough of a pro to sort of pull it off, but Beatrice is more raw and unpolished, and we feel like Britney wants to do more with Beatrice, but is unsure of her ability to make it work. It’s funny, because we aren’t sure what we’d have Beatrice doing each week if we were her mentor. But the sooner Britney and Beatrice come to some kind of joint decision as to what they want to do from here on out, the sooner Beatrice’s potential will be realized.
7. Jennel Garcia
Though we felt the vocal was on-point and she’s still as likable as she ever was, we’re 100% with Simon on what Demi has done to Jennel Garcia. If we had to venture a guess, we’d argue that Demi is turning Jennel into a rocker because she has a plurality of pop singers in her category already and is trying to avoid overlap. By having Jennel fill the rocker niche, she doesn’t have to worry about her category splitting votes three ways between three very similar types of pop music acts. But we just don’t feel like it’s working. Like Simon said, it’s as if anything recognizable about Jennel has been stripped away and changed, turning her into the sort of pre-packaged product that doesn’t feel the least bit authentic to the kind of artist we’ve been led to believe she is. Now, we don’t really think it will affect her votes, at least not in the early going here, but it could become an issue down the line. As of right now, however, we feel she’s still a force in the competition. But with each week, Demi’s mentoring is eroding her chances of actually winning the thing.
As for Emblem 3, we got the impression from this performance that their rave reviews and buzz from last week went not only to their heads, but to their mentor’s as well. I suppose the 1D interlude in the beginning was cute in its own way, but we actually agreed with Demi that it was shortsighted to couple them with an act they could easily be compared to. Granted, Emblem3 and One Direction don’t have much in common beyond being X Factor boy bands, but that’s more than enough to where Simon probably should have known better than to give them a One Direction music cue, since Emblem3 would run the risk of coming off as derivative. That said, the performance itself wasn’t bad, per se, but it certainly wasn’t a performance that gave us great hope for the act, going forward. It was shouty and all over the place, and the mashup, while clever, led to spotty vocals that might not have been an issue if they’d just done one song or the other, instead of both. They’re probably the only act who is reliably safe going into tonight’s results show, but Simon needs to shy away from party songs, for these guys, since it doesn’t seem to allow them much room to display their vocal talents, or their underrated harmonies.
9. Paige Thomas
Paige Thomas is the opposite of Jennel, in that Demi’s mentoring is working out beautifully for her. But there’s still something of a screen between her public persona and her private, backstage self. Her real self, that is. It isn’t that her onstage persona feels like a put-on, it’s that she doesn’t seem willing to commit to it fully. Or rather, she doesn’t seem able to, because it isn’t really her. I get the sense that this Rihanna/Gaga-esque role is something she feels she has to do to standout in the competition, when she’s better served by providing the more restrained vocals she offered this week, without all the bells and whistles. She’s a very talented singer, and it just feels like that simple fact is getting lost amid all the decorations.
10. Diamond White
Personally, while I found myself surprised at how much I loved Diamond’s performance last week, she wouldn’t have been my choice to bring back to the competition, since I don’t think her ouster was as egregious as David Correy’s, or even Jillian Jensen’s. But she still provides a welcome presence in the competition, since I think a show like this could stand to have more of the light-heartedness and sweetness she brings to the proceedings. And her voice is objectively great. The problem this week was the song choice. So much of the sudden star quality she exuded last week was nowhere in evidence tonight, between the truly unfortunate pantsuit she was put in, to the sleepy, go-nowhere arrangement of the song she was given. When you’re brought back to a competition unexpectedly, after having been eliminated, the onus is upon you to justify why you were brought back in the first place, to make a case for why your elimination was particularly egregious, and why you deserve to be here more than others who could have been brought back. She’s an exceptionally talented girl, but objectively, we don’t feel she made a strong enough case for why she was brought back. That said, we actually hope Diamond makes it through to next week, because we feel she has a lot more to offer than she showed tonight.
11. Tate Stevens
There’s nothing technically wrong with Tate Stevens, and we actually think, with the country vote all to himself, he could end up going really far in the competition. But we feel as though we’ve seen everything Tate has to offer already. He’s not anywhere near what we’d call a bad singer, but we feel like he’s just bland, with nothing to imply that he’s going to get less bland as the competition moves forward. But, again, we really do think his particular brand of country, coupled with his back story and genuine likability, means he could stick around for a while. This week was just kind of anemic though.
12. Jason Brock
This was where Trey and I disagreed a bit, since I had Jason listed much higher. When we tallied up our totals, however, Jason landed here. Ignoring that it’s positively daft to give assign anyone “I Believe I Can Fly” in a singing competition in the year 2012, Jason Brock gave a vocal that showed he actually does deserve a spot in the top 13. However, there’s still the issue of where he fits in the larger landscape of the competition, since The X Factor USA doesn’t seem to have the some proclivity towards outlandish contestants that, say, The X Factor UK tends to. And even by X Factor standards, Jason Brock really isn’t that outlandish. His voice is actually a far bigger mark in his favor than his personality or his fashion sense, and I feel like if he does land in the bottom 2 (and for all I know, he could very well avoid landing there altogether just on sheer likability), he has a good shot at giving his opponent a run for their money in the sing-off.
13. CeCe Frey
CeCe Frey, however, is kind of slipping back into the problems that were plaguing her before the live rounds got underway. Not unlike Paige, CeCe seems to be putting up this screen between her onstage and offstage personas, yet she doesn’t really have the back story Paige does that makes all the lingering audience resentment go away. Her video package did a good job of illustrating just how hard a worker she is, but the way she carried herself after the performance projected a feeling of being pissed off over not receiving the praise to which she felt entitled. Now that’s probably not what she was thinking in that moment, but body language can often imply a mood and attitude that might not actually be there. But even ignoring the attitude and body language, the performance was a complete, unmitigated disaster. I’ve loved CeCe since auditions, and felt she was making real progress by recognizing that her persona was probably putting people off of her, and she seemed to be making strides towards presenting a more down-to-Earth nature, so that when she slipped into the fierceness, you wanted to root for her. But it’s just not working. It might be a really stupid theory, but I think the makeover might have something to do with it, since people were just getting to feel like they knew CeCe, before Demi went and changed her look to the point of being unrecognizable as the CeCe people actually seemed to be starting to like. Of course, that’s just my theory, so take it with a grain of salt. But I wouldn’t be surprised if CeCe found herself singing for her life tonight.
What are your rankings?