We’re less than a week away from the first live show of The X Factor USA 2013, and we’re offering our Power Rankings of the 16 acts who have made it through to live shows, category-by-category! Tonight, we close things out with the Over 25s! (You can check out our previous rankings for the Girls, the Boys, and the Groups!)
So this is the one category where my rankings are based more on gut feeling than anything else. From a realistic standpoint, I don’t think anyone in this category ended up where I thought I’d put them when I started. But as I went over the list, I just couldn’t justify ranking these four in any other order but this, even if it defies logic in places. I’m exceedingly interested to see how this category plays out on the first live show, since I could see any of these four going home. (Hell, if David Correy could go home after blowing away just about everyone else in his category last year, all bets are off)
In terms of pure ability, Lillie is the best in this category. But she also has that intangible star quality. Probably because she’s already had some brief success as a major recording artist. Some might see that as a mark against her in the competition, but damned if I could tell you why. I’d argue, in a climate where just about everyone who auditions for a show like this has done something in the business before, whether it’s a demo, another talent show, or an album. Hell, some have had careers before, and while that could handicap them in some competitions, I don’t see how it hurts Lillie here. If anything, she has a considerable advantage in terms of her performance ability. Not only does she have a commanding stage presence, she has a pretty compelling performance style that privileges emotion over pure technique. There have probably been better singers in this competition, but there have been few who could really sell the feeling of a song this well. Whether that translates to a long life in the competition is anyone’s guess, as it requires voters feeling some semblance of a connection to Lillie. But she should at least make it to America’s vote, provided she keeps on doing what she’s been doing.
2. James Kenney
I feel like James is the dark horse of the category, as I suspect he has the potential to really surprise people. He has a peculiar charisma about him, and a voice that, while not perfect, has a lot of depth and nuance to it. There were better singers in the category, such as Jeff Brinkman, for example, but James wouldn’t have been the person whose seat I’d have taken to put him there. James has a lot to offer as a package artist, and I hope he gets the opportunity to show the full range of what he’s capable of doing, since the mentors on this show have a fairly bad track record of allowing musicians to actually practice their craft in any meaningful fashion. Yet, while my praise of James comes with a host of caveats, that doesn’t dull my enthusiasm for him. I genuinely believe he could be the surprise underdog of the season.
3. Jeff Gutt
Jeff is a guy who I think is better on paper than he’s actually been in execution. He can definitely sing, he’s likable, and his passion makes him a compelling figure to watch. But I don’t think I’ve ever been as high on him as others have been. But where Jeff’s positives really come through are in what he has the potential to offer to the competition. We don’t really have any other rockers this season, so he’ll offer a unique style that isn’t really being matched by any other contestant, since this is largely a season of soul, pop, and country acts. Very few alternative, singer/songwriter, or rocker acts. Fans of such acts pretty much have Jeff. And that’s not a bad choice to have. But so much of his success in the competition will rely on song choice, perhaps more so than any other contestant, since choosing for a rocker can prove difficult since a rocker relies on authenticity, and voters will see through the act if Kelly saddles Jeff with a song that doesn’t feel like something he would actually sing. But Jeff has an edge in believability, as his passion goes a long way in selling the songs he sings to an audience. However, I’m not sure if there’s a middle ground for Jeff: he either delivers, or he crashes and burns, with little room to deliver a middle-of-the-road performance. Should be interesting to watch his progress.
I admit I’m pretty much out of my mind putting Rachel here. From a pure package standpoint, she’s second only to Lillie, yet I just feel this weird disconnect with her, even while I recognize everything she offers to the competition. It just feels like a put-on, as it’s hard to know whether Rachel actually has any idea what kind of artist she wants to be. If she decides to go the country route, she might last long in the competition, but there’s a certain theatricality to Rachel that betrays the authenticity of her country act. Perhaps this is due to her extensive experience on the Broadway stage, but realistically, that shouldn’t be something that works against her. If anything, it should make her more of a compelling performer. And her performances are pretty damn solid, as she has a clear command of the stage, and a terrific voice, to boot. But there’s just something I don’t entirely buy about her, and I can’t explain it. I really would love to be proven completely wrong about her though, because I honestly believe she could potentially outlast some of the other frontrunners of the competition (although I don’t feel this season necessarily has a “frontrunner” in the traditional sense. It’s hard to know who actually has the best shot at winning this thing, and I’m open to final three predictions if you fine readers have any).
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