As I settled in to watch The X Factor last night, my husband asked me, "Who is that British guy?" and I said, "Um, that's Simon Cowell, honey. From American Idol? A show we watched for like, five years?" And my husband said, "Um, no, the other British guy - the host." And then I was all, "The host!?"
And there he was - Steve Jones, host of The X Factor. He never interacts with the judges, and doesn't step foot onstage during the audition process. I guess I sort of remember seeing him standing backstage with parents, and talking to contestants, but tonight - Episode 3 - is the first time I realize he is actually part of the show. You sir, are no Ryan Seacrest, and that is a sentence I would usually reserve as a compliment.
Anyway, last night's episode of The X Factor featured taped auditions from Chicago, with former judge Cheryl Cole, and Seattle, with Cole's replacement Nicole Scherzinger. This was our last peek at Cole from the pre-taped footage and I have to say, I find her charming. Scherzinger is okay but she is too vampy, and mugs too much for the camera, whereas Cole was much more relaxed and natural.
We start the evening in Chicago...
Brock, 18, and Makenna, 22, have been singing together for four years. I was concerned they might sound too Broadway musical, but they perform "Colder Weather" by Zac Brown Band and it is spot-on. Their harmonies are nice and the judges go bonkers for the pair. In a private camera interview, Brock admits he is in love with Makenna, as if we couldn't tell by the lovesick puppy eyes and the way he blushes every time he looks at her. Adorable!
Skyelor Anderson, 16, is not necessarily the strongest vocalist but the judges are impressed when he continues singing "Must Be Doing Something Right" by Billy Currington, even when the track stops short in the first verse. He's so cute, I want to hug him!
Josh Krajcik, 30, brings the goosebumps. I think I have The X Factor figured out: They bring out the big guns in the first hour at about the 45-minute mark, and in the second hour they end the show on a spectacularly high or spectacularly low note. Josh comes in at about 00:45 and announces he will sing Etta James's "At Last."
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(By the by, Etta James's 1960 version was a cover of the song, which was originally written in 1941. Yes, I know, her version is the most famous. Just sayin'.) Simon looks skeptical, but when Josh - who "slings burritos" for a living - opens his mouth and starts singing, he tears the roof off.
The judges let 31-year-old Jack "J-Mark" McBrayer through after a very uncomfortable, awkward and terrible version of Radiohead's "Creep." It's just not good and while it was compelling to watch, I don't understand what they think this kid will perform next to compete with the other, real singers.
When we move on to Chicago, we say our final goodbye to Cheryl Cole and a hearty hello to Nicole Scherzinger. Scherzinger can sing - she busts out a few bars of "I Will Always Love You" to smack down Simon's smack talk about her singing abilities - but I don't think she is very likeable. I don't hate her, I am just not warming up to her. Maybe when she starts mentoring her on-screen presence will improve.
Drew Ryniewicz, 14, spends her pre-audition interview gushing over Justin Bieber ("His favorite colors are red and purple!" SQUEAL!) and she in fact performs Bieber's song, "Baby." Since L.A. Reid signed The Biebs, Simon has his "that's risky" look on, but Drew performs a slower arrangement and "makes the song her own." It's actually good and she gets through.
4Shore is a group of four guys from Virginia Beach who decide to perform the Boyz 2 Men hit "End of the Road." Oh yeah, and L.A. Reid wrote that song, so all of the judges have an eyebrow raised. Watching L.A. Reid react to music he enjoys is hilarious, and reason enough to watch the show; he sways, he conducts an imaginary orchestra, he fist-pumps - it's amazing. I think the harmonies sound kind of shaky, but the judges love them and 4Shore is for sure going to the next round!
Elaine Gibbs, 53, is a wedding singer - but not for long. Girlfriend has pipes. Her rendition of Carol King's "You've Got a Friend" is awesome and I wish we got to hear more of it.
Phillip Lomax, 21, is cute, smiley and his funky fedora is proof he's an original! He sings "Fly Me to the Moon" very well, but it seems kind of canned. He gets through but I don't think he will get very far.
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Tiah Tolliver, 19, prompts a throw-down between Simon and the two female judges, whom he accuses of hating on the female contestants. Tiah gets two yesses (L.A. and Simon) and two nos after her first off-key performance. She sings a second song and gets a reluctant yes from Nicole, who urges Tiah to work on her vocals if she wants to advance.
The X Factor audition rounds conclude at 7 p.m. tonight on Fox. Watch video excerpts from last night's episode online.