Credit: Ray Mickshaw/FOX ©2011 Fox Broadcasting Co. Photo: Judges Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell Discuss an X Factor USA Performance

Thousands of people camped out, waiting for a chance to audition in front of the judging panel. Cheering people! Singing people! Hot people! Awkward-looking people who clearly don’t stand a chance! Crazy people! A slick, handsome host! Simon Cowell! Paula Abdul! This... is American Idol.

*record scratch*

Just kidding! It’s the series premiere of The X Factor, of course, and if a lot of it felt like familiar territory, we’re not exactly complaining. We know that once the Factor gets into the later rounds, it’ll be a lot less Idol-esque, but for now our new obsession sure does remind us of our long-standing obsession.

However, unlike Idol, the Factor auditions take place in an arena, in front of a crowd of several thousand people. The show also has a minimum age limit of 12 and no upper age limit, and allows groups to audition as well as solo artists.

We start out in Los Angeles, where the very first audition we see takes advantage of that low minimum age. Rachel Crow, 13, takes the stage to sing Duffy’s “Mercy” for our judging panel of Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, L.A. Reid, and British superstar Cheryl Cole, who gets swapped out for Nicole Scherzinger (downgrade!) once we hit Seattle. Rachel is spunky and adorable and a total That’s So Raven kind of deal. The judges and crowd collectively lose their minds over her, and she gets four yes votes. (It takes only three to go through, but Rachel is clearly an overachiever.)

Next, in quick succession, we get Terrell Carter from Buffalo who Paula and Cheryl quite like and who gets four “yes” votes, a fourteen-year-old girl named Ellona Santiago with a big voice who gets four “yes” votes, and a cute fourteen-year-old boy named John Lindahl who sings Cee Lo’s “Forget You” and earns himself, you guessed it, four “yes” votes. Wait! Everyone is good! Where are the bad/crazy people for us to laugh at?


Credit: Kevin P. Casey/FOX ©2011 Fox Broadcasting Co. Photo: Host Steve Jones Watches the Action From Backstage During an X Factor USA Taping

Maybe Siameze will do the trick? Siameze tells us that he has “the look, the attitude and the talent” to succeed. He takes the stage and performs “Give It to Me Baby” by Rick James in four-inch stiletto boots and a blue fishnet shirt. There are lots of cheerleader-style toe touches and splits. L.A. isn’t feeling it (and neither are we), but the other three judges vote yes, so Siameze will be back.

Dan and Venita, who are 70 and 83, respectively, met at a gunfighters club. They’re sort of adorable and sort of depressing, in that way that old people are sometimes. If they win and get the 5 million bucks, they want to travel in their mobile home and visit lots of senior centers. However, their cover of “Unchained Melody” guarantees that they will not be winning -- four “no” votes -- so it looks they’ll have to make other plans. At least they’ve got each other!
Three performances in a row follow quickly: a duo of teenage girls called You Only Live Once with terrible dyed hair and inexplicable screaming; a 61-year-old named Linda who sings “I Touch Myself” and, uh, does; and Miranda, a pretty blonde 30-year-old mom who can’t manage to sing a Katy Perry song, if you can imagine. Not that Katy Perry doesn’t have some awesome songs, but it’s not like it’s a Celine Dion tune, you know? “No” votes for everyone!

Credit: FOX ©2011 Fox Broadcasting Co. Photo: A Group of Contestants Audition During The X Factor USA

Simone Battle, 21, is from Los Angeles and wants to become a pop icon. She’s also pretty hot, rocking a pair of tiny red shorts, and she’s got a glittery heart sticker on her cheek. Simone describes herself as “fierce,” which Simon counters with “annoying.” However, she gets huge points from us by describing her sound as “a threesome between a cheerleader, a hipster, and a drag queen.” She sings a Pussycat Dolls song badly, a La Roux song somewhat less badly despite clearly only knowing about 8 bars of it, and gets through mostly on the strength of her charisma, which is considerable.

DRAMA! Simon and L.A. disagree on lots of contestants! They are rivals! Oh no, what will happen? Uh, spoiler alert: nothing happens. Okay then!

Moving on: Stacy Francis is a 42-year-old single mom from Brooklyn whose abusive former boyfriend told her she was too old and not talented enough to make it as a singer. “I don’t wanna die with this music in me, Simon,” she says, before launching into a very affecting rendition of Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman.” It’s a little OTT in parts, but after hearing her story, you know she’s been holding it in for a long time. The crowd and judges go absolutely bonkers, Stacy cries, the audience cries, we cry... basically there’s a lot of crying, and obviously she gets four “yes” votes. If she wins the 5 million, though, first thing she should do is invest in some waterproof mascara, because wow.

After a commercial break, we’re in Seattle, and Cheryl has left us and been replaced by Nicole. There’s a rehash of the premise of the show because it’s the top of the hour and some people are probably just tuning in, but we already know what’s going down, so on with the auditions!

Credit: Ray Mickshaw/FOX ©2011 Fox Broadcasting Co. Photo: Judges L.A. Reid, Nicole Scherzinger, Paula Abdul, and Simon Cowell Watch an X Factor USA Performance

Geo Godley is a 43-year-old blogger who sings and writes and produces and plays and is wearing a silver velour suit and a tie-dye t-shirt. He’s singing an original song called “I’m a Stud.” Every terrible thing you would expect from all the above is, like, infinitely true. He drops his pants midway through the performance, and apparently the audience and judges get The Full Godley. It’s endless and horrifying and Paula takes off to go throw up in the bathroom. “That was offensive, disgusting, distasteful, upsetting,” says L.A., and Geo gets tossed out of there.

Palate cleanse! Marcus Canty, 20, is super adorable. His mom’s given him two years after high school to chase his dreams of becoming a music star, and the clock is about to run out. He sings “I Wish” by Stevie Wonder, and it’s awesome. The vocals, the stage presence, the dancing, everything is on point, and he’s got the crowd in the palm of his hand. L.A. compares him to Bobby Brown, Simon compares him to Usher, everybody loves Marcus and he’ll be moving on to the next round, duh.
The next day is Nicole’s birthday, and she’s pretty psyched about it, and we get a montage of her mentioning that it’s her birthday approximately 12 times. Simon brings her a cake with his picture on it, and a boyband from Salt Lake City called The Anser sings “Happy Birthday” to her in some decent-but-not-amazing harmony.

Decent-but-not-amazing is a good description of The Anser, actually. The group consists of three guys ranging in age from 20-27. One has bright red hipster glasses, one has a bowtie, and one has a knit cap. None of them are incredible individually on Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep,” but in the second half of the song when they all sing together, it’s better. The judges like them, though, and their answer (see what we did there?!) is “yes.”

Four more bad auditions follow: 23-year-old Nikki Collins is an event planner whose goal is to eventually sell out stadiums and then retire somewhere (big dreams!); T for Two is an awkward mother-daughter group; Darren Michaels, 40, sings “Like A Virgin” and laughs like a total creepster; and The Sonnets are a group of approximately 15 girls who sound like they’re singing at a funeral and whose performance Simon says sounds like the music that plays “while I’m having a massage.”

Closing out the night is Chris Rene, a 28-year-old garbage man from Santa Cruz, CA. Chris has tattoos, a fedora, a young son, and 70 days sober. He performs an original called “Young Homie” and it’s shockingly great, an autobiographical melodic hip-hop tune that just works. The crowd is totally into it, and it’s definitely a radio-ready track. “I’ve worked with some of the greatest hip-hop artists, from Jay-Z to Kanye West, and all of my boys, they would be proud of me today to tell you that you are the truth,” L.A. tells Chris. “My favorite feeling in the world is when I sit in this chair and I meet a star for the first time,” agrees Simon.

And as Coldplay’s “Fix You” plays in the background, the judges make Chris promise to stay clean before unanimously voting him through. Chris cries. We cry. This is the kind of moment we watch these types of shows for, okay?!

Tomorrow night: More awesome people! More terrible people! L.A. contemplates suicide, Nicole feels violated, and some dude in a hot pink trucker hat wants to fight Simon. We’ll be there... will you?

What do you say? Did you like The X Factor? What do you think about the judges? Who were your favorite auditioners? Let us know!

 

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