Now that “The X Factor” has started its live episodes, we can finally get a feel for what this show is really all about. And let it be known: This is one loud, overblown, overproduced, overthought, over-everythinged show, kind of like the “Transformers” of televised singing competitions. Buckle up, because this ride is about to get very bumpy.
Tuesday’s initial live offering — which clocked in at a colossal tw0-and-a-half-hours — gave us our first real taste of the contestants, and nearly every performance was a huge production, with backup dancers, choreographed dance routines, bright lights, pyrotechnics and, oh, even some live singing. These singers were presented as totally polished performers, their imperfections and edges already buffed to a sheen. It’s hard to tell where they will go from here, or where there’s even left to go from here. The show made the early rounds of ”American Idol” look like a county fair by comparison.
“The X Factor” does have a cool ear for songs, and many contestants performed cool-sounding mashups of popular songs. Particularly effective was Rachel Crow’s blend of the Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go” and Justin Bieber’s “Baby,” two songs which worked surprisingly well together. But knowing the contestants had nothing to do with picking these arrangements dulls the effect of the trick.
The show aims to shift attention from the contestants to the judges, which is an odd decision. Why should I care which of the multi-multi-multi-multi millionaire judges “wins” the contest? The attention should be on the contestants, plain and simple. (This was a problem I also had with “The Voice.”) Oddly, this also results in judges getting praised when a contestant comes through with a solid performance, as if they were the one up there singing. And producers seem way too giddy to get the judges to take one another on; when Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid snipped at one another, host Steve Jones immediately chimed in as if on cue, “and the Reid and Cowell rivalry begins.” Can you feel the excitement?
Speaking of Jones, he lacked the quick wit and on-his-toes thinking of “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest, who is always able to deftly navigate even the hairiest situations on “Idol.” Jones uncomfortably hurried the show along on Tuesday as if his job was on the line if the show wasn’t off the air by 10:30. His handling of the time constraints was so clumsy that as a viewer, I felt nervous and partially responsible for the show not coming in on time, and like I was going to be in trouble if it ran over. Not a good feeling.
So who was good? It’s really early in the competition, but standouts included Marcus Canty (who made Culture Club’s “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” sound thoroughly modern) and Drew (the former Drew Ryniewicz, whose “Flashdance… What a Feeling” became a beautifully hushed ballad). But right now “X Factor’s” biggest hurdle is it needs to slow down and let everything breathe, and stop focusing on everything but the voices of the contestants. This is still a singing competition, right? Right?