Friday, September 13, 2013

'X Factor' Recap: Simon Cowell Gets Pinata'd, Demi Lovato Says 'Don't Call Me Woman'

Gil Kaufman/MTV

Photo: Ray Mickshaw / FOX
With ratings hitting all-time lows after Wednesday night's season three premiere
, the singers auditioning for "X Factor" in Denver and Long Island on Thursday night's two-hour episode were probably not the only ones sweating it.

Though it showcased some promising talent the night before, the season three opener hit a new all-time low of 6.2 million total viewers, which is less than half the audience Simon Cowell's singing competition posted in its U.S. debut two years ago. As if you needed any other sign that things are a bit dire, at one point the ladies on the panel were whacking a Cowell-shaped piñata backstage and Cowell himself was bullied into doing some off-key crooning.

Which makes you wonder why the second show opened with mostly awful singers. There were, thankfully, some genuine ringers in there as well, including a very promising sisterly girl group and a potential break-out cute boy singer.

Great girls
After the fool's parade of awful singers, 15-year-old Rylie Brown was poised to break the spell with her dramatic ballad take on "Clarity" by Zedd ... until she forgot the lyrics. "So ... you messed up, but who cares when you've got a voice like that," Cowell said. Long Island native Simone Torres, 19, kicked it old school for Wilson Pickett's version of R&B nugget "Mustang Sally," bringing some serious bluesy grit, and attitude, to the stage. "I loved watching that light in your eye sparkle from the second that your walked out," said Demi Lovato, who just wanted to hug Torres.

Never call me "woman" again
Ice cream truck driver Jorge Pena laid it on wayyyyy too thick with the ladies, turning off the panelists with his aggro flirting (and this writer with his off-key nasal wheezing.) "You know what's really sexy? Is humility," said Lovato, who was not impressed by Pena's attitude or how he called her "woman." Regardless, she, and the rest of the judges, gave him a yes, for talent only.

With an ready-made nickname (AlCal), dreamy 19-year-old restaurant host and sparkly eyed cutie Al Calderon set hearts aflutter with Hall & Oates' "Sara Smile." The vocals were a bit shaky, but AlCal more than made up for it with teen dream charisma and the opposite of whatever Pena thinks he has.

"If I were 18 ... then I would want you to take me out on a date," Kelly Rowland joked. Cowell damn near dubbed him the new Justin Bieber.

Over 25s
Doggie day care owner and new dad Jeff Brinkman, 36, did a credible job on rock chestnut "You Are So Beautiful," giving it a nice Joe Cocker-like rasp. Rowland loved his sincerity and Cowell called it flat-out "brilliant." Nashville's Rachel Potter, 29, was hoping to finally get her chance at country stardom with a deliciously twangy gospel take on Queen's "Somebody to Love." And she nailed it. "You're just a beast!" Rowland raved. Cowell could tell Potter had been waiting to give this kind of performance on this kind of stage, and said she totally did it.

New York Subway singer and widowed single mom Denise Weeks, 41, went big with Whitney Houston's "The Greatest Love of All." Cowell cut her off, feeling she was rushing it and losing the emotion. "Let it breathe," he said, cutting her off from the track. The a cappella went way better, unearthing serious grit and gravity in her heartache-filled voice. "We have been waiting on you, period," said Rowland.

The same couldn't be said of Cowell, who purposely tanked it when asked to do his best lounge singer croon while mocking a clueless Sinatra wannabe. It was one of several times in the episode when Cowell was the butt of jokes, including a segment when the ladies took whacks at a Simon-shaped piñata backstage.

Group game
Proving that three (okay two) might be better than one, Roxxy Montana, three sisters from Detroit impressed with their version of Jennifer Hudson's "One Night Only" from the "Dreamgirls" soundtrack. Cowell liked one of them (Temperance), but when they sang a church song a cappella it was a whole different thing. Rowland said she knows very well (ahem) that every group needs a lead singer, "but when ya'll come together, it's something so special!" she said. In the end, Simon said they might be the best group he's ever heard audition for "Factor."

Not happening
Two tips for 21-year-old Denver model Yosselin Marquez: a) reading lyrics from your phone isn't a thing and b) not knowing Cowell's name isabsolutely not a thing. In fact, the whole first segment of the show was full of no-starter singers, from stiff-as-an-overstarched-shirt ranch hands to pageant girls with zero edge and a 41-year-old accountant who murdered Janis Joplin in all the wrong ways.

The conga line of miserable auditions inspired some of Cowell's most ripe put-downs in ages, including this bon mot: "it's like trying to chop down a tree with a banana." And Demi's clever mock Cowell slam: "You're like an elephant trying to skydive with a tiny parachute ... indoors."

One delusional squealer was so bad Cowell had to, literally, escort her off the stage after her fourth failed attempt at caterwauling.

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