Recap: 'The X Factor' Performances - The Top 16

Plus, Mario Lopez and Khloe Odom Kardashian make their hosting debuts

<p>Betcha you're missing Steve Jones right now</p>

Betcha you're missing Steve Jones right now

Credit: FOX

It's been six weeks and 12 episodes worth of Auditions and Boot Camp and Judges' Houses and all of the various preliminary steps, but "The X Factor" is finally ready to bring on the live performances.

Wednesday (October 31) night's episode features performances from the Top 16, which inexplicably isn't being treated as the "finals." No, we're going to have Wednesday's performances and then eliminations on Thursday and *that* group of contestants -- 12 individuals/groups -- will be the Finalists. Why does "12" scream "Finalists" and "16" says "Random Intermediate Grouping"? I have no idea. You'd have to take it up with FOX or Simon Cowell.

In any case, click through for my usual "X Factor" recap, including performance reviews, plus any brilliant additions courtesy of new hosts Mario Lopez and Khloe Kardashian Odom...

8:01 p.m. ET. The judges and their teams hit the stage, led by Demi Lovato, who has gone brunette and acquired bangs since we saw her last. L.A. Reid salutes the crowd and resists holding his nose when he looks at his Geriatrics. Simon Cowell is wearing vampire fangs. And Britney's wearing an impressively short skirt and accompanied by the season's most amusingly attired contestants.

8:03 p.m. BOO! BOO! Sorry. Just booing for Mario Lopez and, I guess, Khloe Kardashian Odom. "I can't believe we're here... live... in front of America," Khloe says, before wishing us a happy Halloween. There's no public vote tonight. The judges will pick the eight singers who are safe and then another eight to sing for their survival tomorrow night. That's how we're going to fill two hours. "I do like a little bit of screaming. I love screaming," Khloe tells the judges.

8:05 p.m. "I think I have it in the bag," Britney says. "My contestants, you will see how incredible they are and their contestants will be shaking in their boots," Demi Lovato predicts. And Simon says his acts are going to demolish the competition. Simon also gives a shout-out to the East Coast, as a Red Cross number plays on the screen.

8:06 p.m. This week's theme is Made in America and Demi's Young Adults are up first, led by...

 

Singer: PAIGE THOMAS
Song:"What Is Love"
My Take: Demi's hair is confusing me. It practically goes back and forth between blonde and brunette. And she also urged Paige to shave her head. And then we can't even see Paige's hair, because she takes the stage wearing a fierce hat of thorns. She's singing a slowed down version of the "Night at the Roxbury" classic and she's accompanied by an energetic team of dancers in skin-tight back costumes. I always need to remember that "X Factor" is about the stage presence and overall package, so it's almost pointless for me to observe that Paige isn't singing much of anything here and that her voice is entirely lost in the mix. She looks tremendous and pulls off the costume entirely. Sometimes she looks more "scared" than "sexy and edgy" and I think the intent was the latter. But I think we're positioning Paige as a Rihanna manque and if that's goal, this is a reasonable starting point.
The Judges Say: "That was a dramatic opening. Very dramatic," L.A. Reid says, adding that she looks like a star. But he didn't love the song choice. "I just feel like you're outrageous," Britney says. "The whole point of this show is to find an artist who can work in the real world," Simon says, praising Paige for being "outrageous." Demi claps maniacally. Simon endorses the song choice and L.A. Reid tries saying it wasn't a big hit in America. "What an amazing way to open the show," Demi says.

8:15 p.m. Yes, the winner this season will get $5 million, but that's not much scratch if you're Khloe Kardashian Odom, who calls the cash prize "not too shabby." To that end, "The X Factor" is raising the stakes this season. The winner will get a music video produced by Pepsi to premiere during the Grammys. "It's the prize of a lifetime," Simon plugs.

 

8:16 p.m. Khloe refers to the Britney Spears as the Teens' "brentor." I like that.

 

Singer: ARIN RAY
Song:"You Keep Me Hangin' On"
My Take: Arin's accompanied by the obligatory dancers, but he's also facing off against almost deafening blasts of fog. The fog erruptions are dreadful and they seem to be distracting Arin, who has pitch problems throughout. Arin also isn't really dancing with the dancers so much as he's trying to avoid being bumped off the stage. He's supposed to be Usher-lite, but he's Usher-lite-lite.
The Judges Say: L.A. Reid didn't love the vocals, but he loved the song choice. "I couldn't really hear your vocals because the girls were screaming so loud," Demi says, but she wants to see him dance better. Simon thinks Arin was distracted by the dancers and suggests Britney put too much around him. Simon says, though, that Arin has "swag." "You were a little genius up there," Britney Spears says, possibly referencing an unaired Mark Burnett reality show.

Singer: DAVID CORREY
Song:"Your Love Is My Love
My Take: David Correy's got a stripped down arrangement. There are no background dancers and the only fog is leftover from Arin. And, as a result, this is the first performance of the night that's about singing and, again as a result, it's the night's best vocal. David overcompensates a little with the arm-waving and the efforts to get the crowd involved, but he's making the effort and that's OK.
The Judges Say: "I felt you a lot," says Britney, who felt it was "amazing." Demi goes with "pretty good," instead. Simon calls David "manic" and "desperate" in the performance and urges him to tone it down, worrying that the song didn't give David an artistic direction. "One thing for sure is that we could really hear you sing," L.A. Reid says.

Singer: SISTER C
Song:"Hell on Heals"
My Take: Wow. You can't seriously expect me to remember the silly names and silly spellings for the ladies of Sister C, can you? Simon is very, very, very worried that people aren't going to like Sister C and they admit that they may be portrayed as "mean girls." I'm not sure why that matters. They're talented. I don't know if they're more than State Fair-talented, but they're definitely that. Both as individuals and as a group, they work well together and they sound good together. One thing they can't do is figure out how to use the stage. Stepping off the platform causes serious logistical issues and the girls seem surprised with how willing the audience is to clap along with them.
The Judges Say: "That was good. In the beginning I was concerned that you were repeating yourselves," L.A. Reid says, because apparently they sang the song in their audition. Britney calls it "interesting" and calls them "stunning." Demi praises their beauty and "unique sound," but she wanted a better, less stiff, performance. "Demi, they are singers, not dancers," Simon says. "I'm a singer not a dancer and I still make up for it," Demi shoots back. Simon calls it "fantastic" and praises the vocals.

 

8:30 p.m. "I love the idea of three sisters," Khloe says.

8:32 p.m. Apparently Khloe's shirt is see-thru? Darnit. On my Slingbox screen, I'm not able to see anything notable. Or is that a good thing?

8:35 p.m. "Welcome back to 'The X Factor' or is it... 'The Hex Factor,'" Khloe jokes. Wow. No. That's not funny. And then, as if to mock Khloe, the lights go out briefly on the "X Factor" stage. That was just sad. 

 

Singer: JENNEL GARCIA
Song:"I'm On My Way"
My Take: Demi wants Jennel Garcia to look and feel more like a rock star, so she's given Jennel new dark hair with blonde highlights. She's also put a gigantic tree behind Jennel. Is this because of her potential to grow? Did Demi give Jennel her exact dye-job? Is this some sort of reverse "Single White Female" thing where the popular girl tries to make the meek girl more like her? I have no sense of what this song choice is suppose to say about Jennel. She's really not a rocker chick and the fog machine is blowing her everywhere and the thunder and lightning in the background are just distracting. Where is the saucy minx from the auditions? This is not the Jennel I'm interested in. This is a Jennel who's yelling over the arrangement and has no clear vocal tone that I can pick up. She's not bad. She's not bad at all. But this doesn't seem like a version of Jennel who can win "X Factor."
The Judges Say: "I'm completely surprised. I did not expect that. That was a 10," L.A. Reid says, predicting that Jennel could win. "I felt like you rocked it out," Britney says, loving everything about it. "With that song, you just defined the theme," Simon says. "I think Demi has tried to make you a clone of her... That is complete narcissism," Simon says correctly. "I'm not wearing chains right now, so that's a little ridiculous," says Demi, who is mighty proud of her girl.

8:45 p.m. Backstage, Khloe does banal interviews with Carly Rose Sonenclare and Willie Jones. The next performer is from Britney's gang...

 

Singer: DIAMOND WHITE
Song:"Hey Soul Sister"
My Take: Britney's accentuating Diamond's youth with a playful Train cover joined by a group of juvenile dancer. It's kinda like she's in a playground. In 1983, complete with kinda a "Krush Groove" graffiti-flavored light show in the background and a schoolyard-style chain-link fence backdrop. It's not a performance designed for Diamond to show off her singing and she's shouting more than finding the melody frequently, particularly on the last note. I guess we should be glad that this was the side of Diamond that Britney wanted to concentrate on, rather than just giving her a Beyonce ballad and letting her rest on that.
The Judges Say:
L.A. Reid thought it was mechanical in the beginning, but she began to own the song by the end. "You're so adorable and you have one of the most powerful voices in this competition," Demi says, though she wants more "fun." Simon is loving the talent and he even praises Britney for making Diamond "come over as a relevant pop star," raving at the "massive, massive improvement." Britney is proud of Diamond.

 

8:51 p.m. These are REALLY short commercial breaks and I'm still not sure how we're going to make it to 16 performances tonight.

 

Singer: VINO ALAN
Song:"Gotta Be Somebody"
My Take: Wow. This Nickelback song starts WAY too low for Vino. You get why it was L.A. Reid's song choice when we get to the chorus and it's suddenly in Vino's range. This is still much, much too generic for a singer with Vino's distinctive growl. Why ask him to do low-brow arena pop-rock if he's a soul rocker? The fireworks in the background are cheesy and Vino Alan should be anything but cheesy. He should be the most genuine talent available and making him into Chad Kroeger does him a disservice. Boo on L.A. Reid for every bit of this performance. It's not Vino's fault, but he's just not good.
The Judges Say: "I have to say I was a little bored," Britney says. Demi wants to root for Vino and she has a hard time seeing him as a pop star. "I think the song and the arrangement for the song was completely and utterly wrong for you," Simon says completely correctly. Simon agrees that Vino should be a soul singer. L.A. Reid compares this to the other adversity Vino has faced and says he's going to be just fine.

 

9:01 p.m. I miss Steve Jones.

9:01 p.m. Stop telling me it's Halloween, Khloe. Unless you're just saying you want me to give you some candy. Our next act is courtesy of Simon Cowell, who Khloe thinks she needs to flirt with. Then there's some REALLY awkward conversation about Khloe Kardashian's nipples and the air conditioning. Sweatshirt tomorrow, Khloe.

 

Singer: LYRIC 145
Song:Medley of random-ass stuff.
My Take: OK. Seriously, I love Lyric Da Queen. I have no interest in the other two guys, but they're there to enable her as the song goes between "Boom Shake the Room" and "Gangnam Style." They energy level that Lyric Da Queen is providing almost single-handedly is impressive to behold. She probably would have been better as a solo artist, but whatever they do with her, she's got star power to burn and she's going to carry those other two guys a long way. The crowd loves them.
The Judges Say: L.A. Reid loves them and thinks they're amazing, but he wanted more soul and blames Simon for dropping them in a washing machine with bleach. "Did I make y'all like that song?" Lyric asks the audience. "I was genuinely entertained," Britney says. "I had so much fun watching you guys," Demi says, admitting to Simon that she's worried about this group. "To make rappers work in a competition like this, it has to be commercial, it has to be entertaining and they have to put on a show," Simon says.
 

9:07 p.m. Sensing we're running out of time, Mario Lopez interrupts the afterglow and talks us into commercial.

9:10 p.m. Yup. The timing is pretty much off on everything this week. First live shows are a struggle. And are we pronouncing Cece Frey's last name like "Fray," rather than "Fry" as it was pronounced through the auditions?

 

Singer: CECE FREY
Song:"Because the Night"
My Take: Cece Frey has been bleached and de-spotted into something virtually unrecognizable. Why did the judges/decide makeovers were a key part of the show this season? I think we're pretending that Cece Frey is going to be... I dunno... Lady Gaga? She's coming across as Ke$ha-esque. She looks great, but surrounded by bondage court jester dancers and accompanied by seizure-enducing lighting, she's out of breath almost immediately and there's no effective singing going on. It's entertaining and a little sexy, but it's not much music.
The Judges Say: "You left a little be desired vocally, but I felt overall it was really strong," L.A. Reid says. Britney thought the vocals were "a little weak," but she liked the performance. Simon calls her "fearless" and "interesting," but he says "it wasn't the best vocal I've heard." "I'm going to be a little hard on you because I know you can take it," Demi says, telling Cece she could have done better vocally. Impressive. I like a mentor prepared to give tangible commentary to her singers. Welcome, Demi! "I appreciate the critique as harsh as it may be.

Singer: TATE STEVENS
Song:"Tough"
My Take: Tate Stevens is good at what he does and because nobody could ever have any doubt on his identity, he has a perfectly tailored vehicle here. I'd have turned down the arrangement a little bit and muted the orange-and-gold rays of light behind Tate, but this is sturdy and respectable country crooning and I'd expect we'll keep him around for a while. He knows who he is and I know that I'll never have to see S&M dancers when Tate performs..
The Judges Say: Britney thinks Tate is amazing. Demi was "a little bit bored" at the beginning, but praises him for standing on his own and giving her the chills. "We need you in this competition," she says correctly. "I know exactly what sort of artist you should be," Simon says, though he didn't love the song. "I'm really proud of you," L.A. Reid says, telling Tate that Simon doesn't know country or hip-hop. He promises Tate he's a keeper and he'll stay around.
 

9:20 p.m. "I love you," Tate tells his family back home, voice cracking and winning him future votes.

9:23 p.m. "I'm stoked. I think they're amazing," Britney says of the night's contestants. She's got the next contestant tonight...

 

Singer: BEATRICE MILLER
Song:"I Won't Give Up"
My Take: I'm nervous before the performance begins because Beatrice isn't happy with the song, which is more of a ballad that what she's used to or what she's planning on dressing for. And has her hair been crimped? Gracious. Whose idea was this? Why is Britney treating Beatrice Miller like a Skipper doll? Yeah. This was not smart. I'd put this on the same level as L.A. Reid's blunder of a choice for Vino Alan. Beatrice has this great roots-rock voice and Britney has her submerged in a fog bank singing a bland ballad. At the very end, Beatrice finally gets to open up a little and I'm reminded how much I liked her voice earlier. Meanwhile, there's a giant version of beatrice on the screen behind her, just looking pensively into space. Beatrice is better than this, possibly much better than this. .
The Judges Say: L.A. Reid believes in and loves Beatrice. "There was so much feeling behind your eyes," Demi says. Simon likes the style of music, but that she had tuning issues when she pushed the vocals. "I think you're a true star," Britney says. "Britney is the best! She's so nice and she totally gets what it's like to be a kid," Beatrice says.

Singer: JASON BROCK
Song:"Dance Again"
My Take: We're calling Jason "Mr. Entertainment" and that's why he's doing a total Vegas production of a Jennifer Lopez story. He's got a Zebra-print jacket and matching dancers with high headdresses. The lights are flashing and Jason's flirting with the 6-pack sporting male dancers. This is not high-end Vegas, but it's Sleazy Cabaret Vegas and that seems to be what L.A. Reid or Jason Brock wanted to deliver. This could be the campiest performance in the history of American reality competition TV. Me, I'd have found a good Robbie Williams song and turned Jason loose. But I guess America wouldn't have known what was happening? I suspect many viewers will still be perplexed.
The Judges Say: Britney thought it was "interesting and entertaining." "I loved it because you kept it your own," Demi says, but she doesn't think it was the right song choice. "Yeah. No. 1 records don't really work on this show," L.A. Reid snaps back. "That was utterly horrendous," Simon says. "For me, it doesn't get worse than that," Simon says. "Simon, I disagree, but I appreciate your criticism," Jason says. "He's a hater, don't worry about it," L.A. Reid says. Jason takes advantage of the moment to pinch/grab/pat Mario Lopez's butt.

Singer:1432
Song:"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"
My Take: The Lylas aren't The Lylas anymore. Legal clearance issues or something. They're group-izing Taylor Swift and they're a bit better as a group than when last we saw them as Simon's Miami abode. They're still mostly five fairly talented solo singers who don't quite know what to do with each other, but there are a couple little harmonies here and there. Simon's decided they're already winners, because he's showered them in confetti. That was OK.
The Judges Say: L.A. Reid says "We definitely blew that" about their name and then calls it "talent show" and "karaoke." "The bad news is that your mentor really failed you, but the good news is that there's hope," L.A. Reid says, blasting Simon. Britney likes their energy. Demi thought that only one singer in the group shined and she wants to see them click. She doesn't single out the best singer. Simon agrees there's work to do, but he thinks they're fantastic. "The public are going to love this group," Simon says.
 

9:41 p.m. Nice! Khloe demands to know which singer Demi liked. Demi tries to dodge. Khloe wants none of it. Finally, after some awkwardness, Demi praises Carmella. Wow. Khloe Kardashian just did something well. You may never hear me say that again, so savor it.

9:47 p.m. I'm assuming Demi Lovato wants to kill Khloe Kardashian Odom right now. But first, she has to introduce her last singer...

 

Singer: WILLIE JONES
Song:"Here For The Party"
My Take: Hmmm... So what Willie needed with his identity crisis was to singe a song most associated with a female artist. Willie's also getting completely upstaged by some under-clad roadhouse-style dancers. He gets in a couple moments of low-toned country charm, but mostly this is about ogling and not singing. Then again, I've thought that the judges have overrated Willie from the beginning, so that may not be an awful strategy. I'm just paying attention to a half-dozen things that don't include Willie's voice. I'm paying attention to his fade and his shiny suit, so it's not ALL about the dancers, but it's mostly that.
The Judges Say: "That was very entertaining," L.A. Reid says, calling it "adequate," and worrying he didn't get goosies. "I feel like you're a true star," Britney says. "Willie, I thought it was silly," Simon says, wanting Willie to take himself more seriously. "I don't think your mentor has done you any justice with that," Simon tells Demi. So Demi explains to Simon that this is what the kids today like. "This may not have worked 100 years ago," Demi prods Simon. Khloe asks Simon what he'd have done differently. "You're putting me on the spot," Simon squirms. Oh my goodness. I'm LIKING KHLOE KARDASHIAN.

 

9:55 p.m. Simon and Demi are going to lead an anti-Khloe rebellion and she'll never be allowed to ask follow-up questions ever again.

 

Singer: CARLY ROSE SONENCLAR
Song:"Something's Got a Hold On Me"
My Take: Oh goodness. Britney dressed Carly in a schoolgirl outfit to pay homage to... herself. She's seriously treating these kids like they're dolls. The look has absolutely nothing to do with Carly Rose's image and person and it's distracting until exactly the moment she opens her mouth. Boy. This girl can sing. She's ridiculously gifted on a technical level and she's one of the first singers tonight who seems conscious of lyrics and phrasing. She's going to go exactly as far as Britney Spears lets her go this season, because I think she's better than the other kids and this isn't a milieu in which she should be plunked.
The Judges Say: "You have a really beautiful voice," L.A. Reid says, but he didn't feel like she was having fun. Demi thinks Carly Rose's voice could be a blessing and a curse. Simon disagrees. He didn't think she was comfortable with the song or connected to it, but he thinks she's brilliant. "It would be criminal if you were to leave the competition tomorrow," Simon says. Britney calls her vocals "amazing."

Singer: EMBLEM 3
Song:"One Day"
My Take: Yeah. These guys are simultaneously damn talented and instantly obnoxious. They're very energetic, they sing well and I have ZERO doubt that they could sell out venues and move albums. But... Yeah. They're like a walking Von Dutch ad. And not in a good way. But teenage girls are going to LOVE them.
The Judges Say: "I think we are just witnessing America's next pop sensation," L.A. Reid says. "I would watch you all night long," Britney says. "You boys make me swoon," Demi giggles. "I can't look you in the eyes when you sing to me, because I'm supposed to be a judge," Demi says. Simon praises Emblem 3 for their commitment and their hard work and tells us to remember this night.

 

10:06 p.m. Simon says there were three or four incredible performances.

10:07 p.m. "I had fun tonight," Khloe Kardashian yells. Yeah. She'll be in a muzzle tomorrow.

10:07 p.m. Assuming we're losing one act per category, I'd get rid of Willie Jones (or maybe Paige Thomas), Jason Brock (because I think what L.A. Reid did to Vino was mean), Diamond White (or maybe Arin Ray) and whatever string of random numbers The Lylas became.

 

So what'd you think? Who's good? Who's bad? Who's going home?

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Daniel Fienberg
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A long-time member of the TCA Board and a longer-time blogger of "American Idol," Dan Fienberg writes about TV, except for when he writes about movies or sometimes writes about the Red Sox. But never music. He would sound stupid talking about music.
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