On my JFK to LAX flight yesterday, I sat next to a young girl and her father. The adult was wearing a beanie, a gray sports coat, a black MMA-styled t-shirt and a heavy silver chain that reminded me of the kitsch sold at Wings, the beachside stores that litter every coastal town in North and South Carolina. As I sat down, he was yelling into his cell phone about “meeting Katy after the concert,” and how some presumptuous new assistant had the gall to question whether he and his daughter should be talking to Katy and how the assistant later called him to apologize. The girl, who looked about ten, was quietly playing a game on her iPhone. I tried not to judge, even when the father, raising his voice a bit, said, “I mean, Katy Perry just loves _______.” (name withheld because I don’t remember it.)
Over the next two hours, the father talked very loudly to his daughter about all her career options. He said, “You know, when you were on Ellen, Christina called me and said she was going to show up or at least send a videogram. She didn’t and I was really disappointed in her.” Later, he said, “If we can get you that White House gig, that’s a lot of money.” And for the capper, he started talking about some concert where “Jennifer” and “Mary J.” would also be in attendance and how they “both love you so much.”
I always judge a man by his chain, so I was a bit disturbed by what the hell was going on and why the girl kept asking her father when she was going to get a laptop and why the father kept talking about how she would get her laptop when he finalized a partnership with Apple. There’s not much that I find tacky (I recap the X Factor, for God’s sake), but this whole exchange felt pretty awful. So I did what everyone with Internet access on a plane would do and angled my computer towards the aisle and began googling child pop stars. She wasn’t Charice. She wasn’t Connie Talbot. She wasn’t Sophia Grace.
But the cumulative effect of watching all those child star videos made me realize the problem with the X Factor.
Three of the show’s four best performers are under the age of 15. Rachel Crow can stomp and yell and dance and have cool hair (she performs all three of these feats with grace and aplomb) and Astro can scream about how Hip Hop is the love of his life and how he was introduced to her by the Sugarhill Gang and Drew can very prettily and very quaintly sing her way through another slowed-down old song, but it’s never going to emotionally connect with the audience. At the end, what you have is three kids who are a bit too precocious, who don’t really know what their songs are about, and who are a bit too wide-eyed in the spotlight. Earlier, I said that cute pre-teen singing sensations had a shelf life of three performances. We’re a bit past that mark now and they’re all starting to wear down. Is anyone really excited about Astro doing a rap version of “Folsom Prison Blues” next week? Or Drew singing Wilson Phillips’ “Hold On?” Or Rachel Crow head-snapping and ZOMG-ing her way through Bruno Mars’ “Billionaire” (sponsored by Pepsi)?
The specter of the stage mom or the stage dad hangs a bit too heavily over all these kids. I can’t watch them without thinking about some father in a shitty jacket and bad facial hair telling his daughter about the great contracts they will get and how they will book gigs on whatever stupid show.
Some quick notes on some standout performances.
Bleh. You don’t get to do a “Hip Hop, you’re the love of my life” song until you’ve logged onto Gravediggaz YouTube and left at least 500 “Yo, this is the real shit. F@#% Drake” comments. That’s how I earned my card. But more importantly…
Nicole Scherzinger Accent Watch!
4:36: If you’re ready at this age for a $5 million contract… HOLY CRAP. That was the best one ever. She went from being a post-speech therapy Stepford Mom to Mary Poppins in the span of one awkward L.A. Reid interruption.
I really like the announcer who says the contestant’s name at the end of the video segments. I think it’s the same dude who yelled “BLANKA!” and “CHUN LI!” in the old Street Fighter EX Plus Alpha. But I hate hate hate Stacy Francis, who, at this point, has become the dude in your high school who has a bunch of tattoos and weird piercings and who always gets angry and acts scary and entitled to his anger, but when you finally get into a fight with him, he just sort of flails around and screeches but doesn’t land any punches and then starts crying when you walk away in disgust. Someone man the Celine Symbol and bring her out of her zombie-like slumber in that hyperbaric chamber underneath Caesar’s Palace. We need her ASAP to save her good name.
Honestly, I could see them succeeding in the real musical world, especially if they did shows at Wal-Marts and if the brunette who was home-schooled started dressing in quasi-bondage wear. There’s nothing wrong with three blondes and a brunette doing the country version of the Spice Girls.
By the way, the whole “judges competing against one another” storyline isn’t working. How is it fair to give Paula the groups? Of course they keep getting voted off! They’re groups! It’s hard to be charismatic when there are four of you always competing for attention.
They go home tonight.
Jay Caspian Kang is an editor at Grantland. His debut novel, The Dead Do Not Improve, will be published by Hogarth/Random House in Summer 2012. Follow him on Twitter at @jaycaspiankang.