For reasons still not entirely clear to them, Grantland editors Jay Caspian Kang, Mark Lisanti, and Emily Yoshida have decided to track the second season of The X Factor. Come, stay a while. They aren't going anywhere; there are still some off-key versions of Celine Dion songs they haven't heard.
It was “diva" week on The X Factor, a word we are all too familiar with here at Grantland. And because we have already determined that none of these contestants can reach those grand heights, I will be rating the chosen contestants this week based on just how badly they butchered their Diva moment. — Kang
Tate Stevens and the New World Order
Kang: Tate won the popular vote last week, a development that shocked all three of us, who, together, are the three-headed, multi-racial Nate Silver of singing competitions. We thought he would get some votes from the “Hell, I only listen to country” sect and the cowboy-hat makers of America, but we didn’t think he’d come anywhere close to first place. Well, how wrong we were! And how wrong was America! Last night, Tate sang some Shania song that I didn’t recognize because it wasn’t the “Damn, I feel like a woman” song or the one where she sings in the bathtub and it’s like the Canadian Civil War because everything is in black-and-white. If Tate ends up in the top three again, I’m concerned we will never see the bipartisanship this country needs so badly, because if the residents of America who like Tate Stevens can’t at least walk a little mile in the shoes of, say, Beatrice Miller or Arin Ray, we really are further apart from one another than we could have previously imagined.
Butcher Factor: Shania can’t sing, so it doesn’t really matter. The only way to butcher Shania is to look bad and screw up on your sass factor. By that metric, I guess Tate really butchered Shania, but I was fast-forwarding through most of his performance, so who knows?
Lisanti: There was no bigger shock last week than when they revealed the actual voting results and we learned that Tate was no. 1 overall. In our coastal elitism (read: Kang's coastal elitism, I am from the Heartland of Suburban New York) we had already written Tate off for dead, deeming him a hulking, country-strong carcass that need to be dragged from the stage by the members of Playback, who have been pressed into janitorial duty since their elimination, in accordance with their lifetime SyCo service contracts. But we're living in a different world now, a world in which we know exactly where each performer stands with the voting public, and Tate is their man. Is he still terrible? He is. Do we have to take him seriously now? It seems that we do. Did I mention he is still terrible? I did, like two sentences ago? Sorry, I'm having a hard time focusing since Simon Cowell decided to pick up the sad little snow globe we live in and give it a vigorous shake. The sodden flakes of our old perceptions fall gently around us. Tate Stevens is our new god. And he fucked up a Shania song. And America will love him for it.
Yoshida: Now that Tate’s reign over The X Factor’s highly zeitgeisty audience of 4 or so million viewers has been secured, I was really looking forward to seeing the judges just lay into him after weeks of keeping their criticism bottled up out of pity. I was disappointed, obviously. I think it’s funny that The X Factor was billed as the younger, edgier, meaner Idol and they’re gonna crown a dead-eyed 37-year-old dad their winner. This show’s utter failure to do anything it originally set out to do is fascinating.
Kang: Does Britney only know three songs? Why does she have her wards sing the hits from your mom’s saddest friend’s Spotify playlist? Britney’s insistence on force-feeding her children the biggest songs in R&B history has swamped out Diamond’s chances of making it to some salable point of the competition. Every week we’ve watched her put out a borderline-competent rendition of some huge power ballad. Every week we’ve yelled, “She’s 13. Give her something age-appropriate!” Every week we’ve asked, “Where does she go from here?”
To go all Simon Cowell on Diamond, I think the answer this week is “home.”
Butcher Factor: The cow is dead and in 15 pieces on the slaughterhouse floor. The workers are picking up the intestines and packaging them up in a little plastic bag. Beyoncé has filed a restraining order.
Yoshida: Why does Diamond White need an alter-ego name!? HER NAME IS DIAMOND WHITE.
Lisanti: I had the same thought. She already has the best performer's name in the history of entertainment. Why mess with perfection? It's just like J-Chez all over again, where it was like she didn't even realize I gave her an amazing nickname with which to kick off her career and she just casually discarded it in favor of that BB Chez nonsense. And where is she now? On Glee? There's your cautionary tale, Diamond: Mess with your branding and you'll wind up singing terrible covers of the biggest hits from six months ago next to Gwyneth Paltrow, who will keep offering you a pepper-cucumber colonic, which you don't need, because you're 13, but you'll wind up trying it because she will sell you on how life-changing it is to flush out your insides with organic produce. Listen to me, I'm a kingmaker, I single-handedly prevented Phillip Phillips from winning Idol last season.
Kang: Last night, when we learned that Beatrice lives with her two moms and her younger Asian siblings, I about fell off my couch. Where was this information when everyone was trying to manufacture their sob stories? Were the producers of X Factor withholding information for when Beatrice was in trouble? Or did they not want to “overdo the gay thing” as long as Mr. Entertainment was on the show?
Or maybe Beatrice had some dignity and told the producers that there is a way — many ways — to have a happy family that doesn’t quite fit within the usual parameters and maybe her moms said, “You’ll gawk at us over our dead bodies!” Because even though all that information was revealed last night, the whole "OH MY GOD, I’M A HUMAN" aspect wasn’t as amplified as it usually is on this wonderful celebration of inspirational sadness like Carly Rose Sonenclar’s constant search for a better Wi-Fi connection with which to Skype with her brother, who frames his dorm room posters and says things like, “I go to school in Boston.”
One last thing, they need to stop dressing Beatrice up as a street urchin. Last week she looked like what would happen if a homeless Paula Poundstone stuffed a sheet of acid into her mouth and then discovered some machine that would turn her into a 13-year-old girl. This week they clearly went for “Haight Street chic.” All that was missing was a mangy dog covered in cigarette burns and two dudes in Misfits T-shirts who roll their own cigarettes and read at a second-grade level.
Butcher Factor: Oh, I don’t know. Let’s give her one of those Japanese chicken skewers or something totally inoffensive and non-butchery. I kinda liked it even though it was too slow and almost boring.
Yoshida: It’s been interesting to see how the rankings have affected both the acts at the top and the bottom of the pile. I would think that seeing how poorly Beatrice (the strongest vocalist in this competition, from where I’m sitting) ranked would convince Britney or whoever is actually responsible for her staging and styling to put some thought and care into how they package her, instead of just e-mailing random clip-art files to the graphics and wardrobe department. But there are rumors that Beatrice is Britney’s favorite, and maybe this is all part of a secretly brilliant plot to double down on the terrible to win some sympathy votes — tell everyone about her poor family, then give her the ugliest clothes and hope she becomes the Ramona Quimby Has Two Mommies of The X Factor. That’s really the only way I can fold that YOLO hat and clock bench into my understanding of what non-insane television producers would force a child to do on national television.
Since I have the mic right now and I care for some reason, I might as well tell whoever’s reading how you groom Beatrice to win The X Factor. Pick right up from where we left off at Judges' Homes. She’s a young Sia — which means she’s more viable than Sia as an actual pop star, which is a good thing. Keep 15 percent of the hippie vibe and drop the Second Coming of Avril thing altogether. No camo, no beanies, no plaid, no dusters. Maybe a nice flannel and combat boots. Give her the faux-Skrillex. Have her sing “Diamonds” next week, and make every week’s performance a logical progression from that song. Basically she’ll be like an Ellie Goulding with actual vocal talent — a folk singer who sold her guitar and bought turntables. I’m not saying this is a surefire formula, but it beats the hell out of the leftovers they’re throwing her now.
Lisanti: I've never been as high on Beatrice as the two of you. She's not ready, and they obviously have no idea what to do with her, so they dress her in Punky Brewster's hand-me-downs from her "I almost tried cocaine" period and shove her out onstage to sing a Cyndi Lauper song that's about 20 years too mature for her. If she manages to escape this show somewhat intact, maybe she becomes the biggest star on Nickelodeon within the next eight months. I think we can all get behind that idea. She'd probably be going home this week if not for the presence of a certain other contestant we will be discussing shortly.
Demi Lovato's Eyebrows
Kang: I mean, seriously. what is going on? I’ve asked this four times now and nobody will tell me. She has somehow changed races twice this season. Who knew eyebrows could be so race-bendingly powerful? Maybe if we all had uniform eyebrows, Michael Jackson’s vision from the song from Free Willy would come true.
(Checks off box for reference to a Disney movie. Waits by mailbox for “$3 off any turkey leg at Epcot Center” coupon to arrive.) [Ed. note: The 1993 family film Free Willy is a Warner Bros. Pictures Production.]
Lisanti: As a fellow Generously Eyebrowed American, I feel Demi's pain. There are definitely days where I want I want to Nair them off, draw in some fun new ones with a sparkle pen, and live a more exciting eyebrow life. That being said, I am not onboard with whatever shoe polish–based solution her stylists have concocted while her eyebrows grow back in.
Old-person reference: Colonel Mauser in that one Police Academy scene with the eyebrow stuff. You know what I'm talking about, one 45-year-old guy who mistakenly clicked on this story. [Insert Michael Winslow siren SFX.]
Yoshida: Demi Lovato’s eyebrows are a high-fashion triumph, and with each new episode they have told a powerful story about rising above your struggles and owning the hair on your forehead. I hope they get bigger every week, Miss J style. Though maybe it’s just time to start thinking about some alternative materials.
Carly Rose Sonenclar
Kang: I kind of want her to sing the song from An American Tail. Sommmmmmmmewhere out theeeeeeere. Beneath the pale moonliiiiiiight. Some one’s thinking offff me and loving me toniiiight.” (Checks off box for nostalgic "Hey, remember that movie?” mention within “blog post.”
Also, with my second Disney movie mention, I now get $6 off a turkey leg at Epcot Center.)[Ed. note: With a revised total of zero Disney references in this article, Mr. Kang's eligibility for any discounts at Epcot Center and/or any other Disney Parks & Resorts properties is under review.]
Butcher Factor: I can’t remember what she sang or why or even if she sang it well. I just remember that I can’t stand her brother and how he’s always going to the bar in Harvard Square and trying to re-create scenes from Good Will Hunting.
Yoshida: I know from just one ill-advised stab at the Song That Shall Not Be Named at karaoke at some ungodly hour that it’s pretty much impossible to sing it with a straight face, much less do the closed-eye “No — hold on a second, seriously, this means something to me” nod and scrunch at 2:25, so I guess props to Carly for that. Looking forward to her fight to the death with Tate Stevens on the finale of America’s Next Top Bargain Pick for the Fiesta Bowl National Anthem.
Lisanti: [Wakes up, waves "Team Carly Rose" pennant wanly, goes back to sleep.]
Kang: Saaaaaaaaandbagggggggggggging. That wasn’t so good, but because they were in sixth place, the judges had to pretend like their minds had just gotten blown out the back of their skulls from the wind force generated by The Blond One’s hip-thrusting.
Butcher Factor: You can’t butcher Alicia Keys, who already has butchered all of R&B. It’s like splitting an atom twice or some such.
Lisanti: I can't believe the blond kid whose face is 17 percent too small didn't finish high school. Do you mean to tell me that the lure of the beach and a music career were more interesting to him than his third try at algebra? Knock me over with a single cannabis leaf.
And I am still crazily amused that none of them can pronounce the youngest brother's name. But then again, maybe they're pronouncing it with the original Na'vi inflections, and I'm the idiot for not understanding that. Did I mention I'm just the tiniest bit tired of the Emblems? They're starting to sound like every non–Chili Peppers song on KROQ. Let them play their instruments onstage so we at least get a break from all the front-row hand-slapping. We get it, you're high and it feels good to touch some other person's hands in the middle of a song.
Yoshida: “I had nothing going for me,” said the blond one over pictures of him in a logo-less T-shirt in front of a slightly dusty Jeep. Turns out those breathless, strangely sexual gasps and pants aren’t just aimless flourishes — that’s the sound of hunger, folks. Hunger for positive change. These guys have been through so much already this season — built up and torn down like three little sun-kissed skyscrapers. Just let them sing “Fly” already. They’ve earned it. WE’VE earned it.
Kang: Was she singing in English? You could’ve told me CeCe was singing in any language, including Klingon, and I would’ve said, “OK, that was the worst Klingon rendition of a Celine Dion song I’ve ever heard.”
Butcher Factor: I mean, I don’t think she sang a note in tune or did a Celine hand motion on tempo or with any sort of flair. This was the worst performance of the season and I’ll be sad to see CeCe go. Keep reaching for that star, BB.
Lisanti: This was the X Factor equivalent of a Hail Mary, but if the quarterback tripped on his own feet, spun around toward the wrong end zone, and launched the ball into the stands. This was the devil-suited Daffy Duck guzzling a gasoline/nitroglycerin/uranium-238 cocktail and swallowing a lit match. This was perhaps not the performance the 12th-rated contestant hoped to give. I bet tonight's "sing for your life" is gonna be messy.
Yoshida: Agree with all of the above, but my main takeaway is that you shouldn’t turn the wind machine on hair that’s been peroxide-fried and hairsprayed within an inch of its life. Homegirl needs some Argan oil, stat.
Jay Caspian Kang ate some hot Cheetos at 3 a.m. last night.
Emily Yoshida can think of nothing but Anne Hathaway's bald head in Les Mis.
Mark Lisanti lives inside a snow globe.