X Factor USA: Like the UK version, but a better journey

The apparent producers’ Plan A is a young girl who yodels through her songs; there’s a black guy called Marcus who can sing and dance; a plump bloke who wowed with his rendition of ‘Jar of Hearts’; an urban artist whose ability to insert original raps into each song may be a hindrance; and not a Cocozza in sight.

This is not the UK show but X Factor USA, and it’s well worth watching, partly because the standard of talent is so much higher than this year’s poor UK crop.

The live show is aired Wednesday nights US time, with a results show the day after. You can watch in the UK on ITV2 on Thursdays at 8pm and Fridays at 9pm, just under 24 hours later. Betfair and other bookmakers are offering a full array of odds. But before I come to the main contenders, it’s worth looking at the differences between the US and UK versions, even though the format is exactly the same.

The American show is far more earnest. US XF doesn’t do cheesiness, as indicated by the loss of tweenie S Club 7-alikes InTENsity after the first public vote; and it doesn’t do camp or ‘novelty’ acts. What it does do is sentimentality – in spades. It’s even more important for each contestant to have a special ‘journey’ on the show.

It’s no wonder that amongst the rather relentless positivity, Simon Cowell’s presence can occasionally be a refreshing antidote. However, as an indication of the difference between the two versions, instead of Louis Walsh, the other male judge is music mogul LA Reid who may have written a gazillion famous hits, but would never dream of mentoring a Wagner or Johnny Robinson.

But there are plenty of similarities. The song choices are often pretty familiar: InTENsity used the One Direction songlist of ‘Kids in America’ and ‘My Life Would Suck Without You’ in their short run. The first live show witnessed the judges vote off someone in their own category; the next one – the first with a public vote – saw certain acts stitched up with early draws, poor song choices, and diversionary bickering between the judges about costumes and the like. It’s already pretty clear who the chosen ones are.

Drew Ryniewicz is Simon Cowell’s self-professed favourite and tops bookmakers’ lists at 9-4. She’s a 14-year-old from Arizona (the age floor is lower is the US show than in the UK where it’s now 16). Her lilting voice has elements of folk and country, and she’s in the Taylor Swift mould, which given her talent seems more apt than comparing her to Janet Devlin. It’s harder to plot a journey for the younger ones, so producers have used the supportive parents line.

Second favourite is Melanie Amaro, a 19-year-old from Florida who has a Whitney Houston-esque big delivery. To my mind, she fits the bill as the likely winner more than anyone else, but to make it less obvious, the show had Simon “reject” her at judges’ houses only to realise his mistake and bring her back for the live shows. The beauty of this storyline is that it gifts her a “journey”.

Third favourite is grizzly Josh Krajcik, who has journeyed from preparing burritos in a fast food joint to croaking his way, Joe Cocker style, through the likes of ‘Jar of Hearts’.

It’s 16-1 bar which brings in three young-uns who have talent but less of a journey: Marcus Canty, the all-singing, all-dancing Bobby Brown clone; 13-year-old Rachel Crow who is all puppy fat and curls, like Shirley Temple; and the extraordinarily talented Brain Bradley, better known as Astro, a 14-year-old rapper / hip hop artist.

The outsiders who remain in the competition are: Stacy Francis, the middle-aged journeywoman with a big voice giving fame one last shot; girlband Lakoda Rayne – who look like they should be journeying to Miss USA; Chris Rene who has recently journeyed out of rehab; LeRoy Bell – whose main claim to fame on the show seems to be that he is 60, which is a very long journey indeed; and The Stereo Hogzz, a boyband who journeyed into last week’s first singoff.

When it comes to predicting the tastes of the American audience, I’m relatively inexperienced. What I do know from occasionally dipping into American Idol is that mainstream, safe acts go down best with middle America – and tend to win out. The most famous example was Adam Lambert, the talented rocker of ambiguous sexuality losing out to the vastly inferior but less threatening Kris Allen in the 2009 American Idol final.

This must be the reason for Brian Bradley’s double-figure odds. The diminutive rapper is arguably the most original and talented artist on display, and an obvious future star and recording artist. His confidence is not necessarily the biggest hindrance – it’s much more appealing to an American audience than a British one – but as an urban artist, his appeal is a niche one, just as Misha B has discovered.

Likeable though he is, I don’t think Josh Krajcik is strong enough vocally, which leaves me thinking it’s a two-horse race at the top of the market between Drew and Melanie. If someone gave me a free bet, I’d side with Melanie at 3-1. Her big voice, along the lines of Mariah or Whitney, is the most mainstream and ideal for creating magic moments on a show like X Factor. Drew’s delivery is more fragile, arguably more interesting, but maybe not such a vote-catcher when it matters.

However, my main interest in the US version is seeing how the X Factor franchise develops rather than trying to make serious money out of it – for now. Have you been watching the show so far, and if so, what are your ideas about who the likely winner is, and the way it’s different from the UK version? Let us know in the comments section below.

27 comments to X Factor USA: Like the UK version, but a better journey

  • Jack

    I have bee watching since Judge’s Houses and, in my mind, Drew is streets ahead of Janet. She has an amazing voice. I am amazed to see Astro so far down in the voting order. Americans love rap and I genuinely think he is one the most marketable acts following the conclusion of TXF.
    I was also surprised to see that Stacy Francis is an outsider. Whilst she isn’t as good in as Josh in the Overs, surely her pimp slot last week indicated that she is in line for producer favour?

    As for the others, Melanie obviously has a shot of winning. She has been at the front, or near the front of the betting since her first audition of “Listen”. No pun intended, but I recommend you listen to it.
    Simon’s other act, Rachel, won’t win. She’s too like InTENsity to win. Whilst Drew appears much older than 14, Rachel seems to be far younger than her 13 years old and I think she has limited appeal.

    I was surprised to see Marcus Canty so near the top. He is inferior to Marcus Collins vocally, imo and he was just boring. Last week, he performed second-last and I still managed to forget him. He will go in a few weeks, I think.
    LA’s other act, Chris Rene had a great reaction to his first audition. I don’t personally see what the fuss is about, but I would definitely place him ahead of Marcus in terms of likelihood of winning.

    Unusual for this show is that all three Overs are very good. I’ve mentioned Stacy Francis. Josh Krajcik is very good vocally, definitely the third best singer, behind Drew and Melanie, but I think he’ll run out of steam before the final.
    Nicole’s other act, Leroy Bell did well to survive with a poor slot in the running order and ha a good voice, but not much of a story apart from the fact you’d never believe he’s 60.

    Paula is in trouble already. She already has two manufactured groups. One has already left. As for the other two groups, one has been in the bottom two and the other one, I was sure would be in the bottom two. The Stereo Hogzz are the best group, but have aleady been in the Bottom Two. Lakoda Rayne are a girlband, but I’m not sure how much of an appeal girlbands have in America. I think both will go quickly and Paula will be the first mentor out without a doubt.

    Those are my two cents on the contestants.

  • Jack

    Oh by the way – My call for the top three is Drew, Melanie and Astro.

  • Rob

    i may be flowing against the tide of current thinking but Drew Ryniewicz is not better than janet devlin on a comparison of their auditions. it’s also interesting that janet has 2 million more views on youtube than drew despite usa being a vastly bigger country!

    this may be taking conspiracy theories to extremes but is janet’s fall from grace down to syco deciding there isn’t enough room in the world for two yodelling teens?

  • Allan

    At the current prices a cheeky treble on Melanie, our Marcus and Chelsee (current big improver) in Strictly pays 50-1+! Worth a stray fiver I think!

  • Boki

    I have some comments after watching the last week USA show (without knowing who was eliminated).

    Firstly, I don’t have an impression that the contestants are much better than UK this year (as someone wrote here), only difference are non-existing novelty acts. Is it because of song choices or overal low level but I was bored to death by the most of them. My main goal was to identify which act producers don’t want in the next round and than to check if I was on the right track.

    I don’t want to go through each act (that’s sofabet job I guess 🙂 ) but almost all of them got positive reactions with not much arguing between judges although at least 4-5 were terribly average/forgettable/boring. So based on everything my guess was that the target was an over LeRoy Bell (3rd slot) who was basically the only one with some negatives and alsocompletely forgettable performance. That’s of course based on assumtion that they use the same methods as in UK. Then I looked the results, he was safe and bottom 2 acts were two groups!

    The Stereo Hogzz were in the opening slot and produced an attractive sing and dance show of a song I would call poor (but was hard for me to judge). Judges comments were extremely positive (Simon called them not only best group of all competitions but in a world and tomorrow voted them off in the sing-off lol) but apparently public didn’t like them. Surprisingly a group InTENsity from 9th slot was also in bottom 2, their performance was indeed fun fun fun as judges stated and stood out from many ballads imo. Apparently bunch of kids humping of stage didn’t go well on voting. They saved Hogzz in the sing-off, kind of expected based on comments but far from desired outcome imo.

    Last a quick look to the bookies, Leroy is really with longest odds but they have to get him into bottom 2 first. Winner market has two girls in the lead which makes sense since boys are terrible, not sure what an over Josh is doing in 3rd place but now I have even more impression that the competition level is low. Stacy as an outsider maybe with a chance of shortening? I’m interested in other views on this in no particular order and without fireworks 🙂

  • Boki

    Wow, after reading your article I realise it’s a first time we disagree a lot. For example, Craig was much better for me than Josh in Jar of hearts interpretation, Brian is a talented rapper but I guess there are zillions similar kids in the US where rap is so popular, he is no wonder imo.

    I didn’t look from the beginning that’s a fact so I could be wrong in my 1st impressions but I don’t want to target a winner but each elimination (although it seems I’m the only one to do so), for fun at least. It might be not doable if the liquidity remains low but I will check again between next show and results.

  • Rob

    yes i’ve been catching up on a few performances now. i was expecting really high quality with all the forums raving how much better quality the artists are. a case of the ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’ methinks. really very bland performers. i use the yellow paint to describe performers the public like and these guys are uniformly yellow paint. i guess it’s what the americans like but you’d think somebody would have gotten through with a touch of originality. i think i’d already commented that josh’s ‘jar of hearts’ is far inferior to craig’s soulful rendition so, boki, it’s gratifying that someone agrees. just listen to it ‘learn to live…’ lyric at 2:00 mins and you’ll see what i mean.

  • Nicky

    I agree, the overall standard is higher in the US version, but still not very awe inspiring. I haven’t been betting on US X Factor, so find it a bit boring. I’ve watched American Idol for the past three series and always feel that the wrong person wins. I agree totally about Adam Lambert being robbed. I thought he was the best singer I’d ever seen on one of these shows, better even than Leona or Subo! Last year I liked Hayley, who came third I think, with two dreary, pedestrian country singers filling the top spots. The popularity of country music might be important when considering the Drew versus Melanie question.

  • Andre

    If the audience is similar to idol they will vote for someone they perceive to be a genuinely good person, which is why Kris beat Adam in spite of clearly being less talented.I suspect the winner last season had the contest won before the live shows even started (like Janet?!) much to the annoyance of the panel who preferred the rock screamer.Totally right Nicky about the importance of country music to middle America although Simon Cowell can’t relate to it at all!

  • Curtis

    To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of X Factor USA. I find it bland in comparison to our X Factor. I don’t even consider the artists to be particularly talented. Maybe more talented than what we have this year, but that’s not saying much.

    Drew is ok. There’s no comparison to Janet in my mind, not in terms of talent where I think they’re similar, but in their style. Janet’s much more to my taste. I liked Melanie’s audition. Everything else from her has been yawn-inducing. Josh’s version of Jar of Hearts was inferior to Craig’s, for me quite clearly, and when you’re losing out to Craig Colton then you know you’re in trouble. It just doesn’t impress me. All just my opinion though!

  • fiveleaves

    Drew >>> Janet
    Craig >>> Josh
    Marcus US > Marcus UK
    Melanie = Misha B (but very different artists)

    So overall Not much difference in the overall standard for me.

    One thing of note from AI is acts from Southern states have a big advantage.
    You can lay those from LA and especially New York almost blindly.

    Middle America won’t vote en masse for anyone from these 2 cities.

    If Lambert had been from Middle/smalltown America he’d probably have won.

    • Daniel

      Thanks fiveleaves. Astro (Brian Bradley) is from Brooklyn, it’s worth pointing out given what you have just said.

      • fiveleaves

        Definitely a big negative for him, but as always in these shows, nothing is ever written in stone and there are always excpetions to any ‘rule’

        off the top of my head all bar one AI winner has come from a block of 13 southern states, from Arizona in the west across to the Virginia in the East

        The one exception was Lee who came from a more northern, but still middle american state Illinois.

  • Rob

    as well as betfair are there any other markets for us xfactor e.g. us bookies like pinnacle?

    i won’t be betting this year though as not seen enough (maybe never as there’s not enough time in life to watch all these shows).

  • Boki

    I found only Betfred.

  • Rob

    drew v janet

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ctcDku4oO1I

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jJcbkcAzDWg

    simon cowell is sooooo in luuuurrrve with drew – look at his face the pervert!!

  • fiveleaves

    I know it had a mixed response in the states , but I love the Drew performance.

    She’s in tune for starters. Unlike Janet

    She performs a song so well. Unlike Janet

    She’s very likeable. Unlike Janet for me, who I find a cold fish

    I think Drew may still struggle to win though.
    Her vocal might be too subtle for a mainstream audience.

    The Whitney wannabe is likely to be more to their taste.

    Having said that Drew can do upbeat as she showed at bootcamp with her version of Creep.

    • Curtis

      I probably shouldn’t start defending Janet here like I spend my entire life on the Digital Spy forums doing but I’m going to anyway!

      If there’s one thing that Janet was in her performance of Fix You, it was in tune. I’m not quite sure how you can hear it as being out of tune. Not one note was missed.

      As for likeable, I find them both likeable for different reasons, not that that has anything to do with the crux of the issue, which is that I much prefer Janet’s voice. It’s instantly recognisable, and I just find it incredibly soothing to listen to. I could listen to it all day. Drew’s voice has a bit more power and range, but to me is also more generic. I also find it to be whiney.

      Actually, generic to me sums up the whole US X Factor field. I can’t see that any of them look like they’re going to bring anything new to the table in terms of music. Sure, they may be in general a more technically talented bunch, but I honestly think that both Janet and Misha B are more marketable than the lot of them.

  • Panos

    Am I the only one who thinks janet is better?!

  • Boki

    Drew performed “Fix you” tonight and got a comment “you are great every week but you need to do something different”. We heard that somewhere before, didn’t we?

  • Boki

    After watching the show I must admit I can’t really feel who they want to ditch. Again almost all acts received positives, Simon still bitching about clothes and styling, last pimp Stacey was now 1st slot with some negatives – it’s hard for me to find some consistency yet… curious to see if Hoggs will bounce out of bot2…

  • Boki

    Lol the results are actually in, Hoggs and girl gropup ended in bot2 with Hoggs eliminated. So no bounce, no save, groups slaughtered… it seems to be a little different from UK…

  • Boki

    Anyone still following the USA version?
    Something is happening there I can’t understand. In this week 5 there was a double elimination (out of 9 acts) and that’s exactly the same as it was in UK. But for the next week again the double elimination is announced so there will be one act less than in UK same week. The one explanation is that they go for the old final format. But they might also bring one act back, do they? I took few of them at insane odds just in case 🙂

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