The two-part finale for the second season of X Factor USA begins tonight. For those who invest a lot of time and money in the British show, it’s worth keeping an eye on what happens across the Pond as a way of seeing how the franchise is developing. Despite being much younger, the US version is going through many of the same problems witnessed in the UK.
First and foremost, ratings have been poor: far lower than hoped and trounced by its main rival, The Voice, which finished earlier this week. Secondly, the judging panel has been something of a disappointment, and all apart from Simon are rumoured to be leaving after this series ends; LA Reid definitely so, he has said. Demi Lovato has been miscast in the ‘annoy Simon’ role – it’s been a really one-sided fight.
When I talk to American friends about its fortunes, the most common complaint is that it feels “out of touch” or “ten years too late”. The inclusion of Britney Spears on the judging panel is a good example of this. She’s brought nothing more than her name to the show, and has been unable to emotionally connect, nor critique for more than a sentence. Ironically, her old rival in the charts, Christina Aguilera, has been much more effective on The Voice, sparking off colleagues Adam Levine and Cee Lo Green.
There’s been plenty for British students of the show to recognise in the familiar methods used to pimp and deramp contestants. Week 1 may have not gone to public vote but it was noticeable that the only two acts who were red and blacked (Willie Jones and David Correy) were sent home. Similar staging helped kill off Arin Ray in week 4 and CeCe Frey in week 6 (who was also trapped in the cage of light for ‘Edge of Glory’), although their time was largely up anyway, as LA Reid so ruthlessly said of the latter.
They were pretty inventive for Vino Alan in week 5, however, giving the previously pimped and likeably-portrayed contestant a diva VT then going to a commercial break before his rendition of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ (an apt song title in the circumstances) with a very empty production.
The least interesting ‘controversy’ was the decision to once more bring back a contestant eliminated early on. Last year it was eventual winner Melanie Amaro, rejected by Simon at judges’ houses before he ‘realised his mistake’. This time it was Diamond White, one of four acts eliminated after the first live show. As plots go, it was a case of flogging a dead horse.
The most interesting innovation of the series has been the decision to reveal the ranking order of each week’s phone vote (though this was sensibly stopped in the semi-final). Viewers have learnt where the acts stand each week, who is gaining and losing momentum. We got to see how the sympathy bounce worked twice for CeCe Frey (up to fifth both times) and Paige Thomas (up to sixth) before they dropped back into the danger zone each time the following week.
13-year-old vocal powerhouse Carly Rose Sonenclar and 37-year-old country crooner Tate Stevens have been swapping the number one spot, and we’ve been told after week 3 and week 5 that it’s been very close at the top. They’ve been joined in the final by girlband Fifth Harmony, put together at bootcamp as Lylas before settling on a different name, a la Little Mix.
The girls bounced out of a quarter-final bottom two appearance and into the final thanks to some clever pushing in the semi-final, well described by lolhart. This included an ingenious Brian Friedman production of ‘Anything Could Happen’ before reprising their judges’ houses song, which just so happened to be ‘Impossible’, performed by James Arthur as his winner’s single in Manchester a few days earlier (though it’s hard to imagine him giving us some of the lines in Spanish, as Fifth Harmony did).
Despite all this, it’s difficult to see Fifth Harmony generating the momentum that propelled the UK winner from a long way behind the two early front-runners at a crucial stage. They’re 18/1 outsiders of three to do so.
It very much looks like a Carly v Tate showdown. Our commenters are torn between the two. Steven noted that producers were kinder to Tate once they got him off the top spot. His VT suggested he wouldn’t have a job to go back to, whilst there was a slight deramp for Carly Rose. It’s worth bearing in mind that this means the last time we were given the ranking order – in the quarter finals – Tate was on top, leaving Carly Rose looking like the underdog.
Since then however, Tate has been red and blacked, and had his name sent up in flames during his rendition of ‘Bonfire’ in the semi-finals. The other song choice of ‘Fall’ also seemed to be rather subliminal.
The fact that Simon says every week how happy he is to see Tate going so far in the competition reeks of insincerity and reverse psychology. Realistically, he must know that his act Fifth Harmony look booked for third, and in those circumstances, I think he is much more in favour of young Carly Rose taking the five-million dollar recording contract, despite the fact that as lolhart says, Tate is guaranteed to shift plenty of records within his demographic. Giving the prize to the younger performer, even if she’s far from cool, is the kind of thing that’s in his blood.
Carly Rose has the vocal range to produce something special in the final, which her rival doesn’t. For all these reasons, I expect her to get the pimp slot tonight. What’s more, whilst Tate obviously has his legion of country fans across the US, the flip side of the coin is that he’s less likely to win over floaters or those switching votes from eliminated acts. My feeling then, though I won’t be betting on the outcome, is that Carly Rose will be crowned the winner tomorrow night. Bookmakers have her as the marginal favourite too, at 4/6 over 11/8 for Tate.
Agree or disagree? If you’ve been following the US series, do let us know your thoughts below.