[We’re delighted to welcome Nissl, whose astute comments on UK X Factor articles this year have quickly become much-anticipated, as our US correspondent. Here’s Nissl’s take on season 3 of the US X Factor, in the traditional Sofabet format of a wildly speculative finishing order prediction. The live shows start tomorrow].
In what may be its final season, the American iteration of X Factor has been strikingly straightforward in its use of pimp slots, narrative VTs, and so on to highlight favored contestants. Unsurprising, I suppose, as I’ve never seen “death slot” or “deramping” in the comments section of an American blog. It really emphasizes how much punters and internet culture have impacted UKXF in the last couple of years!
Despite the degree of naked manipulation, however, thus far I have found the judges’ comments to be surprisingly on point and fair other than papering over the vocal limitations of the small handful of favored acts, as always. Overall, Simon’s been pretty upbeat and mellow and is letting the other judges mess around with him to a striking degree, but he still gets extremely catty now and again.
Kelly Rowland has been quite fun and relaxed and has added a hint of a supportive motherly air to the proceedings. Demi Lovato has been passable if bland by US judge standards except when she’s asked to act to a script, at which point she’s laughably bad. Paulina Rubio has been largely useless.
Although I’ve been unable to verify it via Google, I’m pretty sure from promotional info that the first week of the live shows will see the judges eliminating one of their own contestants each, as in the 2011 UK season. I’m not sure exactly what the producers are thinking given that we just had judge eliminations in the four-chair challenge and this sort of twist did not exactly go down well in the UK.
Perhaps they are simply desperate to generate some buzz, any buzz coming back from the baseball break. The USXF has once again shown a significant ratings decline from the previous season, although it remains a very close second or third in the key 18-49 demo against tough competition. It is now in major danger of being cancelled, although such an outcome is far from guaranteed given Fox’s numerous other issues.
Ashly Williams: Ashly’s elimination during the 4-chair challenge was the one that induced the annual wave of angry internet commenters threatening to quit reality shows forever. Given that she’s 24 and has a moderate stage presence at best, she doesn’t seem highly commercial, so I’m not surprised they decided to remove her very good voice. At one point Simon discussed having a wildcard on Twitter, and I think she would have won it and probably gone on to make the upper half of the field, but I’m pretty sure that talk has dissipated.
Timmy Thames: Simon sent out an irritated Tweet indirectly criticizing Paulina for letting the 13-year-old go. He was quite raw, unsurprising given his age, but beyond the fact that he possesses pretty, doe-like eyes I don’t necessarily see the massive upside that Simon apparently does. I don’t believe he’ll be back this year even if there’s a wildcard, and don’t expect him to make much of a run if he is. He might be very well served in a boy group in a year or two.
Glamour: This trio of 12 year olds was incredibly raw but showed a ton of potential in terms having soulful, powerful voices and good interpersonal chemistry. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see them going places in a couple of years.
Yellow House Canyon: This country duo had nice charisma and chemistry but was just short of commercial in vocal quality. And with producer favorite Restless Road in the field, they had to be cleared. Still, there might be something there.
13th (overs): James Kenney
A nice enough average Joe thirty-something with a solid voice who gave a decent performance that connected reasonably well during the 4C challenge. Is that enough lukewarm, anonymous adjectives for you? I cannot imagine that the producers have any real interest in him and his presence muddies up Jeff Gutt’s narrative. Rachel Potter could also easily go here if she turns in another bomb of a performance.
13th (groups): Sweet Suspense
A frankengirlband trio that doesn’t really work very well on any level except maybe being shopping buddies and ticking a few Fifth Harmony demographic boxes. Simon made no secret of his disinterest in the challenge round, nearly sending them home in the final group switch ahead of his (also dire) frankenyoungboyband. Despite that, I think at least one of the 14-year-olds might have been a perfectly usable girl group member in a few years.
Dear Simon: in the future, I recommend you try to only get 16+ year olds (ideally 18+) for frankengroups that have to do more than look attractive. Forming a new group is a very difficult endeavor, especially on a reality show’s.compressed timeline! Also, please realize that while trios – your preferred size this year – make it easier to find enough decent singers, they also leave you absolutely nowhere to hide anyone who is at all marginal.
13th (girls): Khaya Cohen
It’s between Khaya and Danie Geimer to go here. Both have good but not truly exceptional voices, limited stage presence, and a usable but not all that strong girl-next-door narrative. Khaya’s a bit more of a threat to the producer favorites with her Adele-esque vocal stylings and better likability and she was on early in her group during the challenge, so I’ll make her the mild favorite to go. Whichever gamma girl survives could easily sneak into the top half on vocal ability depending on her degree of VT assistance.
13th (boys): Carlito Olivero
Probably my favorite of the three non-alpha boys due to his moderate polish and stage presence. However, Simon has made no secret of his disinterest. I suspect it might be due to the fact that Carlito is 24 and seems to have already received at least one commercial push from someone based on Youtube. He’s a mild standout at best from the other two non-alpha boys, and none of the three are particularly good, so I think that they’ll send him packing with little controversy. However, I would not be wildly surprised to see any of the non-alpha boys go out here.
12th: RoXxy Montana
Non-favored groups have done pretty terribly on the US X-Factor too, haven’t they? This is a solid but not particularly great trio of sisters in their early 20’s with limited commercial potential. They’re too urban for middle America but lack any urban edge that’s likely to excite the kids. One of the girls has a great voice, so I do wonder if they were put through with an eye towards separating her as a soloist after the show without engendering too many hard feelings. Although to be fair, the competition in the groups category was not exactly stiff this year, so they probably deserved the slot regardless.
11th: Rachel Potter
The 29-year-old country singer had a pretty good audition but a poor performance in the challenge round that she was called out on by the judges. She belongs in the finals off of her audition performance, I suppose, but I don’t think the producers will ultimately have much use for her unless she delivers her top performance every week, which seems unlikely. I just don’t see her connecting to and maintaining much of a base, and her exit will clear the country vote for Restless Road.
10th: Carlos Guevara
Another boy who’s pretty limited in every dimension, I’m not sure what Carlos has that will pull votes unless some Latino voters are bound and determined to vote along strict demographic lines (doubtful) and Carlito’s out. Perhaps there’s a certain Ed Sheeran quality to his stage presentation? Regardless, I’m not seeing it, but then I doubted Luke’s appeal at the start of the UK season.
9th: Tim Olstad
Yet another boy I think has limited potential in pretty much every domain, but the crowd liked him enough to force Paulina to keep him during the challenge. I can see that he will at least have some appeal to the mom crowd if nothing else. His chubby-cheeked, upper Midwest pleasantness should see him through a handful of weeks.
8th: Danie Geimer
A smart girl with a good voice but very limited charisma. To date the producers have been awkwardly working the nerdy, down-to-earth girl angle extremely hard in the VTs and judges’ comments. While this is an astute reading of current American cultural trends, I’m afraid Danie ultimately lacks the likability to pull it off. Still, she should be easy enough to push a little way with helpful VTs. She also seems like an ideal candidate to take for a bit of a ride, as she poses no threat to the favorites while adding moderate singing talent to the lineup.
7th: Jeff Gutt
A rocker dad and last year’s controversial rejection. We’ve heard that he’s 37 and that this is his last, last chance about as much as the UK has heard Nicholas is 16 at this point. Speaking as a big rock fan, I don’t think he’s particularly great, as he’s forcing so much he looks liable to burst a blood vessel at any moment. I also find his lack of perspective a bit annoying. However, he’s got a lot of energy, a decent story that garners symapthy, a definite base, producer help, and a distinct position in the field to himself. That ought to carry him into the top half. I would assume producers will deramp him and see him off before he troubles the acts they view as having real commercial potential.
6th: Alex & Sierra
The most intriguing couple group I’ve seen, this pair has really good voices, “get it” in terms of meshing vocally, and in general come across very well. Despite their talent, I question whether they have a demographic base in the US. Still, there’s a first time for everything, and Simon seems interested in at least giving them a shot. There’s something about their theatrical cutesy PDA I find ever so slightly grating, but I’ll be tossing them the bulk of my apparently free (?) internet votes in the early weeks as I find groups far more interesting than soloists and feel they might have a bit of legit musical potential.
5th: Lillie McCloud
This 54-year-old diva has the only great voice on this year’s show and probably the best stage presence to boot. And well she should, considering her multi-decade recording career. Shockingly, this has somehow escaped the attention of the producers to date (and most of the entertainment sites as well, as the US lacks a powerful tabloid culture.) How the producers approach this matter will be interesting to watch, as it will require some delicacy.
In any event, I’m pretty sure they’d love to see Lillie stay until fairly late to boost the overall talent level but “complete her journey” before the final. I believe the USXF voting audience skews young enough that they won’t have a problem seeing her off, but she may be good enough to bump any favored acts that don’t connect well to their intended bases.
4th: Josh Levi
Far and away the alpha boy in the field in pretty much every way. However, while he seems good at everything, he’s not truly exceptional at anything, and at the end of the day there’s something just a bit anonymous about him for a favorite. This is particularly true in USXF, where the top boy isn’t at all a lock for the top 3. However, I can certainly see a scenario where he comes out and owns the stage from the first week due to his drive and overall talent level.
Commercially, I think Josh might be best served anchoring a group, at least to get launched, due to the mild anonymity problem. Perhaps stick him with Timmy Thames and Astro from last year, maybe one more, and you have a very nice soft, young urban boy group. But the boys category needed *some* quality this year, so he’ll be forging ahead as a soloist.
3rd: Ellona Santiago
Returning from her rejection as a member of dire frankenkiddieband inTENsity two years ago, 16-year-old Ellona has shown great stage presence and has star looks. Her voice is pretty powerful if still a bit raw and shouty. She’s also got good charisma but can sometimes come off slightly overconfident.
One of the clear producer favorites, she fits a demographic niche in the commercial market as a Filipina who should appeal to Latinos and Asian-Americans out of the gate, and she has all the necessary attributes to go far assuming the judges ignore the occasional rough vocal patch. However, I’m doubtful she’ll scoop up enough votes to get over the line against the other chalk in the end. After the show, I’d give her perhaps a 20-30% chance of breaking through commercially, which is actually pretty good considering the track record of reality shows in the US.
2nd: Restless Road
Simon’s extremely commercial looking country frankenMANband (good bit of marketing there.) These guys nail a big market gap, and while none of them are exceptional soloists, the combined result is actually pretty listenable, at least when it can be made out over the screaming girls. They don’t look 100% comfortable on stage yet, but their chemistry seems sound, at least by frankengroup standards.
With a field likely to be entirely cleared of other country acts early on, they’ve got a wide open… road… to the final three. Still, groups have proven to have an exceedingly difficult time getting over the top on any XF, and I doubt their ability to connect with the audience beyond being teenage man candy.
1st: Rion Paige
A 13-year-old with a good voice, a highly charismatic personality, a good stage presence, and a marked physical disability. If there’s anything I’ve learned from past US reality shows, it’s that Americans absolutely love voting for inspirational disabled contestants, so she’s my pick to win.
From a commercial standpoint, I think the producers might prefer she slip behind RR and Ellona. Thus, they may de-emphasize her story in the final weeks and subtly key on some unevenness in her performances. (I thought her challenge performance was very good, but her audition only middling, though it was of course praised to high heaven.) But the producers will have to tread very carefully indeed if they take this tack, and I doubt it will be enough.
Commercially, it’s hard to judge Rion’s potential due to her age. (Heard anything from Carly Rose Sonenclar lately, anyone?) In the near to medium term I can see her sticking around the US pop culture scene, perhaps as a minor celeb on the Christian music circuit or a supporting actress on a Disney show, but I somewhat doubt she’ll be an instant pop star. I’d bet her first post-show album will at least sell a bit, though.
Agree? Disagree? As ever, do let us know below.