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The X Factor Review: A Fresh Start

Hello Poptimal lovers, and welcome to another season of The X Factor. Honestly, I wasn’t sure if we were going to get another season, but with the new panel shakeups, I’m hoping that this competition singing show can right the ship and potentially produce a successful, or at least somewhat visible, artist or group post-finale. Still, never a good sign when the value of the winner’s recording contract is lowered from $5 million to $1 million, but it is a smart decision because I have no idea where  that money was going or where the past two winners disappeared to!

Let’s start with the panel that has two new additions. Out are L.A. Reid and Britney Spears, and joining Demi Lovato and Simon Cowell are Kelly Rowland and Paulina Rubio. (It’s worth mentioning that Khloe Kardashian did not return to host with Mario Lopez, so it’s a one-man show now.) So far, I’m loving Kelly, who appears to get along well with Demi and playfully argue hilariously with Simon – these are prerequisites for an enjoyable panel. The jury is still out on Paulina. She missed one segment of the auditions, and I don’t feel like I have a good sense of her personality yet. Her interactions with the other judges, outside of cute mocking of her accents, have been minimal.

Now on to the auditioners, that skewed quite young this week. I always choose to focus on the good and the great, instead of the really ugly and sometimes funny, and Josh Levi, 14, is a great person to start with. He turned Selena Gomez’ “Come and Get It” into a smooth R&B song, and he has the sweet personality and mega-watt smile to take him far.

I have to quickly mention the horrible teenage, pop group Drama Drama made up of, strangely, 20-somethings. What the hell was So You Think You Can Dance Season 6’s Mollee Gray doing in that travesty? AKNU, which stands for “a kind not understood,” are between 24 and 28 with a fresh Bruno Mars-ish vibe, and the boys can dance! The singing value in “Valerie” is pretty good, but the entertainment value is endless.

Brandi Love, 21, had a really sincere air about her. She looked like the girl next door, but was actually an orthodontic assistant that loved country, but chose to sing a gospel song. At least “Up to the Mountain” didn’t disappoint. She’s got power and likeability, but maybe not enough uniqueness.

I want to quickly mention Millie Thrasher, 14, and Timmy Thames, 13, who we may see again and are another example of the young, pop flavor the show is trying to go for this year. But Carlos Guevara, 16, is way more interesting as a popular ex-football player whose Tourette’s got worse during puberty. His friends came on strong, and he surprised me with a gritty, raspy “Gravity.”

Another fly-by was green-eyed Malie Delgado, 18, who I think we’ll definitely see more of as a gorgeous girl with a soulful voice. Yet, Colton Pack, 18, got way more screen time. His whole town came out and apparently bought dozens of shirts with his name on them. Save it for if he makes the finale! I found him flat so I was more on the fence with sending him through, like Demi.

My favorite of the night was Damie Geimer, 15, an awkward and nerdy girl. When some girl in line told her she liked Damie’s trendy eye glasses, she responded, “Thanks! I read books.” Really? Act or not, the girl pulled off “House of the Rising Sun,” not an easy feat. And her voice reminded me of a blend between Sara Bareilles and Rachel Yamagata.

Jeff Gutt, 37, had the comeback story of the week. He’s a single dad who was cut after bootcamp last season. He started off with “I Don’t Want to Miss A Thing,” which sounded like a copycat, karaoke version, and he was lucky they knew him because he got the chance to kill, “Creep.” Plus, his son is so freaking adorable.

I was disappointed with the second episode of the week because it had a ton of horrible auditions. Luckily, it was only an hour, but only two stuck out. Ellona Santiago, 16, appeared as sweet as a butterfly and then sang “Wings” with a roar. She put Simon on the spot when he didn’t recognize her from the Season 1 group Intensity. Bet he’ll remember her now. And Ashley Williams, 24, who needed to get rid of that sweatshirt, but is forgiven because she’s overcome such hardship. Her mother was murdered when she was 14. She sang “I Will Always Love You” with such an honest commitment, and there’s such clarity in her voice. She could even cry while she sang and still sound perfect.

The best part about the The X-Factor is that, unlike American Idol, the audition rounds are over fast and we’re on to some coaching and guest stars in bootcamp, and most excitingly we find out who gets the Boys, Girls, Groups and Over 25s categories. And those were just my favorites, so do you agree or disagree? Did I miss anyone you fell in love with? What about those new judges? One more audition to go!

Season 3, Episodes 3 and 4: “The X Factor Hits Los Angeles and Charleston” and “The X Factor Heads Down South.” (Originally aired September 18 and 19, 2013).

The X Factor airs Wednesday and Thursday nights at 8/7c on FOX.

Images courtesy of Ray Mickshaw/FOX.

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