Boot camp on "The X Factor" came to an end Wednesday night, crushing dreams as the 60 remaining acts shrank to a tidy 24. It was the best of times for some, the worst for others, and probably completely confusing for the singers who were eliminated and then called back shortly thereafter to be told they were no longer soloists, but rather part of groups that could either take over the world (like the British "X Factor"-created boy band One Direction) or sink like stones and never be heard from again (like all the groups from last year's U.S. "X Factor").
The acts would be divided into four categories, which were not the same as last year's categories. This year, age served as a divider and genders in each category were mixed. This is how it all broke down:
Teens (13-17): Beatrice Miller, James Tanner, Carly Rose Sonenclar, Diamond White, Reed Deming, Arin Ray
Mentor: Britney Spears, who'd said she really wanted to work with this age group -- "the kids," as she called them
Guest mentor (for the judges' homes round): Will.i.am
Young adults (18-24): CeCe Frey, Willie Jones, Jennel Garcia, Nick Youngerman, Paige Thomas and Jillian Jensen
Mentor: Demi Lovato, who also got the group she wanted, noting that, as a 20-year-old herself, this was a group she realy knew how to work with.
Guest mentor (for the judges' homes round): Nick Jonas
Over 24s: Jason Brock, Daryl Black, David Correy. Tara Simon, Tate Stevens and Vino Alan
Mentor: L.A. Reid, who definitely was not happy when he heard which group he'd be working with – slamming down the phone and walking away from the cameras in a huff. Beforehand, he'd said that if he had to choose between the groups and the Over 25s, "I'd have to say I have no interest."
Guest mentor (for the judges' homes round): Justin Bieber and his manager, Scooter Braun.
Groups: Sisters C, Dope Crisis and Emblem 3 as well as the instagroups: boy band Playback (Josh Metzler, Owen Stuart, Austin Corini, Brandon Hassan and Johnny Maxwell), rap group LYRIC 145 (Lyric Da Queen and ONE4FIVE), and girl group LYLAS (Dina Jane Hansen, Lauren Jauregui, Ally Brooke, Normai Hamilton and Camila Cabello)
Mentor: Simon Cowell, who admitted that, while working with the groups would be challenging, he'd had success in that category before and planned to "make the most of it." Ever modest, he said, "I'm happy for them."
Guest mentor (for the judges' homes round): Marc Anthony
And so it was on to the judges' fab homes, where the contestants discovered which mentor (and guest mentor) they'd have. It was warm and fuzzy everywhere ("I want to hug all of you," Lovato told her group, and then did) except at Reid's Beverly Hills place. Reid was still so mad to have been assigned the "Overs" as he called them, he could barely stand to look at them. "I can't really say that there's anybody who stands out in the category," he told us. Then he told them he was "a little bit disappointed" to learn he'd be mentoring them, but, "Here we are. I've gotta now figure out how to get one of you guys to win." There's a rousing speech that'll really rally the troops.
Leave it to Bieber to save the day. The Biebs told the poor, unloved washed-up-at-25s that when he started, people thought he was too young, so he knew what they were up against. "You're never too old or too young," he told them, as long as you have the voice and the talent, though he didn't sound entirely convinced. Reid tried to take the clue. "What he's really saying is that you guys are gonna prove me wrong. At least one of you," Reid said, but then still couldn't quite bring himself to play the nice guy, adding that when they prove him wrong, "I'm gonna take credit for it."
He's honest, old L.A., you've got to give him that.
Mercifully, Reid was given a little more time to shake off his disappointment and put his game face on, as we only saw two categories perform for their mentor/judges this time around.
First we found ourselves in Lovato's sleek L.A. loft, where the young adults all said earnest, hopeful things about excitement and opportunity. That is, all except for leopard-spotted CeCe Frey, who bared her fangs and showed her claws yet again. Each one of the other contestants "is a roadblock," she said, "standing in the way of the ultimate goal, which is to win. I don't want them to win. I want to."
Before the singers performed in what appeared to be Lovato's living room, she and her old pal Jonas made the rounds issuing a few last-minute words of advice. Jennel Garcia was told she might want to resist flipping her hair quite so much. Jillian Jensen was cautioned about the faces she makes when she sings. And Frey? "When you perform, you have a lot of attitude," Lovato told her, adding, "sometimes it's borderline a little bit unlikable." Borderline?
Lovato's advice seemed to chasten the singers. Garcia pulled back a little on Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl," perhaps afraid that, if she lost herself in the song entirely, she'd flip her hair one too many times and blow her shot. That wasn't lost on Lovato. "She's so good," Jonas said of Garcia. Lovato agreed but noted that her light "dimmed" a bit this time around.
Willie Jones sought redemption – and found it – by singing the song he blew at boot camp, "Nobody Knows," and remembering all the words. I like him, but Jonas made an interesting point about Jones' country/R&B hybrid. "I do think there's a place for him, but he's got to define" his genre, Jonas said.
Jillian Jensen, who sang "Gravity," prompted the best comment from Jonas: "Maybe it's out of line, but she's kind of sexy. There's something sexy about her. It's the voice tied with the passion."
Jonas also "thoroughly enjoyed" Nick Youngerman's rendition of "Tick Tock" by Kesha. Youngerman was also a fan of his own performance -- "Solid. I killed it. I knew I would," he said – but Lovato wasn't sure. "I couldn't tell if I was loving it or super-annoyed by it," she said.
Nor was Lovato sure what to think about Paige Thomas' captivatingly strange performance (or was that just her outfit?), telling Jonas that, while Thomas had blown everyone away with her first performance, she'd been losing ground ever since, as her insecurities became increasingly evident. "Do you think you can get her back to that first girl that you saw?" Jonas asked.
The answer may be yes, by getting rid of Frey, who's forever trying to play head games with Thomas, seeing her as her chief competition. Frey may be trying to play us too. Suddenly afraid of not coming across as vulnerable enough, she tried to bring on the tremulousness and tears. It rang false.
In fact, it was hard to feel too sorry for Frey, who, right after Lovato had told her to be more emotional and tender, had to step out onstage and announce she was singing LMFAO's "Sexy and I Know It." "But it's just for fun!" she giggled.
I really have no idea what Jonas meant when he said Frey "took direction extremely well," or why Lovato thought it would be so difficult to cut two members of her team. May I suggest Frey and Youngerman? Or perhaps Frey and Thomas? Whatever, Demi, please, just get rid of CeCe Frey, won't you?
Meanwhile, at Cowell's house in Miami Beach …
Newly formed boy band Playback bored Mark Anthony -- "I found myself looking for planes or something," he said – but impressed Cowell, who maintained, "There's something naïve and fun and likable about them."
Anthony liked laid-back-dude trio Emblem 3 – or at least he liked two out of the group's three members – despite the fact that one of the dudes got distracted and came in late on a verse.
Small-town family trio Sisters C, who all had strong voices, were a "home run," Anthony said. But Cowell was a bit concerned about their likability. "Will an audience vote for them?" he wondered.
LYRIC 145 also made Anthony sit up and take notice. Lyric Da Queen, who had initially auditioned as a solo artist, "is a superstar," he said. Cowell, though, noted that the just-minted rap trio had been "a bit sloppy in parts."
Rap group Dope Crisis, who'd been together seven years, was deemed "good," but possibly not ripe for much growth.
Last up was just cobbled-together girl group LYLAS. They sat on stools and sang, and sounded like a lot of really talented soloists. But a group? Anthony was unsure what to think. Cowell said it was "unbelievable." It's not entirely clear whether he meant it as a compliment.
Cowell said there was "one clearly great group here," adding, "This is going to be even harder than I thought."
Did Cowell think the LYLAS were the one great group? Or was that Sisters C? Will existing groups Dope Crisis and Emblem 3 be tossed aside for the show-created frankengroups?
What are your predictions?
Thumbnail via LATimes.com