‘The X Factor’ USA review: Did Sweet Suspense, Rachel Potter, Restless Road rock 1st live show?

The latest -The X Factor” did so much right tonight in its first live show: Great staging, quick criticisms, and a ton of fun performances were jammed into a 125-minute package that was much shorter than this same show last year. Someone also realized that we didn’t need that much time to get to know the contestants, which was nice.

But we have to focus for a second on that terrible choice to have polls before the performances from this “fifth judge” app (or whatever it is), which were mostly based on screen time and edit since nobody had heard these people perform live. If tonight is supposed to be about the judges, then don’t influence them and give some singers and uphill climb to earn their approval. Also, we still have Mario Lopez, though his programming seems to be slightly retooled now that he does not have to stand next to / look up at Khloe Kardashian.

We’re going to go category-by category as they did on the show tonight, with an extra twist: If you want to see where we ranked the singers going into tonight, click on the name of the category for our take on each one of the performances.

The Girls (Demi Lovato)

Ellona Santiogo, “‘Til the World Ends” – It’s the return of the “X Factor” dance crew! Plus, what’s with the crazy stage this year? Scratch that; we like the stage; it doesn’t feel nearly as closed-in and over run from audience cheers. We’re going to spend at least a second or two here talking about the performances of the judges here, as well: Kelly Rowland and Simon Cowell are pretty on-point, and Paulina Rubio is currently attending the Britney Spears school of leaning into the mic.

But, back to Ellona. She was pretty good in this performance given the throng of backup dancers and the wandering all over the stage. We won’t get too controversial here, but wasn’t this a little too much for a 17 year-old girl?

Danie Geimer, “Wrecking Ball” – Look at this current music! That is the best thing that we can say about this song. While we hate that ridiculous / cheesy music video Miley Cyrus put together, this song is supposed to be powerful and fierce. Danie looked like a scared kid at an amusement park not sure where her parents had ran off to. This song ate her lunch, and then took her snack money for the rest of the week.

Rion Paige, “Skyscraper” – We admit to wondering why in the world Rion was singing “Skyscraper” given that she is supposed to be a country singer. Probably playing up the inspirational angle a little too much, since she doesn’t really need to. The first half of the performance wasn’t bad, but the second half was almost a disaster and either she messed up the lyrics, or this arrangement felt like something that had been sitting in the back of the fridge for a while.

Khaya Cohen, “Mercy” – Look, it’s that person that the fifth judge voters don’t remember, singing the most dated song of the group! In all honesty, she was actually the best of these singers that hasn’t been on a live show previously. (Ellona was a part of inTENsity, which in our mind gives her an unfair advantage.)

Result – We personally would have sent Danie home over Rion, who really got lucky that someone else messed up worse than her. In a counter-intuitive move designed to build drama, Demi picked her acts one by one to advance … which is basically her way of saying “you were almost the worst.” (Thanks, producers.)

The Boys (Paulina Rubio)

Josh Levi, “Only Girl” – Let’s make it clear here that Josh should receive no credit for”redoing” a song that One Direction did a few years ago. Josh is clearly the contestant who wants to be Usher, and he’s good. He’s just probably not good enough to be doing all the dance moves and the swag and the other stuff that all of the young people today are doing.

Carlos Guevara, “Don’t You Worry Child” – Another modern song, and it started out really strong here to the point where we are about to proclaim Carlos the best of the night. But then there was that shaky chorus with a few Kermit the Frog moments. The biggest issue for him is still stage presence, and remembering that there is an audience demanding to be entertained from what he has going on.

Carlito Olivero, “Maria Maria” – If he is singing about Maria, then why’s he dancing with four women on stage? A little too much focus on the dance moves and hand signals, but there is real potential here and a chance to crack a new part of the market. He was the best out of the first three guys, but a little bit of over-praising there from Simon, who probably realizes at this point that he needs to occasionally adjust his feedback to the level of the talent.

Tim Olstad, “Always” – If “The X Factor” wants a Josh Groban lite, this is the guy. He’s a much better singer than any of the other people in the group, but his perpetual nerves / shakiness keep him from being up there with Carlito on the overall drop-your-draw performance meter.

Result – Wow, someone just told Josh Levi that Christmas was canceled. We didn’t see Paulina picking Tim (who she didn’t really want to pick at first last time) over him. But she did! Personally, we probably would have sent Carlos home since we don’t really think he occupies a lane that is any different than the others.

The Overs (Kelly Rowland)

Lillie McCloud, “When a Man Loves a Woman” – Does Lillie’s afro become larger every time she performs? If so, we want to see this thing subtly eat Mario by the end of the season. She’s always been a great performer, but we still have no idea if anyone is gong to vote for her. You almost need to be the sort of obvious “humble beginnings” story if you want to do really well in this category. Great vocals, and probably enough to advance.

Jeff Gutt, “Try” – Jeff’s performance here was almost perfect for him: A Pink rock song that he made into his own rock song. He’s a little cheesy just with his stage presence and his mannerisms, but we can overlook that for now. What we are most surprised about is that out of the first three categories, Kelly’s is actually looking like the best one.

Rachel Potter, “I Hope You Dance” – Wait, isn’t this the same Rachel that the audience booed and yelled at during the 4-chair challenge? This was great! Her tone was perfect for the song, and she hit the high notes. With her Broadway background, there’s actually something about Rachel that reminds us of an older, country version of Rachel Berry on “Glee.”

James Kenney, “Red” – No, this is not the Taylor Swift song. We feel for Kelly right now, seriously. Maybe had the Overs gone first, we would have been in a better mood for this whole review! Everyone was great, and James was no exception. He may not be the at the same performance level as Lillie and Jeff, but he’s got a better voice.

Result – This one was just sadly written in the stars. While we would have actually gotten rid of Lillie in this situation (favorite status aside) based on tonight, the truth is that James and Jeff occupy much of the same lane. Keeping Lillie and sending James home (which was Kelly’s decision) was great for musical diversity, but we think that Lillie’s odds of sticking around in the competition aren’t so great.

The Groups (Simon Cowell)

RoXxy Montana, “Royals” – We know that everyone loves this song, but we still don’t get why people like it. There’s no real melody to attach to, and the lyrics remind us of “Hunger Games” fanfiction. The harmonies here? Atrocious, and the ladies probably fell victim to the show hyping them before they were really ready to be hyped on such a level.

Sweet Suspense, “I Love It” – It’s pretty clear who the show is pushing here among the groups! They are much improved from the start of this season, and they had the most elaborate staging of the show with the magical three doors going nowhere. It showed potential, and more than that you could see the dollar signs pouring out of Cowell’s ears as he imagined the record sales and Twitter trending topics. They weren’t very good last time, but they really turned it around here.

Alex & Sierra, “Blurred Lines” – First of all, Alex needs to get rid of that goatee. Looks a little bit too much like Adam from “Girls.” Inventive take on a song that is still a creepy one if you listen to the lyrics. Great vocals. We still think they’re too “aww look, we’re in love” to get any votes in the future. But before we move on (record scratch) … did Simon REALLY just praise them for sexual chemistry on live TV? Simon may now officially be creepier than any of the lyrics in this song.

Restless Road, “Roar” – What in the world is Simon thinking? There’s a sort of street cred in country music that that they probably lost here by doing Katy Perry, even if they did a good job doing it. We just have this vision in our head of these three guys begging to not do this song, but that being said these guys are the favorites to win the competition. Maybe Simon is a little more brilliant than we’re giving him credit for, since he’s trying to get that young girl audience on board with them.

The result – “According to the way you guys are voting at home, it’s a very close call” … says Mario, when the votes show RoXxy Montana getting pummeled by the other three. This seems to be pretty obvious. Alex & Sierra may be a little slice of cheese, but some people like cheese. It’s better than an act with no audience seemingly out there for them. Simon went along our obvious route, and RoXxy Montana is gone.

In the end, we conclude a divided night of “X Factor” performances. The good news? There was a ton of music over the course of two hours, and a good many of them actually did a good job. The bad? Mario Lopez is still the host, and everyone takes this whole ordeal so seriously that they forget that there is a certain element of fun that people want to see at home. Add to this the fifth judge nonsense, and the show took as many steps forward tonight as it took back. Grade: C-.

What did you think about tonight’s “X Factor” episode? Be sure to share your thoughts in the comment box below!

Photo: Fox

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