The X Factor episode 8 recap, Judges’ Houses #2, October 16, 2011.

Enrique Iglesias assists Nicole Scherzinger in judging the Over 30's talent (all photos courtesy Fox)

Welcome to the second installment of the Judges’ Homes auditions, where 32 acts must eventually be culled down to sixteen. We saw sixteen performances in the first installment and we will see sixteen more tonight. “It’s time to face the music!” Host Steve Jones welcomes us from Paris, letting us know that there are eight acts within each group of Boys, Girls, Over ’30’s and Groups. {See the earlier Episode 7: Judges’ Homes #1 post for a complete list of contestants within these groups.}

The first performance for tonight’s show is by 16-year old Jazzlyn Little. She’s a bundle of nerves, missing her mother and brother at home, hoping that she can succeed here because “I don’t want to do anything else. If I go home, that’s devastating.” Jazzlyn sings Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive with incredible clarity and a crisp yet smooth voice with a nice touch at the end of most lines. She’s got this one down pat. Simon is joined by vocal coach Savan Kotecha and music producers Graham Stack and Ray Hedges. Simon thinks she’s good but Savan says, “It’s a little high school talent show to me.” Simon looks over his sunglasses at Savan with an expression that says, “What? I hired you for this?” {Scorecard: A- for a very good performance with crystal clear lyrics and finely nuanced vocal expressions without overdoing it. Maybe Savan needs to go back to high school.}

Next up, from the Boys category, is 26-year old Brennan Hunt from Nashville, Tennessee. He says, “I’m sexy and I know it,” adding that he has the looks, the voice, the total package (note the order he places those). “I want to be the biggest superstar on this planet… I want to be bigger than Lady Gaga.” Needless to say, he thinks big. He sings Corinne Bailey Rae’s Like A Star. He sings well enough, but the tone is monotonous and his performance looks a bit forced without genuine feeling. Technically, he’s sound, but performance wise he doesn’t seem to connect. Rihanna begins by saying he has a good tone and rasp, but something seems corny about it. She and L.A. Reid aren’t convinced he’s superstar material, even if he himself thinks he is. {Scorecard: B- for perhaps a technically sound performance, yet lacks genuine emotion and connection.}

{Reminder at the break! The next show is on Tuesday at 8/7c. The World Series doesn’t wait, even for Simon Cowell.}

From Houston are the five-some of John, Justin, Trey, K.G. and Trace as the Stereo Hogzz. These guys are freaked out by the the trees and the “grass with no ants in it” which they go rolling around on. It becomes clear that they come from a concrete jungle. Trey has just become a father of a newborn daughter and he wants to win the competition for her so she won’t have to be exposed to the kind of life he has been. They line up on the patio in a choreographed stance just before they begin I Heard It Through the Grapevine. It begins with a solo and then kicks in with them all singing the chorus. They switch solos, with the others doing complementary voices in harmony. All the while, they are dancing in choreographed synchrony. Pharrell says the lead guy is genuine Motown and Paula gets up and gives him a big shake, “That’s who they are.” Paula is in a doozy today. Interpret that how you will. {Scorecard: B+ for a good, polished group vocal performance with synchronized choreography to boot. However, their version of it doesn’t seem to quite match up other more stellar covers of this classic song. Nonetheless, they’re fairly sure to advance.}

We head down to Malibu, where Nicole and Enrique await a performance from the wardrobe challenged burrito-maker, Josh Krajcik. But don’t let this guy’s looks fool you. He’s a proud dad of a 13-year old daughter who he thinks the world of. He sings The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face, a song covered by the likes of Johnny Cash, Roberta Flack, Liona Lewis and Celine Dion. It’s a tall order (without the burritos). He starts off soft and slow, with some words lasting a full measure and sometimes barely heard. Then he grows bolder, louder and more emotional as he goes into the midst of the song. He has an astounding voice, always brimming with inner confidence. Enrique smiles and Nicole closes her eyes to catch all the phrasing and you can tell he’s nailed it. Josh shares a few thoughts and thanks for about half a minute and then leaves them. Both Enrique and Nicole were moved by the performance, but Nicole asks Enrique whether Josh can be a star. Enrique tell her that “he’s not a typical star”, without all the glitz and glamor. {Scorecard: A- for an exceptional vocal performance that is very pleasing to listen to as it reaches the heart. The Makeup and Wardrobe crews can take care of the rest.}

Next up are the four gals of the group 2Squar’d, who sing Bohemian Rhapsody. The redhead gal is the lead, but the others come in for solo bits in alternating voices, with a chorus from the others. They mesh very well in good harmony. The choreography starts off okay, but it gets a bit jumbled here and there. Nonetheless, they’re quite entertaining to watch and listen to. Paula and Pharrell agree they can really sing, but they could put a bit more soul into it. Paula said she found it a little “off-putting.” {Scorecard: B for an entertaining performance easy to listen to, but lacking polish and depth.}

Then we’re introduced to Tim Cifers from the Boys category. He was brought up on his grandparent’s farm and has a definite rural accent. A 30-year old father of two kids, he wants to teach his son “how to fish, how to hunt.” He greets L.A. and Rihanna with a courteous handshake and then begins Dance with My Father. He has a deep, yet clear country tone and you can feel the emotion in his voice. His performance is short, but sweet and succinct. Rihanna says he is definitely a country singer and L.A. agrees. The both say, too, that they wanted more. Perhaps the performance should have been longer with more playtime, but the lyrics, in reality, are indeed short. {Scorecard: A- for a genuine and flawless country-sounding performance of a song that connects easily.}

Bubbly 13-year old Rachel Crow, the very first person we saw in the auditions, is next. She is so young that she probably hasn’t experienced failure like some of the older contestants in this show. She “wants that chance to blow America away.” What would she do with the $5 million if she won? “I’m a girl. I need my own bathroom!” She sings I Want It That Way, starting fairly regularly through the first few verses in a soft, sweet voice. Then she reaches and hits a long, loud sustain at a key point in the song with surprising power. Simon likes that “she takes risks” and he likes her deep tone. However, he thinks she’s in a difficult category and the pressure could be difficult for her. {Scorecard: B+ for an interesting and solid performance with a unique voice for a young lady her age. She would definitely add appeal to the upcoming live show.}

Then we’re with the oldest contestant still in the running, Leroy Bell from Seattle. He looks and sounds much younger than his 59 years. Make that 60. “Now America knows I’m an old man.” He’s got kids and grandchildren, after all. He says that a lot of people his age think about retiring, but he’s still got that fire and that burn. “If you have a passion for something, strive for it.” He sings Make you Feel My Love, another song covered by numerous artists. He’s got a mature, yet soft and smooth, male voice that’s very easy to listen to and connect with. His tone and volume rises and falls in synchrony with the lyrics of the song as he expresses it with feeling. Iglesias claps afterwards. Nicole thinks he’s nervous and it’s holding him back. Iglesias thinks “he’s super cool”. {Scorecard: A- for a super cool performance. Dig it.}

Next up is the best friends trio Illusion Confusion. They perform Craig Davis’ Hot Stuff, beginning with a few choreographed moves. The edit here cuts away from their song intro into a prerecorded bit about them and then back to the finish of their song. We actually don’t see much of this performance, which appeared fairly ordinary. Paula asks Pharrell if he’s “on the fence” with these guys. Pharrell says he was impressed by their drive more than anything else. Paula follows that comment up with the notion that they have more drive than ability. {Scorecard: C+ with a poor edit of what may have been a fairly ordinary performance that doesn’t smack of a $5 recording contract.}

Giving it a go next is 42-year old karaoke DJ Tiger Budbill who is in financial straits with business drying up. He sings Don’t Give Up on Me , starting slowly and softly. He’s got a good voice with a nice vibrato to finish off some notes with emotion and feeling. Midway into the song, he raises the tone and volume with some long, hard, yet smooth notes. Nicole says he has a great voice, but is he marketable? Iglesias doesn’t think that matters so much, as anybody can do it (make it in the music industry) with the right song. {Scorecard: B for a good, emotional vocal performance that would best be heard in limited venues with a certain type of audience, not on the stadium concert stage. What he’s missing is not vocal skills, but potential mass appeal.}

The next contestant is 20-year old Marcus Canty from Maryland, who sings All My Life. He sits on the stool for the whole song, looking mostly at Rihanna as he sings this love song. Rihanna is smiling openly in return. It’s different from his auditions, where he had what L.A. called that Jim Brown sound. Here, his vocals are softer, smoother and more polished — a side to him we haven’t really heard before. Then he stands up and opens up the tone and volume into the song, with a soft finish. Afterward, touched by the song, Rihanna says, “I’m freaking out. I got a chill on that. I could not contain myself… he made me feel good with that performance.” She and L.A. aren’t convinced he’s a star, but he sure had an effect on her. {Scorecard: B+ for a surprisingly interesting and well directed performance that was vocally all there. Not my cup of tea, but I’m not a girl either.}

Performing for Simon is 19-year old deli clerk Tiah Tolliver. Simon saw something in her that Paula and Nicole didn’t, nearly leading to a fracas at the judges’ table with Simon walking out. She feels that she has got to impress him here so that she can prove he made the right choice in standing up for her earlier. She sings Blackstreet’s No Diggity with a lot of sass and swing. She has that characteristic voice of hers that goes right with the sass, and Simon’s loving it. Sure, she’s hitting all the right notes, but that’s not what this song’s about. It’s all about the show, hey yo, hey yo, hey yo! And Simon actually laughes and claps! {Scorecard: A- for a very entertaining, sassy voiced performance that for once doesn’t spell “singing competition” even though she’s quite skilled vocally. Unlike some others we’ve seen, this Do Wop gal acts far less like a competitor and much more like a performer. Hey, yo!}

Next up for the Over 30’s is hairdresser Christa Collins. We find out she was a child singer attached to Disney Records. While it was glamorous, it was “grueling labor.” She quit when she was about 16 and now regrets it. Maybe quitting wasn’t such a bad idea, as it sounds like she was exploited to the max. She sees this as her second chance. Christa sings Radiohead’s No Surprises, starting with an almost stilted, yet sad sound… and then it picks up and she moves easily into a brighter, louder stage of the song where she shines, full of expression. Oops, the mike stand fell down as she grabs the mike and walks up to Nicole and Iglesias. She tells them this is her second chance. Iglasias says he likes her. “It hit me.” {Scorecard: B for an interesting, emotive vocal performance. She was more interesting than pleasing to watch, actually, but she is highly expressive.}

Then we get the ad-hoc group InTENsity, comprising of ten of the people who didn’t make the cut but were formed by the judges into a group of their own to compete in the Groups category. They sing Ting Ting’s That’s Not My Name, which is perfectly suited for them. They’re singing and dancing and jiving, going solo, going chorus, going every which way in synchronized choreography. Highly energetic, they’ve got some moves and some chops between them. Pharrell says they’re like “a cookie, with some star morsels in there.” Paula also enjoyed it and see their potential, but says the biggest challenge is that they need more time together. {Scorecard: B, giving extra marks for them being tossed together and having to come up with something that gelled. It was an entertaining and energetic performance, but not extraordinary by any means. Maybe they’ll pass, but likely not in this competitive category of already polished groups of performers.}

Next up is 28-year old recently gone-clean trash hauler Chris Rene, who L.A. complimented with “You are the truth.” He wants to set a good example for his young son. Cap on backwards, he goes hip hop with Sly & The Family Stones’ Everyday People. He sings with a loud backing track and chorus and he might not be hitting some notes along the way. Still… it’s entertaining. L.A. says he’s one of those special people, but looked nervous out there. It’s about the journey, not the destination for him. {Scorecard: B- being generous with props for his energy and entertainment value, although it’s not really superstar material.}

The last performance tonight is by Melanie Amaro, who sings Michael Jackson’s Will You Be There. She appears very comfortable on stage (actually, the patio) like a natural and the ease in her voice reflects it. For a while, she stands at the mike, but then she takes the mike off the stand and increases the volume and intensity of the song after having built it up. Simon claps and then after she leaves Simon flops on the couch and takes an imaginary script or list and says, “Rip, rip, rip.” He’s already envisioning how difficult the future choices are going to be. The vocal coach and two producers join him and agree that Melanie is quite good but needs to be more contemporary. {Scorecard: B for a solid performance that showed her strong vocal abilities, but also wasn’t especially unique or extraordinary.}

Yes, “rip, rip, rip”, indeed, as the judge mentors will have to make a difficult decision that will rip the hearts of the half who don’t make it through to the live show. They may find themselves wondering whether they’re dashing someone’s dream for good, where the second chances come to an end. Simon has no problem saying one of the girls is definitely out, but picking the first one to go home is the easy part. It’s the third and fourth one, those on the borderline, who will be difficult choices. There may be some girls who he likes, but cannot be contemporary artists in the commercial sense. It becomes business, sometimes the hardest thing to do.

And Simon is not alone, as L.A. Reid, Paula and Nicole all have to cut half of those who have gotten this far. We get some clips of some of their sometimes tortuous deliberations and a few previews that may have been edited to fool us into who’s making it and who’s not.

“This is going to change their lives,” Paula astutely remarks.

Find out Tuesday night who makes it to the live show! Stay tuned!

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