SOUND OFF: THE X FACTOR Boot Camp & GLEE's Big Break-Up(s)
This week on Week Four of THE X FACTOR, the first round of contestants to make it into the competition for the $5 million recording contract were let go at boot camp - and, on GLEE, romantic walking papers were issued willy-nilly as four long-standing relationships between central characters came to a conclusion (at least for now).
Moment For Life
Before the kick-off of the live shows in two weeks time, Fox’s epic reality singing competition show THE X FACTOR kicked off boot camp on a slightly abridged Wednesday one-hour ep and regular Thursday show. Subsequently, we were given an inside look at the selection process for deciding who the top entrants will be, when one hundred and twenty acts become sixty acts become twenty-four and when we in the audience are then left to decide who will be crowned the new king or queen (or both) of the pop music scene. And, on the note of royalty, next week we will also be traveling to the homes of the esteemed judges while the contestants sing for their supper, as it were - visiting the lavish abodes of judges LA Reid, Demi Lovato, Britney Spears and, of course, Simon Cowell in so doing. While boot camp may not possess the heated, heady excitement of the early live shows, nor match the unexpected thrills and gob-smacking gerrymandering (there have truly been some sob stories to beat the band, or even THE VOICE) of the first auditions, boot camp more than merely serves its purpose in presenting to us the many musical acts in a harsh, unforgiving light as they basically hit the line, A CHORUS LINE-style, and make the magic happen… or do not.
While there were more than a few nots and not-quites (even some of the judges' choices seemed a bit perplexing at intervals (Diamond White?)), the cream, as always, rose to the top and a few even managed to go another level up still and thereby made rich butter out of heavy cream. The best of the best? Without a doubt, David Correy continues to shine, as does his tatted-up competition, Vino Alan. Cece Frey is undoubtedly the diva of the year, but she definitely has the attitude, look, personality, and, most important, the pipes, to pull off the diva-tude - though, on all fronts, she has Paige Thomas clipping at her treacherously high, high heels. Willie Jones, the futuristically Frank Ocean-evoking, yet Travis Tritt-sounding in the best good ole boy sense country crooner, also looks to be a standout of the season and may very well make it to the top. The younger entrants seem to be giving the more seasoned singers a run for the money (and $5 million is a lot), as well - with the exception of Jake Garza and Johnny Maxwell, who may be the first two contestants in X FACTOR history to not remember one complete line of their respective, unquestionably classic audition songs (Jim Steinman’s eternal epic “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” and Puff Daddy & The Family‘s Notorious B.I.G. tribute “I‘ll Be Missing You”).
As for the rest of the big, big show and what we can expect come live time in two weeks? Well, we will have to stay tuned as boot camp continues and the judges decide which two dozen will make the final cut before it is then left up to us to decide who truly exhibits the titular star quality more than anyone else - and, most importantly, who wants it the most.
There are many stars in this sky, but only one who will be crowned superstar.
Don’t Tell Me ‘Cause It Hurts
Without exception, one thing GLEE never runs short on is star quality, particularly this season, which so far has shown us a rebooted, refigured, re-jiggered and reinvented new GLEE 4.0, largely re-energized and brimming with promise, that splits its time between the teachers and students back at McKinley High in Lima, OH - featuring a slew of new students discovered on Ryan Murphy’s THE GLEE PROJECT on Oxygen - and the goings-on in the lives of graduates - and original lead gleeks - Rachel (Lea Michele) and Kurt (Chris Colfer), as they make their way in New York City and pursue the performance arts-related dream that is at the core and held in the hearts of the characters on the show, as well as, one suspects, many who watch it, too. Rachel’s burgeoning hot and heavy romance with NYADA super-stud Brody (Dean Geyer) reached a fiery fever pitch at the tail end of last week’s episode, as her thought-to-be-MIA fiancé Finn (Cory Monteith) virtually walked in on her and Brody about to broach the dragon - and this week the fall-out continued (and convalesced). So, too, has the relationship between Kurt and Blaine (Darren Criss) been exceptionally strained since the senior’s sudden transplant to the Big Apple, leaving his junior boyfriend to fend for himself back at McKinley - and, the coo-worthy internship at Vogue he has nabbed since making the risky move (and, now, rubbing elbows with new GLEE guest star Sarah Jessica Parker all the while; ample evidence that following your dreams can pay off after all) gobbling up all of his time, noon to night. So, too, does the relationship between Mr. Schu - aka Will (Matthew Morrison) - and Emma - aka Miss Pillsbury (Jayma Mays) - seem to have hit its roughest patch yet (and that is really, really saying something given what has come to pass in the previous three seasons). Will Wemma weather the storm and survive an extended stint separated by job pursuits or will the distance create an irremovable wedge between the betrothed? We will have to wait and see what will come to pass, of course, but at the close of the appropriately-titled “The Break-Up” we were left with more questions than answers, but enough proof that the end is near for at least three out of the four couples reaching crossroads in their relationships. Life - and, especially, love - is messy, and, particularly this season, so is GLEE, but the promise of smelling the rarest of roses while occasionally having the feeling of dumpster diving is worth the wafting, odious odors of a million moldy McDonalds bags (or, their musical equivalent, Taylor Swift tunes). More than ever, NYC seems to be the most perfect metaphor for GLEE 4.0 - it’s an equally maddening and magnificent, mostly beautiful and exhilarating mess.
“Everyone graduated and then things got weird,” and, whether Shakespeare or Faulkner, the fool speaks the most essential truth - and that was certainly the case in this week’s Ryan Murphy-penned, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon-directed episode. Brittany (Heather Morris) and Santana (Naya Rivera) may have had as many ups and downs as Rachel and Finn - and Will and Emma, for that matter - but their Sapphic relationship seemed somehow more built to last than the others; they appeared to share something deeper than matching Cheerios uniforms. On the other hand, the pairing of Kurt and Blaine seemed almost doomed from the start - particularly with the drama that ensued with Sebastian’s nefarious intermingling last season. And, now, Blaine has actually followed through in a dalliance - just who, exactly, is Eli C.? As he related to Brittany at the episode’s opening, Valentine’s Day is definitely long, long over for these lovebirds on leave. Despite an over-the-top bouquet of roses, Blaine’s last-ditch attempt at preserving his bond with Kurt was for naught - though the ensuing emotion gave rise to two thrilling musical sequences.
The first musical number in the episode came courtesy of erstwhile pop-to-Broadway crossover Tony Award-winning composer Duncan Sheik’s late-90s hit “Barely Breathing”, imbued with breathlessly impassioned energy by show standout Criss along with Monteith in his first vocal performance of the new season. Nonetheless, without any question the musical highlight of the episode was the brilliantly plotted and executed piano bar-set reprise of “Teenage Dream”, tearfully imparted by Criss in one of the best balladic performances on the show to date. Each word was infused with love and loss and ache - the type of musical performance that makes GLEE the institution it is, and always will be, for fans of emotive acting and singing. This is one of the moments we will not soon forget. Devastating. For those who may have forgotten (though what good gleek could?), Blaine’s premiere song on the show was an upbeat, largely a capella iteration of the Katy Perry worldwide smash pop frippery, now brought down to basics with a soul-laid-bare solo turn. But, I have to ask: why couldn’t we hear Kurt’s highly-touted “SWEENEY TODD mega-medley”? Also at the piano bar in NYC, Rachel and Brody teamed up for their second duet in as many weeks - and, once again, made much more than was probably deserved given the paltry song pick (Demi Lovato’s “Give Your Heart A Break”). Naya Rivera, too, made a silk purse of a sow’s ear by way of Taylor Swift’s “Mine”. Indeed, that is how to make a song your own (even one titled "Mine")! Let us hope we will be seeing much more from Rivera and Monteith this season since absence apparently has made the heart grow fonder - both have an assured and amenable style much missed. The acting was exceptionally on-point throughout the hair-raisingly emotional and ultimately cathartic break-up show, too, with none of the cloying sentimentality that so often plagues such episodes. Everyone hit their marks and made a mark - in what they said and what they sang.
A quartet and a sextet capped off the musical quotient of the largely quite strong “The Break-Up” episode of GLEE S4.4, with Coldplay’s “The Scientist” made quite alive by Morrison, Mays, Monteith and Michele, along with Colfer, Criss and Rivera, if not quite Frankensteinian levels of electrifying; and, much more impressively, a stunningly-rendered and appreciably sonorous reworking of No Doubt’s iconic rock jam “Don’t Speak” was given a visually arresting and pleasingly well-developed playing by Michele, Monteith, Criss and Colfer as the two dissolving couples in peril. Bonus points for striking split-screen usage Brian De Palma himself would even envy! Indeed, on the production side of things, GLEE definitely looks and sounds better than ever - more stylish and detail-driven in its depiction of Lima, with an entirely new, more muted and monotone color palette and style introduced to the proceedings for the NYC-set scenes (often accentuating the bright lights of the city, inside and out, as in the sparkling bulbs of “Teenage Dream” and “Don‘t Speak” in this episode).
For Broadway babies yearning for some more musical theatre love on the songstack side of the show - although, of course, references to everything from HEDWIG & THE ANGRY INCH to PACIFIC OVERTURES still abound regularly, this week being no exception - we have a lot to look forward to in the weeks ahead, with the integration of this season’s highly anticipated and just-determined annual school musical, GREASE, into the drama, comedy, plot and performances of GLEE S4. GLEASE is the word… have you heard? Listen up. Furthermore, who will be cast as Tony and Sandy? It seems, well, written in lipstick on the girls’ bathroom mirror, that the developing romance between GLEE newcomers Marley (Melissa Benoist) and Jake (Jacob Artist) will play into that casting. Yet, is Marley really the one that Jake wants? Oh, honey!
Now, nearly a month in to Fox’s double-dose of X FACTOR married to GLEE 4.0, each and every week it seems clearer to see that we are in for an exceptionally wonderful winter - both keep getting better and better. Yet, who will be the very best? Who will make it to the very top? And, most of all, who will provide us with the most unforgettable performance of them all? Between THE X FACTOR and GLEE together to experience and enjoy each week for the foreseeable future as 2012 winds to a close, the possibilities are more multitude than the stars in the sky and even the journey itself is exhilarating and well worth the long ride.
After all, if you shoot for the moon, chances are you will land among the stars.