“Auditions. Hit. Greensboro.” That’s how tonight’s episode of X-Factor: Auditions 4 began. No offense North Carolina, your fine city is not exactly as scary-sounding as say New York or L.A. Definitely not scary enough to justify the gladiator-esque music that’s thrumming the montage of tears, joy and authoritative judgements from the panel of LA Reid, Britney Spears, Demi Lovato and Simon Cowell.

But wait! What could be more Carolinan than a lightening storm?! And one, no less, that strikes the audition venue moving Cowell himself to proclaim, “We took a hit! Everything’s gone wrong.” Contestants are throwing tantrums, water and chairs before Britney Spears screams in sheer horror. It’s genius. Let the (hunger) games begin!

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But where are all of Greenboro’s citizens? As the judges Land Rovers (thank you Simon) are driven upon the cities streets, Cowell and Spears both watch in horror as they see…no one. “Where is everyone?!” Could it be possible that no one in the Tar Heel State is aware of the genius that walks among them at this moment? Oh of COURSE! The whole town is at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex silly! “There’s no one in town! Everyone’s here! It’s awesome!” That’s Ms. Spears again. So succinct.

Back to Simon discussing the local specialty with his driver: grits. She suggests a local establishment called Jake’s (we’re pretty sure that she’s more interested in a date than aiding a foreigner to experience a new culture, but that’s just our heartless bodies and romance-resistent brains talking). Lovato’s worried and indeed Simon is enjoying grits with his new female companion. His conclusion on grits? “Very pasta-y.” Great; Gordon Ramsey just had a seizure.

Cowell’s detour caused a lot of hassle for everyone, but no one more than the stage manager who can’t even bring himself to look at the show’s master and commander. Spears, on the other hand, is quite enamored with her gift of left-over coconut cream pie. Careful Brit-Brit we just got you looking good again!

And here it is, the moment everyone in the Coliseum Complex has been waiting for the judges entrance: first comes Reid, then Lovato, Cowell and finally Spears at which point every 13-year old girl the camera can find loses her mind.

Contestant: Willie Jones, Shreveport, LA
Quote: “We came too far to come here and lose.”
Sings: Josh Turner “Your Man”
Our Take: According to the reaction of both judges and audience, it’s preposterous that a black man could even consider singing country…especially this well. We believe that the whole premise of this show is preposterous so let’s just call it even right there. Judges Take: “I love your style it’s very ‘Fresh Prince Of Bel Air.’ I love it. It’s sick.” Said Lovato as Jones walked on stage. After a couple more formalities and a hearty “good luck” from Reid, a pedal steel guitar chimes in and a traditional country song begins. The judges and audience look at each other in complete confusion as if to say, “Oh my gawd! A black man’s gonna sing COUNTRY?!” But he does it, and he’s actually pretty good. Reid’s obviously digging it and Jones is obviously having a great time on stage which definitely resonates with the audience. He’s also got quite the baritone for a young pup and Spears may even be a little turned-on by this. Now the moment of truth: Cowell halts the music and the crowd goes wild. Jones is visibly taken aback by this and it’s one of the first truly real moments in this show. Reid is the first to speak with a definite, “Willie Jones, YOU are an absolute original!” Spears agreed with Reid, “It’s very original to do what you just did.” Lovato picked up on Jones’ likability and the fact that he’s standing on stage with a look of “Oh my gosh, this response is for me?!” “I like that about you, save that person too.” And Mr. Cowell? “Willie, this is why we came to Greensboro. I prayed we’d find someone like you, but you’ve gone way beyond my expectations. I think your voice is a sensational recording voice and I want to remember this time: the first day I heard Willie Jones. This is a time to remember.” Tears, laughter, happy families. Awww.
Verdict: An absolutely ginormous big fat yes.

Contestant: Kalvin McManigle
Sings: He forgot. They start it anyway.
Our Take: Obviously the court jester of the evenings’ program, Kalvin looked like a yokel, spoke like a yokel and honestly sounded like a karaoke drunk on pay day, but that’s still no excuse to wheel him out as an example for people to laugh at him, not with him. And to mock his job as a lawn mower factory worker? That’s just plain cruel. The hardest part for us was when the music stopped and the arena fell completely silent.
Judges Take: Cowell: “I literally couldn’t understand a single word of that.” Britney: “I’m scared I’m related to you or something.”
Verdict: “Y’all got four no’s,” to which Kalvin responded “Glad to be gone!” Good for you Kalvin & hold on to that spirit.

Contestant: Julia Bullock
Sings: Foster The People “Pumped-Up Kicks”
Our Take: When she mentions her band during the pre-performance questions from the judges, Cowell asks why her band isn’t on stage with her. She defends that they’re not a vocal group and that it’s an opportunity she shouldn’t waste. When asked how the band feels about this, we shoot to an earlier scene in the parking lot with Julia talking among her band members (can you say “Ringer?”) and what their plans are if she’s accepted into the X Factor ranks. True artists would obviously regroup and continue. But her loser ex boyfriend assures he’ll move on to “Normal things.” We hope he does because that polo shirt definitely ain’t rock ‘n roll.
Judges Take: Cowell: “Julia, I think you’re really, really, really good. I like your image, I love your taste. Very current. Yeah. One of my favorites. Spears: “You definitely have a unique sound when you sing and there’s a marketplace open so wide for you right now and I feel like you’re a star.” Reid: “For me? You’re exactly what I’ve been looking for. From the moment you came on stage i had a feeling and you know what? You came through. I love your song choice, the rock star thing, the attitude. I like it.” Lovato: “I really like you, you’ve got a super unique voice, I think you’re super talented & you’re awesome.”
Verdict: Goodbye band, hello solo career: “Four yesses.”

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Contestant: Krysten Colon
Quote: “I’m finally getting the confidence to share what I hear in the shower.”
Sings: Adele “When Will I Remember”
Our Take: Ah yes, the 21-year old hair dresser. She’s supported herself but wants to make her dreams come true. It’s one of the oldest reality TV stories, the inspiration ‚Äì the competition “Cinderella” if you will. But wait! She’s singing Adele to a grumpy Englishman who hates Adele! This could be bad. Or a lucky break. Cowell stops the song and asks Colon to find something that’s more “You.” He sends her away with a reprieve to come back later.

Family-Porn Alert! The next commercial break returns with a musical “Dad love” segment consisting of two artists sharing the effect of their kids on their passionate pursuits. It’s oh-so touching and oh-so manicured. The perfect drug to entice many bored American families to snuggle close for the next fourteen weeks and enjoy the X Factor.

Contestant: Jeffery
Quote: “Failure is not an option. I need that record deal”
Sings: Leonard Cohen “Hallejulah”
Our Take: Despite the woe-is-me-this-is-my-last-chance-to-be-a-rock-star bull we’re sold through touching montages of Jeffery and his four-year old son backstage. He’s not bad considering he sings the WAY overdone Leonard Cohen classic (still not so much rock ‘n roll). Oh, and stop crying Britney.
Judges Take: Reid: “Oh my God. I think you’re unbelievable. You picked maybe the greatest song ever written and you nailed it. You knocked it out of the Park. I am a fan.” Spears: “I love how mysterious your voice was. It was very soothing and unique. I loved it.” Lovato: “You have an amazing grit to your voice that changed the song completely. I’ve never heard it sung like that, it was incredible (cue thunder). I mean God’s even rocking out right now.” Cowell: “Jeffery, I’ve heard that song a lot, I’ve sat in this chair a long time & it was one of the most brilliant auditions I’ve heard.” “The Josh Groban of rock ‘n roll?” Better.”
Verdict: “Four big fat yesses” (And the kid running out on stage was cute, if not totally predictable.)

The one humorous part about this whole show while they were running through the slew of awful performances as the elements bore down on the Coliseum Complex was the theme music from “The Omen” that played behind the montage. Frankly, they could use this theme music behind the whole show and it would be just as fitting and far more entertaining.

And finally! Welcome back Krysten! Or maybe not.

Contestant: Krysten Colon
Sings: Whitney Houston “I Have Nothing”
Our Take: Someone didn’t see ‘The Voice’ on Tuesday! Oh God. PLEASE stop singing Whitney Houston. She was a voice in a lifetime. A voice in a generation. Singing her song does not immediately ingratiate yourself to a grieving audience. It makes you an obvious try-hard who wants to be wildly compared and judged harshly.
Judges Take: When the power in the arena shorts again in the middle of Krysten’s set, Cowell stops her performance from beginning again by saying, “Krysten, there was a reason for that happening. The song wasn’t perfect.” When Krysten protested, “But I was about to blow it!” Reid countered: “Sweetheart, you already blew it.” She continued, “I know what I have to make it. I know I have the look, I have the talent, I know I have the personality‚Ķ” Reid countered again: “But you have to have the voice with it.” No where close to stopping, “You don’t think I have a voice?” A visible tired Reid counter for the final time “You have a decent voice but I don’t hunk it’s quite good enough.”
Verdict: Four no’s.

Cursing as Colon leaves the stage, Lovato comments, “Oh she’s pissed.” And Lovato was right: back stage Krysten pushes her friends and family aside, tells producers to get away from her, douses a video camera with a water bottle and threatens security guards by brandishing a fold-up chair before exiting the building and storming out into the rain. And what do the producers pick for the song to play behind this dramatic scene? Adele’s ‘Set Fire To The Rain’ of course! Genius. All in all, this was the most rock ‘n roll thing we’ve seen all night and THAT should have been her act. Nevermind ‚Äì it’s already on YouTube:

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-Tim Mudd, Energy 103.7/San Diego