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‘X Factor’ Season 2, Episode 2 recap: Britney Spears keeps her distance from obsessive fan


The highlight of Thursday night’s episode of “The X Factor” was an unnervingly dedicated Britney Spears fan who presented the judge with flowers before a screeching rendition of one of her own songs.

Spears visibly grimaces as 20-year-old Patrick Ford — who earlier exposed his inner fanboy when he wondered aloud if the two could be siblings — brought a literal meaning to her song, “Circus.”

“It was like you had an argument with Britney Spears, got drunk, and decided to scream the song at her,” says Simon Cowell.

The flowers Ford brought onstage to give to Spears are hand-delivered by Cowell, who in this situation seems like the chivalrous guy trying to keep Spears at arms’ length from a potential stalker.

Ford was one of many contestants appearing on the second night of season two of “The X Factor,” which is beginning to clarify its guiding forces. The judges continued developing their own particular niches, while the auditions became more polarized, alternating between towering successes and embarrassing failures.

From the start, the producers seem intent on developing Spears as a force to be reckoned with; the opening recap of last night’s action showcased mixed reactions from the other judges, but quickly gave way to a montage of Spears cruelly rejecting several contestants. Spears, to her credit, has remained critical but fair, but the show is clearly singling her out-playing dramatic music as she arrives at the San Francisco venue, detached and celebrated differently from her peers at the judges’ table.


As the episode begins, small talk by the masses waiting on line for auditions quickly gives way to the story of Johnny Maxwell, a 16-year-old student from Castro Valley, California.

“There’s hecka people here, mom,” says Maxwell, as he arrives with his mother to the venue. And though snippets of those people are visible though out the show’s beginning moments, the camera stays largely trained on Maxwell.

He makes an excellent showing once he’s on his own. He strides confidently to the center of the stage, raising his arms and asking “X Factor, how y’all doin’?” and performs his own original song, “All These People,” to an initially skeptical but eventually impressed panel of judges.

By the final chorus of a song that’s evenly split between rapping and sung choruses, L.A. Reid is singing the titular lyrics along with Maxwell, and Demi Lovato and Spears share the same grin with Maxwell’s mother, who is frequently shown beaming throughout his performance.

“You have swag,” Lovato declares. “You are so driven and passionate when you perform, it’s amazing to watch.” The rest of the judges agree, with Cowell accurately pronouncing him a better rapper than singer. He leaves the stage with four “yes” votes, and Cowell mutters “That’s what we’re looking for,” as he goes.

Lexa Berman, a 22-year-old from Boca Raton, goes next. She is pompous, and that fact has been teased throughout the episode thus far; she is pictured explaining to a younger performer how difficult the competition is, and how she’s seemingly able to handle it.

Much is made of her appearance once she hits the stage–even Reid asks if she’s single or married–but her performance doesn’t measure up to her personality. Her voice has a nicely full body to it, but she doesn’t bring any feeling. Cowell throws her a “yes” vote, perhaps acknowledging an arrogant, if kindred, spirit, but she is flatly denied by the other three and leaves the stage dejected.


The next montage of performers could easily be titled the “But you’re hot,” segment. A parade of men with steely eyes and six-pack abs cross the stage, drawing mild flirtation from Lovato and Spears, but the two are immediately left feeling cold once the performers open their mouths to sing. A few obvious testosterone-inspired jokes are thrown out by Cowell (“This is why I love this show,” Cowell says, when a modestly-sized girl group takes the stage), but all acts have one thing in common; their singing is terrible. Off-key and off-tempo singing scores the march of the eye candy, which could have ended halfway through on Reid’s sage advice.

“You know what we need?” he asks backstage. “Someone with great looks and talent.”

After a commercial break, we return to follow the story of Jason Brock. A San Francisco resident who resembles a stockier, more hilariously personable Adam Lambert, he is nothing if not an accurate judge of his own character.

“When my voice comes out, it’s unbelievable,” the tech support employee says of others’ reactions to his voice. “It stops them in their tracks.”

He has a similar effect on the judges. The first thing to give them pause, though, is his entrance. Cordial hellos quickly give way to him describing a fantasy concert in which he is surrounded by backup dancers, smoky white light and dismissed with a “confetti explosion,” and the judges’ patience begins to wear thin. But when he begins his rendition of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind,” jaws drop and remain in that position for most of the performance.

“You sparkle and you ooze of joy while you’re singing,” Lovato says, and his expressive voice–which sounds at times like Cee-Lo Green’s full-bore crooning–breathes enough life into the song to make Joel’s original vocals seem tame by comparison.

“Your voice is a song’s best friend,” Reid adds, explaining how songwriters adore a voice as flexible as Brock’s. He receives four “yes”.

Presumably saving the rest for later shows, there is only one performer shown to round out the end of the hour-long episode, as the show departs for Providence, Rhode Island. But she is a knockout. At 13, Carly Rose Sonenclar (born in New York City and no stranger to Broadway, having performed in several musicals) is obviously precocious. Initial reactions to her adorable appearance give way to skepticism from the judges when she announces she will attempt Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good,” a soulful number seemingly impossible to replicate as powerfully as Simone sings it after 13 short years on this planet.

“Honey, you may be 13, but your soul is old!” raves Reid after a performance that saw this season’s first standing ovation from all four judges.

Her pitch was the most accurate of the night, but the emotion and grit in her voice overshadows that, allowing her to add tasteful accents and expressive movements to the performance. Lovato admits being “obsessed” with her, and the judges send her back to her parents with four “yes” votes.

“Remember this day, everybody,” Reid says as he casts his vote. “A star is born.”

“The X Factor” seems to be approaching a formula. The show remains heavily focused on the judges, who have already begun to mature beyond the expectations placed on them before the season started. But the show is beginning to shoot for the extremes in order to give us more of what we expect; at least one conceited character whose personality will be their undoing, and a brief series of train-wreck acts each episode. But the show’s high points make it worth paying attention to, at least at this early stage, because they are surprising, organic and fresh.

2012 MTV Video Music Awards!! Who Stole The Night??

Los Angeles (CNN) – The MTV Video Music Awards competed with Vice President Joe Biden’s convention speech Thursday night, offering Olympic gold medal gymnast Gabby Douglas doing flips and rapper Lil’ Wayne stage diving.

MTV moved the East Coast broadcast of the Los Angeles show up an hour when programmers realized they would be up against President Barack Obama’s acceptance speech unless they ended the two-hour show by 10 p.m.

One Direction claimed the most screen time, winning three “Moon Man” trophies and performing their pop hit “One Thing” in the show. The UK boy band won for best new artist, best pop video and the “most shareworthy” video.

Rihanna takes top honors at the VMAs

The 2012 version of MTV’s big show passed without a major faux pas, such as happened three years ago when Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance of the best female video award to say it should have gone to Beyonce.

Rapper Psy teaches ‘Gangnam Style’ dance

Who were the big winners?

Beyonce lost again, this time to Nicki Minaj for her “Starships” video, but Kanye was not in the house to object this year, choosing to be in New York with girlfriend Kim Kardashian instead.

Rihanna, who also lost to Minaj, took the night’s biggest honor later in the show, winning video of the year for “We Found Love.” Rihanna opened the show performing a “Cockiness/We Found Love” medley with A$AP Rocky.

While Swift was left out of the trophy handouts, she did close the show by dancing and singing “We Are Never Getting Back Together,” and ending with a stage dive into the crowd.

Rihanna’s ex-boyfriend Chris Brown looked all business in a dress suit as he took the stage to accept the best male video award for “Turn Up The Music.” In winning, he beat hip hop rival Drake, who was also on the other side of an infamous bar fight earlier this year.

Host Kevin Hart joked about the Brown-Drake nightclub clash, telling both artists “Nip it in the bud, guys. I’m tired of it. Fix it tonight.”

Drake got his own “Moon Man” statue when his “HYFR” won for best hip hop video. That video “is about being me being black and Jewish,” Drake said in his acceptance. It was dedicated “to any kid that’s ever had a long walk home by yourself.”

Drake’s recording partners 2 Chainz and Lil’ Wayne got the Staples Center crowd on their feet with a rap performance that the television audience did not get to completely hear. The censor cut frequent expletives in their lyrics, leaving viewers to hear a song punctuated with frequent silent gaps. Lil’ Wayne, who entered on a skateboard, ended with a dive off the stage.

In contrast, singer Frank Ocean delivered the most subtle performance of the night with a rendition of his “Thinkin’ About You.”

Other performances included P!nk doing aerial acrobatics as she sang and Green Day, who set a record for the most VMA performances with “Let Yourself Go.”

The “Fierce Five” U.S. women’s gymnastics team took the stage to introduce Alicia Keys, who performed her newest song, “Girl On Fire,” with Minaj. Gold medalist Gabby Douglas did flips while Keys sang.

MTV gave the Twilight film franchise cast — minus Kristen Stewart — the stage to introduce a 90-second clip from “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn – Part 2.”

As the show ended — and presumably as most viewers prepared to change channels to see Obama’s speech — Hart put in a plug for them to take the time to vote in the election. “It’s in our hands,” Hart said.

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‘The Voice’ coaches excited for changes


( – Cee Lo Green, Blake Shelton, Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera — all four coaches of “The Voice” — joined producer Mark Burnett, host Carson Daly and the show’s social media maven Christina Milian for a press conference Sunday night at Burnett’s Malibu home. Looking out at the panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean, Levine quipped, “So this is what reality TV buys you.”

That, or maybe just knowing what makes for good TV. And Burnett and his team have demonstrated a knack for spotting opportunities. Last season there was shock among fans when singer Jesse Campbell, one of the favorites to win the title, was eliminated by coach Christina Aguilera. Even her fellow coaches expressed their disbelief.

This season, which starts September 10th, they’d be able to do something about it, thanks to a new element called “the Steal,” which allows judges to pick up a contestant who’s been ousted by another coach. Journalists got a sneak peak at a recently taped battle round between two of Green’s competitors, who each delivered a smoking rendition of Mariah Carey’s “Vision of Love.”

As soon as Green carried out the unenviable task of choosing just one, the other coaches hammered on their buttons and made their pitches to bring the loser onto one of their teams, just like they do in the battle rounds. Judges can only pick two additional team members, which will lead to a new cycle of the show called “Knockout Rounds,” where the teams will pare down before beginning the live episodes.

The new opportunity for poaching has added a lot to the show, the coaches told Rolling Stone. “It’s nice to throw those elements in to kind of spice things up,” Levine said. “Those things definitely help keep it fresh for us.”

It also adds more pressure, Shelton said. “There’s nothing that’s more nervewracking than knowing, ‘Okay, both these singers did really good and I gotta pick one and I know damn good and well one of these other three are gonna steal the person I don’t pick,’” he said. “There’s a chance that person may go on and win this and that’s gonna make me look really stupid. That definitely goes on in your mind. As an artist and somebody on television I have enough of an ego that I don’t want to look that stupid. I want to look brilliant.”

Ultimately, though, he recognizes it’s great for the show and viewers. “It’s going to be so exciting for people watching at home,” Shelton said. “Here’s the truth, as much as we want to sit up here and talk about how different this show is, and it is, what people love the most is those damn buttons. People love to see us hit those buttons and somebody’s life is changed at that moment. This is another way of changing somebody’s life later on in the show, where they think all hope is lost, they’re going home, the next thing you know the button gets pushed and they’re right back in the game again. That’s pretty exciting.”

The new components add another element to what Levine, Aguilera and Shelton call “the best season yet.” Only Green holds out on that, saying, “A few memorable things have happened thus far, but season three isn’t completed yet, so I don’t know if this is the favorite season yet.”

For the four coaches, though, the biggest strength of this season is their bond. In the first clip shown at the junket, the four are seen performing the Rolling Stones’ “Start Me Up,” and they resembled a band, much more than they did in the combined performances of the first two seasons.

What helped meld them into a tight, family-like unit is the way all four work with contestants, Aguilera said. “Over time we see how each of us react as coaches, giving such heartfelt advice and attention to these up-and-coming young fresh talents and it’s so nice to see,” she said. “It’s refreshing because we came into it not wanting to knock anybody down and I think we all respect that. We might take shots at each other, but never the talent. So there’s just a magic, there’s a bond there that’s unbreakable at this point.”

Shelton concurred, recognizing the quartet is now joined together by the success of the series. “We’re always going to be connected to each other through this show,” he says.

He admitted there have been some rough moments, like any family. “We’ve been through a lot of s**t with each other, no doubt,” he said. “We’ve had fights, ups and downs and weird moments and f**k-offs and all that stuff. But all friends go through that I think and you either go through it and you never speak to each other again or you go through it and your relationship is even stronger. We didn’t have to come back together, but we did, and our relationships are stronger.”

Levine agreed that the coaches have left the rockiest moments behind them. “We are getting along better than we ever have and I guess our energies have all congealed and we’re very, very close at this point,” he said.

The show will run this year in both the fall and spring seasons, which could result in one or more of the coaches having to take a sabbatical to go on tour. Although Burnett said the coaches have their “chairs for live,” the assembled journalists were keen to speculate on who the replacement coaches might be. Green shut down the speculation while nicely summing up the bond among the current four.

“For me, there’s nobody comes to mind that can replace my Blake, my Adam and my Christina,” he said.

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Review: ‘Sparkle’ isn’t dull


( – “Sparkle” is a movie for anyone who thought that the pop melodrama of “Dreamgirls” wasn’t over-the-top enough.

Set in the late ’60s, it tells the story of three sisters from middle-class Detroit who form a girl group sort of like the Supremes. They’re astoundingly talented, they want to be famous, and at one point they get their shot at a major deal with Columbia Records.

But all sorts of things keep getting in the way, like an abusive, coke-sniffing celebrity boyfriend — what happens to him will leave your jaw on the floor — and, more than that, their oppressively uptight church-lady mother, played with teasing confidence and force by Whitney Houston in her final screen role.


The movie is a remake of the 1976 ersatz-Supremes Hollywood fable that starred Irene Cara, and the earlier film’s setting — the late ’50s and early ’60s — made sense. Transplanting the material ahead nearly a decade, to the era of race riots and black power (when the classic Motown sound was, in fact, already starting to fade), hurts the movie’s credibility, since it is now all the harder to believe that three feisty grown women are still living in their puritanical mother’s house because they’re too cowed to go out on their own. From its opening scene, set inside a hopping Detroit nightclub, Sparkle is charged with a synthetically corny high tension. (Cee Lo Green shows up in that scene, and does a fine job of playing a conk-haired funk-soul relic who loves the ladies, but then he completely vanishes from the movie.)

The three sisters are each cut from a very different cloth. The quietly ambitious Sparkle, a brilliant songwriter, is played by the sixth-season American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, who proves to be a lot like Irene Cara — that is, she’s pretty in a slightly pained way and wholesomely sincere to the point of being a bit boring. The whippersnapper Dolores (Tika Sumpter) mostly stays in the background, except when she explodes in moments of vengeful high dudgeon. And then there’s the sister known, literally, as Sister, who’s the star of the group and is played by the ravishingly sexy and accomplished British actress Carmen Ejogo. In this role, she looks and acts strikingly like a demon-driven, down-and-dirty Beyoncé, and her scenes with Mike Epps, as her charismatic but hateful comedian lover, are the most potent in the film. The truth is that whenever Sister is on screen, we’re a little unsure why the movie is named after anyone else.

Sparkle uses some of the same imitation-Motown numbers by Curtis Mayfield that powered the 1976 version, along with new songs by R. Kelly. The music is all highly competent and, frankly, just unmemorable enough to make you wish that you were hearing authentic period chestnuts instead. The trouble with Sparkle isn’t that it’s overwrought (that’s what’s sometimes fun about it). It’s that everything in the movie is derivative and third-hand: a copy of a copy. The film is pulp that’s been fed through a strainer, with bits and pieces squeezed out of a dozen other, better movies (“What’s Love Got to Do With It”, “Lady Sings the Blues,” and “Dreamgirls,” to name just a few). At times, it’s like a Joan Crawford neurotic-mother fantasy, and the gravelly conviction of Whitney Houston’s performance proves that this could have been the first step not merely in a comeback but in a major re-invention. She had the instincts of a superb character actress.

At other times, the movie is a girl-group biopic that never quite delivers the charge of success that we’re longing to see. Jordin Sparks’ big, climactic on-stage number is supposed to do that, but to me it’s just a testament to the way that too many “Idol” graduates, with their how-many-notes-can-I-cram-inside-a-note technical bravura, short-circuit any true connection with the audience. “Sparkle” is never more than an overheated mediocrity. The one thing it isn’t, however, is dull. Grade: B-

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