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Who makes the grade on 'X Factor?'

By Katherine St Asaph, Popdust
October 11, 2011 -- Updated 1712 GMT (0112 HKT)
32 semifinalists remain on
32 semifinalists remain on "X Factor, " split into four categories: girls under 30, boys under 30, singers over 30 and groups.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Think of "The X Factor" as a hybrid of "Idol" and "The Voice"
  • The show's ratings -- 12.5 million viewers of the premiere -- weren't as high as expected
  • A few episodes in and L.A. Reid is already the most credible judge

Editor's note: Katherine St Asaph is a staff writer for Popdust.

(CNN) -- How much undiscovered singing talent can America really have left? Enough for Simon Cowell to bring his "American Idol" spinoff "The X Factor", already a hit in Britain, to the States to fill that chilly fall gap in the TV schedule without televised karaoke.

Mind you, Cowell's a record executive, and execs don't back unknowns. While the show's ratings (12.5 million viewers of the premiere) weren't as high as expected, they've also not fallen off much, which bodes well for the show's future.

Think of "The X Factor" as a hybrid of "Idol" and "The Voice": the sing-off of the former, structured as a competition between judges like the latter. Thirty-two semifinalists remain, split into four categories: girls under 30, boys under 30, singers over 30 and groups. Each group has eight competitors: thirty auditioners plus two "groups" of formerly castoff singers. (It'll make more sense once they get screen time--or names.) Every group has a mentor: Cowell for the girls, Epic Records CEO L.A. Reid for the boys, former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger for "overs" and ex-"Idol" judge Paula Abdul for groups.

At stake? A $5 million prize. Whose will it be? Popdust's newest weekly power rankings are here, but for a recap of the show's standouts thus far, we present "The X Factor" First Quarter Report Card, with grades doled out for performers and judges alike. Which judge is in danger of flunking out? Which performer is at the head of the class? Read on!

RACHEL CROW: She's hardly in her teens, but you'd never know from her moxie or killer voice. Both of these, though, are standard for TV-show moppets; her wrenching take on Beyonce's "If I Were A Boy" is what makes her a miniature star. GRADE: A

JAZZLYN LITTLE: Transformed from quaking wreck to steely jazz belter with just one note; the rest were even better. As Simon said, imagine what she'll be like once she's confident. A

TORA WOLOSHIN: Woloshin is a casting agent's dream: a tattooed engineer who wears pretty frocks and sings like Megan Joy! She's a better vocalist than Megan, thankfully, especially on upbeat fare like audition choice The Jackson 5. A

TIAH TOLLIVER: The cause of a two-commercial-break Cowell hissy fit, but she deserved the ado. Tolliver went from sub-Shontelle on "Impossible" to raw-voiced, implacable talent on everything that followed. She's had a full growth arc already; one imagines there's even more to come. A-

L.A. REID: The Def Jam and (now) Epic Records executive discovered Usher, P!nk, Rihanna and roughly a quarter of the radio -- of course he can cull talent. His ear and gravitas translates surprisingly well to the screen, too; a few episodes in and he's already the most credible judge. A

BRIAN BRADLEY: Imagine Jay-Z being Benjamin Buttoned back to his teens. The kid's got more swagger than everyone on the show combined, including judges, audience and hopefuls. Shame everyone (wrongly) calls him a brat. A-

CHERYL COLE: The former Girls Aloud vocalist, immortalized in British tabloids and one Lily Allen song, scored a Stateside judging gig after a stint on the U.K. "X Factor" then lost it because of, depending on who you ask, her contract, her (excellent) Geordie accent or general producer/judge finickiness. Nobody told the camera crew, though, and she appeared on two episodes. They stand among her best work. A-

STACY FRANCIS: A 42-year-old single mother with unfortunate oversinging tendencies (one much-reprised note lasted 2 minutes with all recaps.) That said, her "Summertime" revealed devastating notes not even Fantasia found. B+

PAULA ABDUL: Years of judging Idol taught her well. Abdul's downgraded her antics to lovable, not frightening, and she's consistently the heart of the show, doling out warmth as well as platitudes. Only complaint? Too little screen time. B+

DREW RYNIEWICZ: Introduced as a true Belieber, bedroom shrine and all, but her bubbly "Baby" rendition was no joke. Alas, she's yet to have another breakout moment. B+

MARCUS CANTY: His song choices are uninspired -- although to be fair, only Stevie Wonder was his choice; his "What's Going On" was chosen by the judges. Few left in the competition, however, are more affable. B+

SIMON COWELL: Can Cowell be a credible judge with only celebrity and reputation? Probably, except for L.A. Reid. "The X Factor"'s producers pit their egos against one another about once a week like they're dueling kings from Game of Thrones, but the real battlefield is Cowell's niche as the harsh voice of truth -- a niche that Reid's largely usurped. That said, when Simon's right, few are righter. B

TIGER BUDBILL: Best name of the top 32. His talent doesn't quite rival his moniker, but his twangy acoustic "Billie Jean" reworking almost did. B

STEREO HOGZZ: The best of the often-interchangable groups, these guys (plus their frontman's kid, seen often in B-roll) are lavishly outfitted and meticulously choreographed. Maybe too choreographed. B

SKYELOR ANDERSON: Wants to be a black country singer, but his audition path's been consistently on the fritz: first episode, a backing track snafu; next appearance, forgetting the words to "Desperado." He's still on the show, though, so maybe he'll get luckier. B-

AUDREY TURNER: The most inexplicable omission from the top 32, both on backstory -- she's Ike Turner's ex-wife! -- and on talent. Few remaining contestants have her professionalism. B

STEVE JONES: After hosting a lot of things you haven't heard of unless you watch the BBC or Channel 4, Jones snagged "The X Factor" gig, which so far involves a lot of voiceover and exposition delivered from the passenger's seat of a truck. He's much better than The Voice's Carson Daly, which isn't difficult; sadly, he has yet to demonstrate anything like Ryan Seacrest's host factor. B-

JOSH KRAJCIK: He used to sling burritos, as he'll tell you on every appearance. His voice is good and burly, but Budbill outgrowls him more by the day. B-

DEXTER HEYGOOD: Swears he's the second coming of James Brown, auditioning with two songs (a funkless "Sex Machine" first, then an a cappella "It's A Man's World" that was evidently "being himself." Maybe he's the second coming of a photocopy. C+

CHRIS RENE: Your thoughts on Rene likely fall in line with your thoughts on Gavin DeGraw or ex-Idol contestant Chris Richardson. Earnest soft-rock singer or reedy-voiced C-lister? C

BROCK AND MAKENNA: Makenna is not Brock's lover, and no matter how much romantic teasing and how many longing looks washed over the screen whenever they were on it, "Billie Jean" was not their song, and "The X Factor" was not their Once. C

SIAMEZE FLOYD: It takes only three screechy notes to fell a would-be Prince. Especially when those three screechy notes are ceaselessly televised. C-

SIMONE BATTLE Does her voice, though good, matter when she calls herself "a threesome between a cheerleader, a hipster and a drag queen"? C-

NICOLE SCHERZINGER: The blankest judge; none of her Pussycat Dolls charisma shows at all. Scherzinger was originally slated to co-host, a much better role for her -- but then again, considering how little Steve Jones has to do alone, maybe not. D

GEO GODLY: Even casual watchers remember this guy by nudity if not name; he stripped to (what he claims was) a G-string and sang something called "I'm a Stud" as Paula ran off to retch. Sole upside? If the Parents Television Council doesn't like you, you're doing something right. D-

DILLON LAWSON: Has the dubious honor of probably being the first auditioner anywhere to attempt Lil Wayne's "Swag Surfing." Lacked swag. F

For Popdust's complete "X Factor" coverage, click here.

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