This Wednesday on The X Factor, the Top 4 will square off with two songs each: One they’ve chosen with the help of their mentor, and one chosen for them by voters in the show’s online “Pepsi Challenge.” The same subtlety-allergic online voters, it would seem, who chose “rotating turntable,” “circus theme,” “hip hop” and “laser show” as the required elements for that technicolor nightmare of a “Pepsi Choice” number a few weeks back.
Beyond having the talent to get on to the show in the first place, song choice is the trickiest part for a performer on The X Factor, or any singing competition show for that matter. Which explains why it’s the most often debated element of almost every X Factor performance among the judges. (That, and it’s also the element that allows the judges to insult each other, which they clearly love.) Voice, ability, tone, the week’s theme, the need to “show diversity” or “challenge oneself” or “show another side,” — all of these and more (like whether the show can license the song, which we’re ignoring for our purposes here) need to be accounted for when picking a number.
You can have all the talent and artfulness in the world, but if you pick a stinker of a song that doesn’t put those on display, you’re probably doomed. And it’s all completely subjective. As seen by some, her stagnating song choices led to Drew’s elimination. And I’m pretty sure sub-par song choice contributed to Rachel Crow‘s low voting numbers last week, even after many weeks of stellar performances. All it takes is one bad pick, and you could be sent packing.
Which is why it’s so interesting and dangerous — intentionally so, I’d imagine — that the X Factor has combined the two factors that led to Rachel’s demise (song choice and America’s votes) into the “challenge” for the top 4. If the music-industry-pro mentors and finalists can’t even pick the right songs, how is an internet poll supposed to do any better? It’s like “challenging” a NASCAR driver to win a race in a clunker chosen by a random stranger on craigslist. Like I said: Dangerous. And probably doomed.
I didn’t vote in the Pepsi Challenge, so I don’t know what or how many song options the voters were given. For the finalists’ sakes, I hope they were “select” and “few.” And we won’t find out which songs won the election until the top four sing them on Wednesday. But if I could go back in time and stuff the ballot box — or create the ballot — these are the songs I’d choose for Josh, Melanie, Chris and Marcus.
Of course, these too could totally end up being stinkers on stage. If Simon Cowell hasn’t even mastered the art of song choice yet, I shouldn’t be so arrogant as to think I’d nail it on my first try. But, if nothing else, these were fun to think about, and I encourage you to share your own dream song choices in the comments.
Josh Krajcik: “Use Me” by Bill Withers
I’ve been itching to hear Josh cover Bill Withers since we first heard his rich, raspy, soulful voice in auditions. And at first I was tempted by Withers’ first and best-known hit, “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone,” which I still think Josh would slaughter (in the best way). But I think he’d absolutely own “Use Me,” with its funky hook and sexy, rip-roaring vocal. Josh excels when he can bring his booming vocal to an emotionally charged but not musically overcomplicated track, and “Use Me” fits that bill (and this Bill) perfectly. It’s angry, it’s charged, it would allow Josh to bellow and roar like he does best, and it’s still so damn fun to listen to.
Melanie Amaro: “Where Did Our Love Go?” by The Supremes
This one takes a little stretch of the imagination, but hear me out. So far, Melanie has favored contemporary ballads by big-name divas, which have served her and her mighty voice well. But I’d like to see her loosen up a bit and have some fun. That doesn’t mean she should go modern or up-tempo, though. Actually, I’d much rather see her go retro, with this R&B hit by the Supremes. It’s playful, but not flimsy, and flirty, but still elegant and classic. Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen Melanie’s personality blossom, but on stage she’s still so serious. With this, she’d get to show that she doesn’t take herself too seriously, which (and I don’t know about you) is a sure-fire way into my heart. Plus, The Supremes fit Melanie’s criteria, as they’d seem to be: Diana Ross is nothing if not an iconic diva, and the song could still accommodate a few of those big, ceiling-shaking vocal moments that a real Melanie performance needs.
Chris Rene: “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley
Chris is a real wildcard. I sometimes say that his style doesn’t lend itself very easily to covers. But then I remember how, just on this show, he’s covered everything from The Carpenters to Sly and the Family Stone to Coolio, and not one has been outright cringe-worthy, though none have yet to compare to either of his original songs. Chris just needs a song that gives him lots of space to be himself, which is a delightfully unpredictable mix of soft and hard, and he needs a song that lets him engage with the audience and send a message. I think he could put his own spin on Cee Lo’s track that might be a little strange, but refreshingly so. Maybe a little like Ray Lamontagne’s take on it. But more … well, Chris.
Marcus Canty: “As” by Stevie Wonder
Poor Marcus. The odds aren’t great that he’ll survive through the week — three straight weeks in the bottom two will do that — but the boy can still sing like a dream. I think he and L.A. have just gotten so caught up in theatrics (which, granted, Marcus excels at, but America doesn’t seem to enjoy them as much as the show thinks we do) that they’ve forgotten what made everyone fall in love with Marcus in the first place, which was his sweet audition with Stevie Wonder’s “I Wish.” So why not another Stevie song for the road? If Marcus is gonna go out now (which he might not! Stranger things have happened!), this is a beautiful song that he’d do beautifully with. And if he sang this and survived into the finals, he’d know for sure that Stevie Wonder is his good luck charm.
Those are my picks. What songs would you like to hear the X Factor final four?
(Image courtesy of FOX)