LOST and Found: A Memory of Janelle

If we don’t live together, we’re going to die alone. — Jack Shephard, LOST

It was May 23, 2010.

I threw a LOST series finale party at my Berkeley apartment for eight or so of my friends.

We feasted on island-inspired pulled pork and had mangoes and pineapples for dessert. We drank Dharma chardonnay and ate Dharma fish biscuits I baked for the occasion. You know, from that time when Jack, Kate, and Sawyer were held captive in polar bear cages?

The point is, we went all out in celebration of one of my all-time favorite TV shows.

The DHARMA fish biscuits were tastier than they appeared.

*Light thematic LOST finale spoilers to follow, but come on, if you haven’t watched LOST by now, will you ever?*

We gathered in front the television, awaiting answers to its myriad mysteries. As the finale neared its end, the show revealed its existential beating heart. In essence, the castaways needed to find each other in order to move on. Over the course of six seasons, the journeys of these characters led them all to be in one place, together.

LOST is all about the people in our lives and it celebrates our shared experiences. While we can’t always control what happens to us, we have each other.

To be sure, the finale left questions unanswered. However, in the grand scheme of things, those details become insignificant. It was less about the secrets of the Easter eggs and literary references, and more about the truth in finding value in our loved ones.

What matters most, LOST emphasized, is the people we care for. It’s about the journey we take with them. It’s every life that has made an impact on ours. We carry these bonds with us to the end. The message becomes clear: it’s truly better to live together than to die alone.

In those last moments of the show, I thought about all the people with whom I shared my LOST viewing journey: from my mother, to my roommates, to my friends, to the podcasting community. I was instantly flooded with memories.

I was punched in the gut by an overwhelming cathartic wave and was left crumpled in tears, lying in the fetal position on the floor of my apartment.

Janelle Jovellanos was there right by my side. She took me into her loving embrace. For what could have been minutes, as the credits rolled, I sobbed in her arms.

We had gone down this path together, and here she was, one of the people I cared most about in this world, giving me the support I needed. She knew how much our shared journey meant to me. She was always there for me. She was always there for others.

Janelle, myself, and Jessica in a LOST-esque pose.

Cut to seven years later. May 5, 2017.

I’m sharing this story in a eulogy for Janelle with her close friends and family members.

I tell them that the woman who held me tightly as I wept in front of our friends was the most generous person I have ever met. I go on to share more about my best friend.

About how I first met Janelle in the spring of 2006, my freshman year at Cal, in a student group called Theatre Rice.

How that fall, we were elected co-course coordinators of Theatre Rice and built a safe and loving space for our peers. How it was through leading theatre games that I first keyed into Janelle’s passion for teaching.

How I was honored to witness her grow her talent over the years, from volunteering for a crisis hotline, to leading an after-school reading program, to teaching English in Korea, to teaching elementary school in Oakland and Los Angeles.

How she radiated a boundless capacity for empathy and love. How that in Janelle, we were given a gift. A true gift of love and light.

How it is my honor to continue her legacy of kindness. It is through that love that she will be remembered.

Janelle recreating the LOST scene of Sun’s liberation.

The day I first learned about Janelle’s passing, I watched an episode of Jane the Virgin to distract myself from the pain. It hit me harder than I could have ever expected.

A character on the show had reservations about speaking publicly on the devastating loss of a loved one. She was reassured it would get easier to talk about in time, but she was afraid of the loved one becoming just an anecdote.

She was given beautiful advice that couldn’t have been more perfect for me to hear in the moment:

You’re in a long-term relationship with grief. But it has to evolve. And it’s okay to keep letting go. You have to.

That simple line of dialogue brought me to tears. In hearing those words, I knew my life would never be the same.

With Janelle’s passing barely a month removed, I’m not yet ready to let go.

I’m in a liminal phase, between wanting to wallow in my grief and wanting to cut it down with a sword. But I’m heartened by the fact that I am not entering into this new long-term relationship alone.

I have those who have been alongside me on this journey. We live together. We celebrate Janelle together. She lives on in each of us, through every laugh, through every act of kindness.

You will always be with me, Janelle. I will share your spirit with the world.

This Is Our Now: Our 30 Favorite American Idol Performances

We’ve reached #IdolFinale week, and as I write this post, 50+ Idol alumni are rehearsing in Los Angeles for the finale on Thursday. Here’s a pretty millennial sentence for you: American Idol’s Snapchat is taking us backstage of the finale rehearsals, and thanks to alumni shout-outs from Season 2’s Kimberly Locke, to Season 6’s Melinda Doolittle, and more, I am instantly nostalgic about these past 15 years. Looking back at Idol’s tenure and re-watching old clips on YouTube, it’s dawned on me just how much this show has been a part of my life.

I’ll miss the sense of community Idol formed, from the engaged viewership voting week to week, to music and TV critics and bloggers, to the contestants themselves. What makes this show so special is that we, the viewers, have a sense of ownership of these contestants. We’ve supported and invested in their artistic growth. We journeyed along with them from their obscurity to stardom. We fell in love with their stories and for a brief moment of confetti, the American Dream felt real.

For myself and my Idol partner-in-crime, Jonathan Yu, we’ve lived and breathed Idol for half our lives. We’ve had lengthy Gchat debates after each episode. We’ve blogged and blogged and blogged about this show. We auditioned for Idol Season 10 together at AT&T Park. We’ve attended Idol tours and concerts. We participated in online Fantasy Leagues. I even won an iPod Nano in a Fantasy League once… which I traded in for cash to buy Idol concert tickets. Between the two of us, we’ve seen all the Idol winners perform live, excluding Ruben Studdard, Taylor Hicks, Phillip Phillips, and Nick Fradiani (sorry, boys!). So yes, we’re Idol geeks, and my heart belongs to this silly show.

So without further ado, here are our 30 favorite American Idol performances: 15 from me, 15 from the other Jonathan. You know, to celebrate Idol’s 15 seasons.

This isn’t a list of the 30 “Best” American Idol performances, mind you. These are the moments that have stayed with us all these years and will for years to come, until Idol is inevitably rebooted.

American Idol Fave Performances

JONATHAN AMORES’ 15 FAVORITE PERFORMANCES

1. Kris Allen: “Heartless” (Season 8)

Seasons 7 and 8 were peak Idol. The show didn’t just find a great group of singers those years, but it showcased a diverse range of memorable musicians who delivered surprises in different styles each week. For me, Idol reached the apex at Season 8’s Top 3 night. Kris Allen was going up against the brilliant risk-taker Adam Lambert and the perpetually frustrating Danny Gokey. The week before, Danny performed an abysmal “Dream On” and miraculously survived elimination. If he managed to outlast the sublime Allison Iraheta with that train-wreck, he would certainly derail Kris. No pressure, Kris…

“Heartless” was the right song at the right time. Not only was it a killer acoustic performance, it was a seismic shift that rocked Idol viewers. Kris’ a cappella intro into soared through the air and he began to accompany himself on guitar. A few more bars in, and you realize, “Oh damn, this entire song is acoustic.” Kris was making a statement. “Heartless” grew in intensity from there, creating a beautiful arc, rising up to some killer high notes. When the song ended, a smile registered on Kris’ face. He did it. The game changed. Kris made it into the finale. In fact, this was moment he won the entire season. Never underestimate the underdog.

2. Haley Reinhart: “Bennie and the Jets” (Season 10)

I had to impose a limit on this list: only one performance per contestant. If I didn’t self-impose, I’d have listed Haley Reinhart’s “I (Who Have Nothing),” “House of the Rising Sun,” “What Is and What Will Never Be,” AND “Bennie and the Jets.” To put it bluntly, Haley is a magical siren and we are #blessed to have her in our lives.

Here’s a little truth-bomb for you, I HATED Haley’s performances up until this point in the competition. I just couldn’t wrap my ears around her slinky growl or her jazz-influenced style. That all changed with “Bennie and the Jets.” It was like watching a beautiful rocket ship blast off to the moon. There was so much joy emanating from her being as she bit into every “Benniiiiiiie!” She owned the stage with every confident step and arm wave and everything just clicked. Haley had arrived and “Bennie and the Jets” instantly became my ringtone.

3. David Cook: “Billie Jean” (Season 7)

David Cook is the most influential American Idol winner, not through his post-Idol career, but in the way he approached his performances on the show. He made theme nights work for him, rather than molding his songs around the often stodgy themes. David flipped songs on their heads, maintaining and strengthening his artistic integrity, while staying true to the songs’ lyrical content. His bold approach to Idol performances paved the way for artists like Kris Allen and Adam Lambert the following season, all the way to Season 15’s MacKenzie Bourg.

The judges love to use the phrase “Making the song your own,” and with “Billie Jean,” David did just that. He took Michael Jackson’s R&B dance-pop classic and transformed it into a commanding and haunting ballad. He imbued every lyric with swagger and amplified it with his vocal prowess. Each of his renditions were a surprise. David Cook bent the competition to his strengths and inspired contestants for years to come.

4. Carrie Underwood: “Alone” (Season 4)

As a contestant on the show, Carrie Underwood’s Idol performances were underwhelming. She had all the charisma of a farm girl who had never stepped onto an airplane before the show. After seeing two of her arena tours, I can attest that she’d definitely grown into her confident persona. Her songs on Idol were well-sung, yet wholly unremarkable. Well, all performances except one.

When Carrie tackled Heart’s classic anthem, she instantly lit up the screen. Powerful vocals aside, “Alone” was all about three things: the hair, the smoky eye, and the power stance. After her electrifying performance, Simon Cowell made his prophetic critique: “Not only will you win this show, you will sell more records than any other previous Idol winner.” He was right and the rest was history.

5. LaToya London: “All By Myself” (Season 3)

LaToya London was the first singer on American Idol that I claimed as my own. I voted for her each week, as she delivered flawless performance after flawless performance. I became defensive on her behalf when she was criticized for not having a dynamic enough personality. I was utterly heartbroken at her elimination, falling just short of the finals in fourth place, behind the over-her-head Jasmine Trias. LaToya was the least flashy of the Three Divas (LaToya London, Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia Barrino), and I loved her even more for that. She was my powerhouse singer.

LaToya broke onto the scene during the semi-finals with a jaw-dropping rendition “All By Myself.” Her astonishingly clear vocals, stunning grace, and profound emotional resonance aimed straight to my heart. Not to mention, she was from Oakland. Bay Area REPRESENT.

6. Jena Irene: “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (Season 13)

I can’t help falling in love with Jena Irene’s suave, stripped-down arrangement. The way she envelopes you with her voice while accompanying herself on the piano—it’s truly breathtaking. The Queen did the King proud.

7. Kelly Clarkson: “Natural Woman” (Season 1)

There’s a reason that Idol is the House That Clarkson Built. Her confidence and vocal prowess in “Natural Woman” are unmatched. And that whistle note. My God.

8. Allison Iraheta & Adam Lambert: “Slow Ride” (Season 8)

“Slow Ride” is the best duet that has ever been performed on American Idol. Granted, the bar was never very high, but this tag-team of two powerhouse rockers is pure perfection.

9. La’Porsha Renae: “Diamonds” (Season 15)

It’s such a thrill to watch La’Porsha Renae perform. Her runs and phrasing are insane and wonderfully unexpected, yet she is always in control of her powerful instrument.

10. Allison Iraheta: “Cry Baby” [Elimination] (Season 8)

Yes, picking this song is a cheat, but this performance is SO good it has to make my list. Allison fuels her send-off with the pain and heartbreak of her undeserved elimination. (GTFO Danny Gokey smirking!) Just look at the tears in her eyes. Allison just lets it go and leaves it ALL on the Idol stage.

11. Blake Lewis: “You Give Love a Bad Name” (Season 6)

Blake Lewis knocks it out of the park with his fresh, invigorating take on a Bon Jovi classic. His beatboxing tricks may come across as cheesy now, but they jolted life into the Season 6 finale.

12. David Archuleta: “Imagine” (Season 7)

Archie is just pure vocal honey. His voice is rich, creamy butter. He is all puppy metaphors wrapped up in a fuzzy blanket with a little red bow on top.

13. Avalon Young: “Yo (Excuse Me Miss)” (Season 15)

This performance just puts a smile on my face. Avalon Young is a refreshing breeze of flirty R&B swag. She exudes a coolness unlike any other contestant in Idol‘s fifteen seasons.

14. Skylar Laine: “Stay with Me” (Season 11)

Skylar Laine is a firecracker, plain and simple. She feels the music so deeply, she just HAS to stomp her feet and shake her hands. Her unbridled energy needs to be released into the world.

15. Naima Adedapo: “Umbrella” (Season 10)

Fearlessness. Pure fearlessness. In one song, Naima dances. Naima raps a self-written rap. Naima shouts, “BOOM! FIYAH!” I mean, come ON. How can you not be entertained?!

JONATHAN YU’S 15 FAVORITE PERFORMANCES

1. Haley Reinhart: “House of the Rising Sun” (Season 10)

Everyone loves an underdog, and no one embodied that better on Idol than Haley. While I have liked her since her over-the-top but fantastic rendition of “God Bless the Child” in Hollywood, it was easy to see why she was not exactly a fan favorite in the first few weeks of live performances. Thankfully, she somehow managed to stick around until her tide-changing performance of “Bennie and the Jets.”

On Top 5 night she sang the bejesus out of an unreleased (at the time) Lady Gaga track, “You and I,” which earned only lukewarm comments from the judges (who would later go on to bus her harder than any other contestant). This made the revenge even sweeter when she came back in round two with one of the best performances on Idol ever – “House of the Rising Sun.” It’s a comfort to know that she is gaining viral success thanks to her frequent collaborations post-Idol with Postmodern Jukebox and unlikely partnership with Extra Gum (and no thanks to revisionist JLo).

2. Jasmine Trias: “Inseparable” (Season 3)

Back before the age of YouTube, I used to frequent Idol forums to read up on the latest Idol news and get MP3 rips of performances (S/O to idolforums.com!). At the beginning of Season 3, there was a whisper of a Hawaiian girl who really wowed the judges at her first audition, but did not get any airtime before the semifinals. I was instantly drawn to her because here was someone getting buzz who looked like me. In an age where Asian American representation in the media boiled down to, ironically, William Hung from earlier in the same season, I just wanted her to be good so badly.

While her initial outing during semifinals week did not elicit a “Wow” as much as a “This girl has potential,” her second live performance, on the Top 12 episode, made me so incredibly happy. I had my doubts about her choice of “Inseparable” by Natalie Cole (RIP), since I loved Kimberly Locke’s rendition of it from the previous season. However, as soon as she opened her mouth, I shut mine, and then opened again as my jaw hit the floor during the chorus. This is probably the most excited I have ever been about an Idol performance in my life. #Representation. It’s a pity she went on a steady decline after and overstayed her welcome, but INSEPARABLE, y’all!

3. Allison Iraheta & Adam Lambert: “Slow Ride” (Season 8)

Duets on Idol can be a really hit or miss sort of affair. And on the first night they were introduced, we saw both sides of that. On one hand, a duet can bring out the worst in the contestants, turning a performance into a shouting match (see: “Renegade”). On the other hand, when the two contestants are in sync, it’s one of the most joyous things to witness.

Case in point, when Adam and Allison teamed up for “Slow Ride,” they produced something greater than the sum of its already great parts. While duets are more often duds than not, I am just thankful that this performance opened up the doors for the Jessica/Joshua and Caleb/Jena duets that followed in its footstep. Let’s just forget this ever happened.

4. Fantasia Barrino: “I Believe” (Season 3)

I’ll be the first to admit that, while I appreciated her talents, Fantasia was not my go to diva of Season 3 initially (go JHud!). Heck, she wasn’t even my second go to diva of the season (Go LaToya!). Her distinctly rough yet nasally tone peeved me, along with many others, if internet comments are to be believed.

Somewhere along the way, though, I started to understand the appeal in her raw and passionate vocals. “Summertime” remains the best Idol performance of all time, in my opinion, but it’s her coronation song that made me cry (but not out loud!). Idol winner singles are usually trite and corny affairs, but she made it a soulful and uplifting anthem. American Idol trades in inspirational stories, and hers is one most hopeful.

5. David Cook: “The World I Know” (Season 7)

Season 7 was a pivotal season for Idol. It was the last season before Kara DioGuardi would introduce the word “artistry” into the her critiques (read: every critique). In an era where the norm was essentially vocalists singing karaoke (granted, VERY good vocalists singing VERY good karaoke), David came in and broke the mold.

With a string of innovative performances (“Hello,” Billie Jean,” and “Always Be My Baby” come to mind), he forever changed the game. His mic-drop moment, for me, came in the finale when he chose to end with “The World I Know” instead of a reprise, much to the chagrin of Simon. The haunting and beautiful choice was the perfect ending for an Idol run that defied expectations.

6. Sonika Vaid: “Bring Me to Life” (Season 15)

One of the prettiest voices to grace the Idol stage. This performance lived up to its name and BROUGHT. ME. LIFE. It’s a shame that she went the way of Jasmine Trias afterwards though.

7. Jennifer Hudson: “Weekend in New England” (Season 3)

It seemed like she was finally on track to go far after her spectacular performance of “Circle of Life,” but alas, it was not to be. Her final Idol performance gave me goosebumps for days. Still the best pure belting voices on Idol ever.

8. Tamyra Gray: “A House Is Not A Home” (Season 1)

While I did not watch Season 1 when it was on, I went back and re-watched most of Tamyra’s clips before Season 2 started. This was a perfect performance, and her boot was the controversy that put Idol on the map for many people, including myself.

9. Kelly Clarkson: “Stuff Like That There” (Season 1)

After proving she can sing pretty much any Aretha Franklin song, it was unexpected to hear her sing this song, and sing it flawlessly. It goes to show that Kelly Clarkson can, in fact, sing ANYTHING.

10. Jena Irene: “Can’t Help Falling in Love” (Season 13)

When it comes to piano ballads, Jena is the queen. This was moving and so perfectly suited for her unique and powerful voice.

11. LaToya London: “Don’t Rain On My Parade” (Season 3)

As far as I know, this was the one and only time Idol let a contestant do two songs back to back. Following “Too Close For Comfort,” which could be career best for any other contestant, she proceeded to take it home with “Don’t Rain On My Parade,” which remains one of the most perfect vocal performances on Idol ever.

12. Elliott Yamin: “Moody’s Mood For Love” (Season 5)

Jazz is a bit underrepresented on Idol, but thank goodness for Elliott, who managed to completely nail this incredibly difficult song. Boy’s got SOUL.

13. Sarina-Joi Crowe: “Mama Knows Best” (Season 14)

The entire performance was like a vocal high-kick, and then she finishes it off with an actual high-kick. *Mic-drop*

14. Carrie Underwood: “Alone” (Season 4)

The only Idol performance of Carrie’s that a normal person would remember. This performance sealed the already-sealed deal for her, and inspired too many pale imitations to this performance on later seasons (save Allison Iraheta’s also-fantastic rendition).

15. Kris Allen: “Ain’t No Sunshine” (Season 8)

This performance propelled him from “great contestant” to “contender.” The finale reprise was somehow even better than the first show-stopping performance.

What I’m Watching/Ditching in the Fall 2012 TV Season

With the 2012 Emmy Awards behind us, the 2012/2013 television season officially begins this week. Here’s a look at what I’ll be tuning into this fall and what I have already deleted off of my DVR. (Last season, I said goodbye to The Office and The Amazing Race.)

What I’m Watching:

Survivor: Philippines – Returned 9/19
Survivor is unabashedly one of my favorite television series of all time. I love the intense competition, the high drama, and the sheer chaos of it all. After the premiere episode of its 25th(!) season, this fall proves to be no exception. Survivor: Philippines features a solid cast of big personalities (including The Facts of Life‘s Lisa “Blair” Whelchel and baseball MVP Jeff Kent) and an interesting twist. The contestants are split into three tribes and each tribe features a returning player who were medically evacuated in their previous seasons. It’s fascinating to see how well or how poorly these men have integrated into the tribes. I’m keeping my eye out for Mike Skupin, who famously fell into a fire in Survivor: The Australian Outback. I’m also a fan of Denise, the sex therapist, who brings a leveled-head to the game and formed an unlikely alliance with Malcolm, the hunky bartender.

Parks and Recreation – Returned 9/20
All hail network television’s best comedy! And while we’re at it, all hail Amy Poehler, who has been robbed the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress two years running! There simply is no show on television with a greater love for its characters and the world they inhabit, and in today’s television landscape, this love is a breath of fresh air. This season promises great opportunities for transformative moments true to these characters (Ben in Washington D.C.! April as his intern! Andy as a policeman?!) and I look forward to taking the journey with all of them.

The Mindy Project – Debuted 9/25
Mindy Kaling stars as Mindy Lahiri, a thirtysomething OB/GYN, a woman obsessed with romantic comedies, wrapped up in a romantic comedy of her own. “I’m basically Sandra Bullock!” Mindy proclaims in the absurdly charming pilot. This FOX comedy has great potential with its zippy writing and refreshing characters, especially in the winningly abrasive Chris Messina as her foil and fellow doctor (Will they? Won’t they? Cliché?) And seriously, who doesn’t love Mindy Kaling?! Hers is a distinct voice sorely needed in today’s television environment.

30 Rock – Returning 10/4
30 Rock’s sixth season was one of its strongest to date, fully redeeming itself from the staleness that had pervaded the show in the couple of seasons prior. As Liz Lemon grows older, she even begins to grow wiser. The show’s narrative focus became sharper last season (even giving Kenneth a worthy storyline), as did the levels of absurdity. And now we’re now primed to enter the final season with grand sendoff. Plus, JONATHAN’S BACK!

Nashville – Debuting 10/10
I’m really looking forward to this country music drama. Connie Britton as a struggling country legend versus Hayden Panettiere as a feisty up-and-comer? I am so there for this battle of the divas.

The Walking Dead – Returning 10/14
The Walking Dead made my naughty list at the end of last year thanks to its spinning narrative wheels and lifeless, bloated dialogue. But as with 30 Rock, the last couple episodes of the season showed some promises of a return to form, raising the stakes immensely and excising dead character weight. Now with the upcoming introductions of the characters of The Governor and Michonne, I’m back on the zombiewagon.

American Horror Story: Asylum – Debuting 10/17
I can’t handle scary stuff for the life of me, but I’m inexplicably excited for the second iteration of FX’s scarefest. Nazis, and nuns, and aliens. Oh, my! As with any Ryan Murphy creation, there is bound to be a whole universe of crazy to explore, especially one that deals with Murphy’s favorite thematic touchstone of religion. American Horror Story: Asylum also heralds the acting debut of Adam Levine, which alone could be worth the price of a season pass.

Community – Returning 10/19
This summer saw Community undergo a fundamental and life-altering change: the firing of its creator and showrunner, Dan Harmon. Whether or not Community will survive the shakeup with its comedic integrity intact in this truncated (and possibly final) season remains to be seen, but there is no doubt I’ll be tuning in to support the Greendale students, and of course, Dean Pelton.

Top Chef: Seattle – Returning 11/7
Top Chef: Texas was the reality show’s weakest season, so I’m a bit hesitant to put it on my to-watch list. The most recent season featured too many formulaic episodes with challenges emphasizing unnecessary twists that got in the way of actual cooking. Top Chef: Seattle promises to reverse this trend and go “back to the basics.” I sure hope so, or I might have to tell the series to pack its knives and go.

What I’m Ditching:

Glee
At the end of last season, my co-workers and I made a pact to never return to the world of Glee. Thankfully, we are all still honoring this pact. There is no more need to complain about the extremely whiplashed nature of its storylines the next morning. No more need to eyeroll at characters whose wildly inconsistent behavior serve only plot function, not character development. No more need to suffer through moments of alternating overbearing meanness and saccharine sermons. No more.

Modern Family
Yes, Modern Family walked away from the Emmys with its third straight award for Outstanding Comedy Series, but I have simply had enough of this show. The first season was uniformly excellent: the acting was sharp, and the writing even sharper. But now after its uneven third season, it’s the writing that I have the most problems with. I simply don’t feel like I’m watching characters anymore, but rather mouthpieces for the Modern Family writers, who constantly shout for attention, “Look at how clever we are!” The wittiness of the show is now tiresome and has become too on-the-nose by half. In addition, the writers have seemingly written the same character beats over and over again. I feel like I know the extent of what the characters can say or do. It’s been a hilarious time well spent, but it’s time spent enough with the Pritchett-Dunphy clan.

The X-Factor SF Auditions: What you didn’t see on TV

I attended a live taping of The X-Factor “San Francisco” auditions at the Oracle Arena in Oakland in June of 2012. As you can imagine, when the SF auditions aired on television on September 12th & 13th, everything that happened in the arena did not make on air. In fact, my taping that lasted three hours was one of six scheduled for San Francisco. A lot of interesting (and some not-so-interesting) stuff was left on the cutting room floor.

I’m sure the question on yours and everyone’s mind is: How was Britney Spears actually as a judgefree of the wizardry of TV editors?

On television, Brit Brit appeared somewhat at ease, rattling off a variety of “No”s, offering tempered encouragement when needed, and delivering barely catty quips, thanks to a slickly edited montage set to “Toxic.” Simon Cowell even went so far as to proclaim, “And everybody thinks I’m the mean one!” It’s clear by these edits that the producers would like us to think that Britney can deliver honest critiques and still maintain her likability in spite of her bluntness. But, of course, her real test will come during the pressure of the live shows…

My view in the Oracle Arena: Can you spot tiny Simon, Britney, Demi, and L.A.?

Live in the Oracle Arena, I would say that Britney was probably completely lucid only 25% of the time. She rarely was the first judge to speak, and mostly recycled the other judges’ comments, taking cues from their reactions, and substituting in a word or two for her own critiques. Many of her responses were a wooden single sentence line reading, and it didn’t seem to put much effort into making a connection with the contestants, as opposed to spunky little sister Demi Lovato (she was a fine and refreshing judge, by the way) or the take charge attitude of Simon Cowell.

It’s Britney, bitch.

However, there were flashes of triumph when B. Spears was actually pretty pointed with her remarks. The absolute highlight for me came during the final auditioner of our taping: a woman with a raspy voice who belted, of all things, “The Star Spangled Banner.” She made the crowd stand up as she sang the audience was eating up all her over-singing. I, on the other hand, couldn’t stand her. When it came to the critiques, Britney was the lone judge in opposition to her singer. Against the crowd’s loud and vocal opinion, Ms. Spears called her singing “rusty” and my heart swelled with pride. You go, Brit!

And boy, could Britney lay down a “NO” to the singers. A single word: sweet, harsh, and to the point.

Britney Spears recognizes Don Philip

The biggest watercooler moment of the San Francisco auditions, nay of the entire premiere week of The X-Factor, was when Britney Spears was confronted with her former duet partner, Don Philip. The two singers sang together on the song “I Will Still Love You” on Britney’s debut album over ten years ago.

On television, Britney immediately recognized Don Philip. When asked by Simon what happened to him in these past ten years, he broke down crying and told Britney “I never thought I would see you again.” He sang Beyoncé’s “Halo,” but failed to make it through. To the swells of sad music, Britney told Don gently, “I feel like through the years maybe you’ve gone through a lot of hardships and battles, but your voice really isn’t up to the bar of the standards of The X-Factor and what we want.” Offstage, Don proceeded to have an intense meltdown.

Of course, this segment was intensely edited and nowhere near as ridiculously intense as it was live in person. What you DIDN’T see is that when Simon asked what he had been doing in the past ten years, Don Philip talked and talked and talked at length about how he’s changed as a person, using tiring vague generalities. Don avoided answering Simon’s question directly, much to the chagrin of the audience who became antsy, booing and hissing.

After more pressure from questions by Simon and L.A. Reid, Don finally opened up and announced to the arena that he is gay. The crowd applauded and cheered in support. Don looked clearly troubled by everything and said to Britney, “I didn’t think you thought it was OK that I am gay.” Britney was quick to respond that this was not the case, and said that it was fine that he is gay. Don then continued to talk in circles and L.A. told him that he was making Britney feel “uncomfortable.”

Don Philip: 32, vocal coach

At that point, the atmosphere in the arena was pretty tense and Simon jumped on the mic and gave him a speech about how this wasn’t the place for this and that Don needed to focus on this audition. Don then continued to ramble on and the crowd began to chant “SING A SONG! SING A SONG!” Eventually Don stopped talking and proceeded to sing Beyoncé’s “Halo.” Simon then gave a pretty tough critique and the judges dismissed him. After Don left the stage, it was clear from looking at the television monitors that Britney was visibly confused and uncomfortable. Don Philip’s entire audition was an intense fifteen minutes or so.

Why were all references to Don Philip’s sexual orientation excised out of the televised airing? According to a FOX statement:

The judges were not given any information at all about Mr. Philip prior to his audition. The personal information that Mr. Philip quickly volunteered at the start of his audition was a surprise to the judges, who asked what had happened during the past 10 years, as they were interested in Mr. Philip’s career. While we understand his decision to discuss his personal life, Mr. Philip’s sexual orientation was not something that any of the judges or producers felt was relevant to this audition,” the statement read. “When advertising and promoting open auditions, thousands of people are informed about the ways to enter the show. Mr. Philip himself chose to enter for a chance to win a five million dollar recording contract.”

Read into that statement what you will… And watch Don Philip’s audition as it aired on The X-Factor: