A remarkable event occurred last night on the carefully controlled, eye-popping pop culture marketing machine called The X Factor. In a bizarrely unscripted moment, a human being acted like an actual human being. More than that, more shocking but also more touching, more honestly moving, a little boy acted like a little boy. And he expressed feelings that all of us have felt at some time or another, at every age, however well we’ve managed to conceal those feelings beneath the mask of hard-won, somehow tentative maturity.
Here’s what happened:
Ten acts performed on Wednesday night, the sincere but uninspired eye-candy
girl group, Lakoda Rayne, 60-year older soul crooner Leroy Bell , forty-two year old single mom Stacey Francis, bearded Joe Cocker wannabe Josh Krajcik, weedy but strangely compelling fifteen year old Drew, big voiced belter Melanie Amaro, twelve year old Aretha Franklin clone Rachel Crow, drug ravaged Chris Rene and choirboy boy aspiring R&B smoothie Marcus Canty.
Oh yeah – and Astro.
Fifteen year Brooklyn native Brian Bradley wowed everyone early on in the competition with a self-composed rap song aimed at the suitors circling his attractive single mother, “Don’t look at my Mom!.” It was raw and funny and touching and the kid owned the audience by the end of the number. He’s the only contestant on any of these shows who insists on writing his own material and he has the work ethic of a retail skmall business owner or an Alaskan sled dog. “He could write a whole album in two days,” someone said about him, and I believe it. He’s also endearingly cocky, rewriting P-Diddy and (more audaciously) Eminem in the last several weeks, to fit his own style and circumstances.
He’s had an easy ride so far, but this week he was voted one the bottom two by the audience, and forced into a death-match ‘sing-off’ against the other lowest rated performer, Stacey Francis. I’ve never like her much and it was a foregone conclusion that her impacted self-pitying drama queen act was going to say bye-bye. A shrews adult rapper, which Astro is not, would have sensed the dynamic in the room and ridden out the little glitch in his progress toward the big prize with self-effacing humor. Maybe he wasn’t quite as good as he should have been on Wednesday, it was a bad night for him, but so what – onward. Thank the judges, promise to do better and slide on through.
But Astro is fifteen years old. His feelings were hurt. He didn’t want to perform in the crass career deathmatch with a woman old enough to be his mother. If the fans he thought supported him were willing to throw him away on the basis of one bad performance, he’d rather just go. Who knows, with a kid this smart and appealing, it may have been the first rejection he’s ever gotten – and it was a big one, on National television. Still, he manned up and did his song, but it was another low-water mark. He didn’t want to be there and it showed. He was miserable, and when the judges started berating him for his unprofessional behavior, they brought him to tears.
They had a point, but Astro isn’t a professional performer, he’s a fifteen year old kid way out of his depth and it was sad and troubling but somehow uplifting to see him stumble and take his medicine. I suppose this is the way fifteen year old whiz-kids actually become professionals, but most of them don’t have to do it in front of ten million people.
As far as I’m concerned, I like him more than ever now. He did what he had to do and took what was coming and I have a feeling he’ll be back much stronger next week.
I also want to buy him an ice cream cone and give him a hug.
I’ve never felt that way about a rapper before.