I just finished watching the rest of last night’s episode of The X Factor and it occurred to me that, for the most part, I’ve become somewhat desensitized by exceptional singing talent. I don’t even know exactly when this happened. Possibly three or four seasons of American Idol ago. Once upon a time, if a contestant performed especially well, my eyes would start to leak uncontrollably. I have no idea if this is a common condition or if there’s just something wrong (or especially girly) with me, but it used to happen more times than I care to admit during certain competition series.
It’s been a while since I felt literally moved to tears by a performance, and I really don’t believe it’s because the talent over the last few years is lacking. I’m convinced I’ve become more or less indifferent toward the immensity of the talent of the people featured on these shows, likely because there are so many contestants and so many talent shows on TV these days. Last night proved to be an exception when Astro took the stage.
At 15 years old, Astro is a budding rap and hip hop artist who has proven to be very capable at his craft. He has a natural charisma about him and just enough ego to show us he knows exactly where he wants to go, but not so much that he'd be considered cocky. He’s not too cool to say nice things about his mother, and he’s not afraid to take risks. I’m not 100% on whether or not this kid writes some, most or all of the lyrics to the songs he performs on The X Factor (typically, he performs new lyrics to familiar songs), but he performs like he owns the song every week.
“I’ll Be Missing You” was a tribute to the Notorious B.I.G. Recorded by Puff Daddy, Faith Evans and 112 back in 1997, sampling The Police’s “Every Breath You Take.” Last night Astro reinvented the tune once again, turning the tribute into a love song about Hip Hop. Check it out below.
This is not the first time this kid has hit it out of the park, but it is the first time any performance on this show (or any recent talent competition) has inspired an actual, emotional reaction from me. The X Factor has made the practice of kicking up the performance three or four notches by including back-up singers, dancers and a big light show on the screens in the background. In some cases, the effect, which I assume is meant to give the contestants a more professional shine, is so overwhelming that it washes out the talent. Or it’s just a complete mess. More subdued visual set-ups seem to work the best in most cases.
Astro’s performance last night proved to be an exception in that regard. Yes, all of the bells and whistles were there, but for once, the back-up matched (but didn’t outshine) the talent, and it actually enhanced the performance. It was arranged perfectly, with the lights coming up just as Astro announces “Your boy’s bringing hip hop back.” Ok, maybe flashing the names of dearly departed hip hop artists (Jam Master Jay, TLC’s Left Eye, Tupac, B.I.G, Heavy D, etc) was a bit on the gimmicky side, but it worked, especially as it served to push the message behind Astro’s words. Astro's song seemed to be as much a promise as it was a tribute. It not only makes me want him to win, but I also want to buy his songs and watch him be amazing in a Pepsi commercial.
There are a number of extremely talented contestants on X Factor, but Astro’s performance demonstrated the true potential for the series, especially given how underrepresented hip hop is on these types of shows. There's more than one reason to watch The X Factor, and Astro's a big one. If nothing more, tune in to watch this kid at the start of his career.