The weakest element of "The Four" is in how we were introduced to the original "Final Four." The hook of this latest reality singing competition is that the final four has already been chosen by superstar judges DJ Khaled, Sean "Diddy Combs, Meghan Trainor and Charlie Walk (he's a record executive). All of the other contestants are then challengers, trying to dethrone one of The Four and take their seat for the finale.
It's a fun twist, and does a great job of keeping the stakes raised for every single performance, but we didn't really get a chance to know our original Fab Four. Why not have them each perform a solo song at the top of the program so we can see what they're about and maybe start to get attached? Instead, they all performed a group number where nobody stood out and they all came across as bland "Voice"/"Idol" contestant clones.
And because we weren't given a chance to connect with The (Original) Four, these early challenges are essentially some nobody against some other nobody. Down the road, when we're invested in their stories and their journey, we'll be even more excited about these battles. We've already got favorites emerging (we see you, Saeed!)
Calm Down Producers!
Unfortunately, the premiere was still overpadded with reality tropes like manufactured pauses leading into commercial breaks and over-explaining everything at every possible moment. If you didn't know Diddy was a producer on this show by the credits, you'd know by how much he's making sure everyone knows how it works and why it's the best reality show in the history of reality shows in this or any other reality. Does it show?
So yeah, "The Four" is maybe trying a little too hard to make you forget that Fox lost "American Idol," with ABC set to resurrect that dinosaur in March. It doesn't need to, either, because like "The Voice," they've stumbled on a twist to the singing competition formula that feels fresh and exciting. And with only six weeks this season, every moment counts ... so stop padding them with nonsense and pack in more singers, already!
We were introduced to the judges' Four with very little fanfare, but we quickly picked up on the fact that rapper Lex Lu writes her own material, Blair Perkins is an R&B soul singer who wrote a hit song for Demi Lovato, Elanese Lansen is proud of her Latina heritage, and Ash Minor is a foreign white dude later described as alt-pop.
Because of the bloat, Ash doesn't even get a chance to defend his chair in the two-hour premiere, so he remained an engima throughout the night. All three of the others were called upon to prove their worth, with only one able to do so.
Before you can challenge one of The Four for their seat in the competition, you have to impress the judges. Even more harsh, you have to get all four of them to agree to give you that chance at a seat ... and remember these first four were people the judges themselves chose. So not everyone got that chance.
With a tip of Charlie Walk's hate we quickly said farwell to Tyler Griffin, who failed to impress the record exec with his take on Jason Derulo. The judges were still settling into their roles, and it was almost as interesting to watch them bicker as it was to see the challenges themselves.
Part of the winner's prize package is that the judges form a development team for the winner to help launch their career. This means they're more invested than most judges in making sure they get it right, as no one is interested in wasting their time.
Anthony Hall fell quickly by the wayside as well, failing to impress the judges with his Jesus looks and what we thought was a pretty fresh take on Portugal. The Man. Then things got ugly after Valentina Cytrynowicz gave a pretty solid take on Lorde's "Green Light." Despite demanding an earlier contestant get a chance to battle, Diddy shut Valentina down so hard the poor girl started to tear up ... and then he tore into her for that. "I want greatness, America!" he bellowed while everyone else felt uncomfortable.
Zhavia: Thanks to reality tropes, we knew this 16 year old was going to get a shot because she got a long backstory, but she proved her worth with an impressive swagger and stage presence for her age. After sweeping the judges, she challenged Elanese for her spot. One of the nice elements of this show is that we get two quick performances from each challenger before they can get a seat. One for the judges, and one for the audience, who choose the winner of the battle. Unfortunately for Elanese, no one in the crowd really knew her and her Latin flare failed to connect as deeply as Zhavia's fresh vibe.
Illakriss: He had a unique stage presence, kind of reminiscent of Humpty Hump of Digital Underground, but there were moments of potential in his voice. Diddy and Khaled convinced the others to give him the chance to challenge, and they acquiesced. But he was absolutely no match for Lex Lu, which is more a statement of his own lack of finesse, as the judges demanded more of Lex, too. Nevertheless, the audience gave it to her, locking in her seat for the week.
Saeed Renaud: This dude came to work, but it sure didn't look like work. Already a Grammy winner as a songwriter, Saeed's voice was like butter, making Meghan melt a little in her seat. But she's not wrong. Maybe it's a testament to all who came before him, but Saeed makes it look easy. He owns Whitney Houston, y'all! Slays it! Of course the judges were all in, and he seemed to have little trouble dethroning Blair, despite the latter's solid vocal control. There's just something about Saeed's silky vocals that leaves you a little beside yourself.
That was it? Six singers in two hours ... you know, that's not a great average. Yeah, we know some of them sang multiple times and three of The Four had to sing as well, but it still feels like this could have moved a little faster. Anything to keep Fergie from using her soft-spoken "serious" voice again. It sent the wrong kind of chills down our spine.
Oh yeah, Fergie's a part of this thing, acting as host for some reason. Other than that fabulous dress, she was either totally forgettable, or not great. Think Khloe Kardashian on "The X Factor" bad. Maybe she'll grow into it. Although Khloe never did.