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‘The Four’ Premieres: “America, Send Me the Greatness!”

Jason Ginsburg

Jason Ginsburg

Ray Mickshaw / FOX. © 2018 FOX Broadcasting

After weeks of hype, and one giant mistakeThe Four: Battle for Stardom premiered last night. Diddy screamed, Charlie Walk sneered, and Meghan Trainor soothed. Here’s what happened on the very first episode of The Four.

Host Fergie launched the series by declaring its paradoxical premise: “Every episode is a finale.” Diddy said he was looking “not for the next star; the next superstar.” He said he wanted “something fresh, something new, something I can feel in my soul. Something I obsess about when I’m on the treadmill!”

In keeping with the show’s bizarre format, we never really got a chance to meet the Four. They came out and sang Justin Timberlake’s Can’t Stop the Feeling together, with each highlighting their strengths (Lex Lu rapped, Ash crooned, etc.), but had to wait until each singer was challenged to get their bio. And since Ash wasn’t challenged, he remains a mystery.

And just like that, the first challenger arrived. A performer named Tyler Griffin, who sang a perfectly adequate cover (or 45 seconds of a cover) of Jason Darulo’s Talk Dirty. The judges’ reactions would follow a pattern the rest of the night:

Charlie Walk: “You go to a wedding and hear that song, you get the same reaction.”

Meghan Trainor: “Were you nervous at all?”

Diddy: “The bar is raised, and the bar is high.”

Charlie seems to be the Simon Cowell of the group. DJ Khaled is the Randy Jackson. Diddy is, as usual, beyond categorization. And Meghan Trainor offers about as much insight as a ham sandwich.

Then it was time for the judges to vote. The producers have made the terrible (in my opinion) decision to require challengers to receive a unanimous vote from the judges to advance. That means one judge can indisputably sink a challenger with a “No.” Tyler only got three out of four “blue circles,” and had to leave. By this point, we knew more about Tyler, who will never appear on the show again, than we did about all four of the Four.

Then came 16-year-old, dreadlocked Zhavia. “On a scale of one to 10 of how bad I want this, I would say 100 million.” She sang Location by Khalid, sounding sophisticated and professional beyond her years. DJ Khaled told her, “You look like, and move like, a young icon.” Even sourpuss Charlie said, “I think I heard the future tonight.”

Meghan’s contribution? “She’s 16. Imagine her at 18!” Ugh.

Zhavia got the unanimous go-ahead to challenge any Four singer. She picked Elanese because why not? Now we finally got to know this singer who’s supposedly one of the best in America.

Elanese started the sing-off with Échame la Culpa by Demi Lovato and Luis Fonsi. This made apparent Elanese’s lack of stage presence. Good yes? A “superstar” that Diddy wants? No. 

Zhavia’s response was Unforgettable by French Montana, a high-energy anthem that was absolutely stronger than Elanese’s performance.

Meghan: “The 16 year old little girl just came up like what!”

The studio audience voted (this show ain’t live, folks). And, as Talent Recap reported days ago, Zhavia won! But the show doesn’t reveal the votes, so we have no idea if it was 90-10 or 51-49.

Charlie told Elanese, “You have to bring it every single time.” But as far as I can tell, Elanese brought it zero times. She sang a little bit at the opening and 90 seconds in the challenge. How was she “Four-worthy” in the first place?

So Zhavia took Elanese’s seat in the Four Circle and was safe the rest of the night. Were the other three sad that Elanese lost? Were they relieved? I don’t know this show’s narrative.

Now it’s on to the next challenger: Anthony Hall, who had a record deal with Universal (Charlie’s former employer), but went nowhere. He had incredibly long hair but wore a matching tweed jacket and vest over jeans in what my wife called “an updated Mumford and Sons outfit.” Diddy asked him, “Has anyone told you that you look like white Jesus?”

Anthony sang Feel It Still by Portugal the Man (sorry, I REFUSE to punctuate the band’s stupid name). Anthony’s rugged voice actually made for an emotional, pleading performance. But it didn’t impress the judges. Diddy offered, “You need to take a look at yourself We’re here to help, but you’re the boss of you.” Charlie had a sensible, realistic response: “Only a few artists can play arenas. I’m not sure you can. But I will definitely buy a ticket to see you in a club for sure.”

Anthony only got two “yes”s and was out.

Next challenger: Illakriss from the fine city of Dallas (my hometown). He strutted around the stage as he rapped a double-time version of Let’s Groove by Earth, Wind & Fire. Impressive vocal work, if not truly exciting. Meghan told him, “Your stage presence is something I’ve never seen before,” but followed it up with, “I love your sweatshirt.”

Charlie didn’t seem impressed. Diddy threw some shade with, “We may have different tastes. There’s a lot of old people sitting in offices in the music industry and not understanding what it is.” Fortunately, Illakriss got the go-ahead. Unfortunately, he chose to challenge Lex Lu.

We got Lex Lu’s backstory (she has an adorable son who wears glasses). We already knew she has slickly-produced music videos that feature backup dancers. Unsurprisingly, she blew Illakriss out of the water. She’s a unique, distinctive presence, with verbal ability just as good as her challenger’s. 

The audience chose Lex Lu, so Illakriss was ushered away. As the show went to commercial break, Charlie leaned over to his fellow judges and said “He shouldn’t have been a challenger.”

The next challenger was Valentina, who sang Green Light by Lorde. Performers like her usually get a gigantic bonus for being young, slim, and blonde, but the judges were harsh.

Diddy: “I didn’t like it one bit.”

Khaled: If you’re gonna sing someone’s song, you gotta put your own style into it, and you didn’t do it.”

Meghan: “I’m just not the biggest fan of that kind of sound. It almost sounds like you’re putting on a [fake] voice.”

Fergie finally spoke up. “You’re breaking her heart into a million pieces.”

Charlie liked her — perhaps because he knew he could market a young, slim blonde — but it wasn’t enough for her to advance. The stage manager led her away in tears.

“No karaoke singers!” Diddy announced, “I want greatness! America, send me the greatness!”

America sent him Saaed for the final segment. The big, smiling soul singer actually won a Grammy for songwriting, but his career hadn’t taken off (he’s 37, the oldest contestant of the night). He sang a moving rendition of Whitney Houston’s Run to You that showed off his beautiful voice.

Meghan was wiping away tears. “I’ve never had this experience in my whole. I just lost who I was, and it was you just and myself.” Charlie said there was a place for Saaed in the music business “for sure,” while DJ Khaled finally got to use his “Secure the bag” catchphrase.

Saaed got the votes and decided to challenge Blair, finally giving us a chance to learn about the performer who wants to “redefine hip hop.” He has sung with Stevie Wonder and wrote Made in the USA for Demi Lovato.

Blair performed a fantastic rendition of Sam Smith’s Stay With Me, hitting all the “ooo”s. He even got on his knees at the end. But Saaed’s Love Me Again by John Newman blasted people away. Saaed showed he could sing fast-paced, high-energy songs just as well as slow, soulful pieces.

So, goodbye Blair. Diddy’s parting words: “Once you get on your knees, you have to cry! If you pleading with a woman, I’m on my knees, and my face is dry, do I stand a chance?” Fergie replied, “No.”

So two of the Four changed in one night. It seems the show is combining the auditions of American Idol with the knockout rounds of The Voice. Will it work? Share your thoughts in the comments or tweet us at @TalentRecap.

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