MANILA, Philippines -- The girl group A.K.A. Jam received the only standing ovation during the first live performance show of "The X Factor Philippines" on Saturday night at the Pagcor Grand Theater in Paranaque City featuring the Top 12 contestants of the new ABS-CBN talent search competition.
A.K.A. Jam, which was formed by the judges from six individual contestants during the auditions, gave an energetic, note-perfect rendition of the disco classic "Got to Be Real" by Cheryl Lynn.
Judge Martin Nievera led the standing ovation for the group, composed of six women ages 17 to 22 years old.
"We've made many decisions on this show and this was the best decision we ever made," Nivera said of the group. "Parang hindi kayo contestants; para na kayong guest performers. Unbelievable!"
Judge Charice was initially speechless when asked for her critique of the group before comparing their decision to form the group to the one made in "The X Factor" U.K. which led to the creation of boy band sensation One Direction. "I'm so glad na binuo natin sila. That was really good," she said.
Judge Pilita Corrales was also at a loss for words, simply praising the group as "fabulous."
Gary Valenciano, who is also the mentor of the group contestants, became emotional with the girls' performance. "I'm just so proud of all of you. Wala na akong masabi," he told the girls, who were visibly overjoyed with the crowd's reaction.
But A.K.A. Jam wasn't the only group that got the attention of the audience and the judges. Also receiving wild applause was Daddy's Home, composed of four fathers ages 31-39 years old. The male quartet sang Ella May Saison's "Till My Heartaches End," which also brought Valenciano to tears.
"Oh my God!" exclaimed Nievera after the group's soulful rendition, which each members taking on solos. "Unang-una, when you get home, be proud and return Gary's clothes. Judging from the tears in your mentor's eyes, you have taken great to the next level."
Charice was also dumbfounded by the group's vocals. "Wow! A-ma-zing!"
Corrales joked that with a mentor like Valenciano, the group could do no wrong. "But if I mentor you, you would be better," she said.
Valenciano noted that before Saturday's live performances, he is sure that the viewers already have their favorites. "But after seeing you (tonight), mahihirapan sila. I love you, guys."
It was overall a good night for Valenciano, whose groups all performed well. His other group,Take Off, whose members range from 23 to 26, gave a modern rock spin to the Elvis Presley classic, "Jailhouse Rock," while keeping their boy band vibe. Valenciano's influence on the performance was very apparent from the look (striped long-sleeved t-shirts, black jackets and white skinny pants) to the choreography.
In fact, Corrales, in her comments, had to praise Valenciano. "Excellent. I know your steps there were taught by your mentor. Your mentor was very good," she said.
Charice also took note of Valenciano's hand, praising the choreography and blending. "It's well put together," she said.
NIevera was also impressed. "What can I say? You're more in sync than N Sync. I wish that I was your mentor."
Valenciano thanked Gerard Salonga for the re-arrangement. He also praised his group for taking their performance to another level altogether. "I am so proud of you guys," he said.
KZ stumbles out of the gate
But early favorite KZ Tandingan may have stumbled a bit in her first live performance due to what the judges felt was a poor song choice.
Charice, who mentors the girls, gave Tandingan Lenka's quirky hit "The Show," which disappointed both Corrales and Nievera.
"I don't know if I would have chosen that song," Nievera told the 20-year-old from Digos.
"I like the change in your hair, and your shoes are better than your sneakers. Pero Charice, parang wrong choice of song," Corrales said apologetically.
Valenciano reminded Tandingan that she is the favorite based on comments on social media but felt that her performance of the song was lacking. "You're great but I think there's so much more pa," he said.
Charice, however, defended her song choice, saying she deliberately didn't choose a song that required belting. "Gusto ko medyo soft. It's very relaxing to hear KZ sing this song, plus she's having fun in stage and she's looking sexy and beautiful. I know you can do so much better than this but I'm proud of you."
Tandingan, who said she was confined for a week because of tonsilitis, promised to host KC Concepcion that given the chance, "pagbubutihin ko pa."
Charice's other female contestants, however, did show off power vocals.
Allen Sta. Maria , who at 16 is the youngest contestant on "The X Factor Philippines," sang Avril Lavigne's power ballad "Keep Holding On," even hitting a glory note which she took even higher using only a single breath.
Sta. Maria became emotional after her performance, prompting Corrales to tell her, "Don't cry muna because you're so good."
Nievera added: "That was beautiful. You have everything to be proud of tonight."
Valenciano praised Charice's mentoring. "Nahuli niya kung ano ang kailangan mong ipalabas sa tao. Wala masyadong swag pero iba ang pinakita mo ngayon. I'm proud of you."
Charice also gave high compliments to her ward. "Feeling ko kapatid ko siya. Sobrang proud ako sa iyo, Allen."
Charice's song selection for her third contestant, 21-year-old dive guide Jerrianne Templo, received the most praise from her fellow judges. Templo did a tender yet powerful version of Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face."
"A wonderful song choice from a very wonderful mentor," Corrales said.
"Sa napakabatang edad ng mentor mo, ang dami na niyang natutunan. Tama ang pinili niyang song and you gave 100% and we receivced 100%," said Valenciano.
Nievera praised Templo, saying it was the best performance she had done on "The X Factor" since they saw her at the auditions.
Charice said she chose the song because "gusto ko ipakita 'yung soul mo, hindi 'yung birit." While she said Templo's performance was "not perfect," she was still proud of her. "You felt it, I felt it. You were great," she said.
It was also a bit of a mixed bag for Nievera's wards -- the boys.
If Valenciano's influence was apparent in Take Off, Nievera's touch was very obvious with 21-year-old Jeric Medina, who performed the Righteous Brothers' classic "Unchained Melody," for the night's theme of songs from the movies.
"You sound like your mentor. That's why you're so good," commented Corrales.
"You look really, really good. It wasn't a wow performance but you were good," added Charice.
Valenciano, however, noted that Medina's voice wasn't in top shape. "'Yung boses mo ang sarap pakinggan. May kaunting problema 'yung boses mo ngayon but I believe you have that power in you."
Nievera commended his ward for being professional and for continuing to perform despite his vocal problems. "If you proved anything tonight is that that cliche -- the show must go on -- still lives."
Medina admitted to Concepcion that his performance was not 100% perfect but "I'm glad nagawa ko siya."
For his two other wards, Nievera went all out by creating elaborate production numbers. Gabriel Maturan, 19, sang Bruno Mars' "It Will Rain" backed up by dancers wearing raincoats and holding umbrellas.
"You know how to move. Vocally, I think you can do better," Valenciano said.
"Naaliw ako sa performance niya na nakalimiutan ko na malungkot pala 'yung kanta," said Charice, who agreed with Corrales that Maturan has shown improvement.
Nievera, for his part, just told his ward, "We all would love to see you again."
Asked about his new-found confidence, Maturan told Concepcion he got a boost from the fans who have supported him as well as his mentor.
An even more elaborate production number was prepared for 18-year-old Kedebon Colim, who took on the rock number "First Day High" by Kamikazee.
Colim ran around the stage and goofed around with his back-up dancers. The arrangement even ended with a riff on the James Bond theme, with Colim saying, "I'm Bon. Kede-bon."
"Genius by the way," Charice told Nievera. "That's awesome. Hindi ko ine-expect ito."
"Ikaw siguro sa lahat ng contestant ang pinaka-controversial. Ngayon sa performance mo, eto ang dahilan kung bakit nandito ka ngayon. Higit ka pa sa pure energy -- you just keep going on and on," Valenciano commented.
Nievera also commended Colim on the performance, noting that he's the only contestant to have done a real production number. "Sana marami kang believers ngayon," he said.
Guy to beat
But the male contestant to watch out for wasn't in the Boys group -- and Nievera knew it.
Mark Mabasa, 26, belongs to the Over-25s and is mentored by Corrales. For his first live performance, he was given Seal's "Kiss From A Rose," which he performed with drama, hitting a sustained high note as he dropped on the stage before scooping up red rose petals.
"I wish you were a year younger because you would be in my group," Nievera told Mabasa, praising him for his ability to get into what the song is all about. "You tell the story beautifully, with your eyes, with your soul. Good job!"
Valenciano was left speechless by the performance. "Hindi ko akalain na ganito ang kaya mong gawin. You changed that way I look at you right now."
Charice also praised Mabasa's good looks. "Nasa 'yo na talaga 'yung package."
"He's my boy," a proud Corrales beamed. "You were born to be a star."
Also showing off her musical skills was 26-year-old Joan Da, who accompanied herself on the guitar for Maroon 5's "Sunday Morning,"backed by live horns with a slight jazz feel. She even did a rap break.
"That was a great arrangement," Nievera commended the arranger Gerard Salonga." You have made yourself unforgettable."
"You look great," Valenciano said. "Ikaw lang ang may boses na ganito. I think magkikita tayo uli."
"Tonight pinatunayan mo na sobrang talented ka. You look like a superstar," Charice said.
Corrales advised her ward: "Be different. Stay the way as you are now."
Another controversial contestant, 55-year-old Modesto Taran, did a big band arrangement of the rock 'n' roll classic "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry, surrounded by female dancers.
"I thought this was a commercial for Viagra," joked Nievera. "The moment I saw you, I wanted this category because of you. You represent what a singer is all about."
Valenciano agreed, telling Taran that "you had nothing to lose and you laid it all out on the floor." While he admitted that he missed the contestant's big voice in slower songs, he still felt Taran took his performance to the next level. "'Yung galaw ng katawan mo, hindi katawan ng 55 year old. It's quite impressive."
"Ikaw ay nagpapatunay na age doesn't matter," Charice told the oldest contestant in "The X Factor." "Ngayong gabi, pinatunayan niyo na kaya pa niyo."
Corrales said Taran "proved everybody wrong" with his performance. "'Yung mga Twitter, Twitter, bashing, bashing, you can do it. Congratulations."
Viewers can vote for their favorite contestants until Sunday night during the live results nights after "Sarah G Live" on ABS-CBN.