Things I don’t want to see ever again on The X Factor: Two-hour commercials promoting Adam Sandler’s latest “film.” Any/all of the judges channeling Randy Jackson in their critiques; back-critiquing performances they praised in the previous week; trying to take credit for their rival mentors’ successes; and smiling smugly as if it was them, not their contestants, who hit those big-ass notes. Adherence to “theme weeks” that are flimsier than Paula Abdul’s non-electronically enhanced singing voice. Promotion of the idea that a Pepsi commercial is the single greatest signifier of musical success. And Steve Jones giggling the word “whoopsie!”
Whew! Now let me just take a deep, cleansing breath, and we can talk about the Top 11 performances on this dubiously constructed “Songs from the Movies” night — including armies of backing vocalists, L.A. Reid’s chair-dancing prowess, and Simon Cowell’s love of that Kate Hudson masterpiece You, Me and Dupree. (Hey, at least it wasn’t Fool’s Gold.)
Stacy Francis Whitney Houston’s “Queen of the Night”
I don’t know what Stacy did to upset the X Factor styling team — maybe she damaged their eardrums with last week’s “Up to the Mountain” holleration? — but the grand unveiling of her forehead courtesy of a wonky center part and that red vinyl cocktail-waitress minidress did her no favors in her quest for a $5 million record contract. Even worse, though, Stacy’s own mentor seems to be working against her, too. “Queen of the Night” is one of those rhino-charging compositions that doesn’t really allow for subtlety or modulation, and not even a safari guide with a shotgun can slow its relentless advance. Forced to deliver the ditty while writhing inside a jungle gym with a pack of backup dancers, Stacy looked befuddled, and at times, her voice strained so hard it took on the peculiar “stuck in the throat” qualities of a cartoon frog. Alas, her rival mentors could taste the blood in the water, with L.A. obnoxiously declaring he likes Stacy better when she’s crying (really, dude?) and Simon lasciviously noting he only wanted her to wear that dress if she’s visiting his home (classy!). At least Nicole kept her focus on the things that matter most: “You shined from within tonight.” (Oh, Nicole!)
Marcus Canty: Rose Royce’s “I’m Going Down”
Maybe it shouldn’t matter, but I hated that L.A. chose the same track for Marcus that Jazzlyn Little performed during her awe-inspiring audition that aired less than two months ago. By comparison, Marcus’ vocal came up just a tiny bit short — but then again, he had to contend with lung-crippling levels of dry ice and a silver sequined jacket that clung to his left arm like Katy Perry clings to Auto-Tune. (Uh-huh, I said it!) That said, Marcus proved he’s got soul and power by managing to distract me from the weird montage of playing cards that whirled against the backdrop, and while I’m not 100% sure my X Factor crystal ball had his Kris Allen-esque face (srsly! something about them looks similar!) floating in the middle of it, I don’t think he’s going to have to go back to mowing lawns to make his rent money, either.
Drew Ryniewicz: Coldplay’s “Fix You”
Set aside the fact that Simon tried to convince us that “Fix You” is known as a You, Me and Dupree soundtrack cut (and the fact that the show’s producers think it’s from the soundtrack to Chris Rene’s life). Set aside Drew’s self-designed patchwork tutu with silver bodice that signaled the wisdom of her auditioning for X Factor, not Project Runway. And set aside L.A.’s testy “everything you sing sounds alike,” even though “Fix You” is a huge departure — in terms of tempo, tone, and genre — from Nelly’s “Just a Dream.” (What does he want? Ke$ha’s “Blah Blah Blah”?) Fact is, Drew nailed every note of the song, managed to completely channel the track’s wistful yet hopeful emotion. Is it really such a bad thing that she has an instantly recognizable tone to her voice that doesn’t sound like it was run through a personality-deleting computer program?
LeRoy Bell: U2′s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”:
Does anyone associate this song with Runaway Bride, really? Okay, I just had to ask. Anyhow, it was nice to see LeRoy paired with a song that allowed him to fill the rock-soul niche that’s been largely absent from X Factor’s inaugural season. Sure, LeRoy’s cadence in the opening verse seemed a tad behind the beat, and no, maybe he doesn’t have so much charisma that he can afford to donate a few pints during the next Red Cross drive, but as Simon said, he was “dignified, in control, and classy” — and couldn’t every reality show use a little of that sometimes?
Lakoda Rayne: Keith Urban “Somebody Like You”
Why do Winter, Spring, Summer, and Fall need six backup singers on stage — and possibly another 50 or 60 voices piped onto the X Factor‘s cavernouse (French for cavernous*) soundstage? I actually enjoyed the portions of the performance where you could make out the girls’ individual voices — except for those harmonies gone awry in the final chorus — but Paula refuses to showcase them in a stripped-down, acoustic setting that would allow us to see how talented (or not) this quartet really is. Then again, given Paula’s feedback — “I see you all over Pepsi!” — I probably shouldn’t really get my hopes up for stripped down and acoustic, should I? (*actually just a typo that made me giggle)
Astro: Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” (with original lyrics)
To paraphrase Joan Jett, I hate myself for loving this performance. But how can I deny that the kid’s skills behind the mic are bordering on awe-inspiring. Oh sure, I rolled my eyes when Astro said he’s been “writing and producing” since he was 10. (Producing what, exactly? His fourth-grade homework assignments?) And yes, I feel an unnatural rage whenever his Dwayne Wayne photo appears on my TV screen? And worst of all, he’s got no sense of humor whatsoever. But my head swiveled just like L.A.’s as Astro declared: “I got classics that y’all ain’t even hear yet/ I made it this far and I ain’t shed a tear yet.” Thankfully, Paula interrupted my reverie by telling Astro he “transcends a myriad of genres.” Say wha? I must’ve missed the weeks the kid tackled country, big band, and new age.
Melanie Amaro: Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”
I understood why L.A. criticized the choice of Michael Jackson’s inspirational ballad for Melanie — Simon seems to be painting her into a corner labeled “telethons and holiday CDs only” — especially since she had to perform in front of a backdrop of “sad words” that dissolved into “inspirational” ones. What’s more, the paint-by-numbers arrangement didn’t really allow Melanie to take any liberties with the melody and frequently attempted to bury her massive vocal behind a wall of white noise. So it’s really saying something that in spite the fact that Simon really should’ve made that change and given Melanie something offbeat and hip — I even made some suggestions last week that dude ought to consider! — she turned in one of my favorite performances of the night. Yep, she’s that good.
Stereo Hogzz: Christina Aguilera’s “Ain’t No Other Man”
Paula has some weird obsession with highlighting the arms of the band’s lead singer, Trace. Usually, the guy takes the stage with his garments ripped asunder at the shoulders, but this week he rocked a gray blazer with leather sleeves! Okay, that’s neither here nor there. And it’s not giving due credit to the Hogzz for a snappy, gender-modified take on Christina Aguilera’s fast and furious “Ain’t No Other Man.” I kind of love that this quintet hasn’t succumbed to Boyz II Men syndrome and given us ballad after ballad after ballad. And even though there were a few vocal imperfections over the course of the performance, I thought the choreography was slick and sophisticated enough to almost make me forget those backup dancers in the clear plastic bubble skirts.
Josh Krajcik: The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends”
I worry about Josh, people! No doubt, he’s one of the most promising vocalists in the competition — save for last week’s off-key debacle — but I don’t think Nicole really has the slightest idea of how to showcase him. Channeling Joe Cocker’s version of “With a Little Help…” is the kind of thing that gets you a job on a cruise-ship tribute band, not a $5 million recording deal. And the wacky staging — which Simon hilariously compared to “Dracula and the Brides” — didn’t do Josh any favors, either. I’ve got a feeling Josh has some pretty strong ideas of what he’d like to sing and how he’d like to sing it; here’s hoping he flexes that creativity next week. (Cut to Nicole, seething at me, with a “Don’t hate; congratulate.”) Okay, Nicole, I’ll admit: He sounded pretty great. And I throw you that bone because you told Steve Jones to zip it on live television, and someone really needed to do that.
Chris Rene: Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise” (reconfigured as “Pastime Paradise”)
I don’t want to make any kind of “light from within” or “you stood in the center of your own truth” observations — Nicole and Paula give us plenty of that already — but there is something about Chris that transcends whether or not he hits every note, or perfectly completes every phrase. I loved that Chris wrote a lot of his own lyrics for a Coolio number that would’ve seemed a little peculiar in its original form, and I loved the fact that he performed with such charisma and conviction, I barely noticed the army of backup dancers who popped up behind him. Whether or not those qualities can carry Chirs all the way through the holiday season and into the Season 1 finale remains to be seen, but there’s a relevance and excitement to him that make me excited to see him try. (Well, as long as he stops shouting “love life!” every 30 seconds.)
Rachel Crow: Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind”
I really appreciated that Simon admitted to not having done a good job showcasing Rachel’s talent over the first few weeks of the competition, and sure enough, his choice of an Etta James ballad erased any doubt that the 13-year-old kid possesses the kind of vocal firepower that might even have Stacy Francis ducking for cover behind a speaker stack. Granted, there were a couple little wobbles in Rachel’s lower register — and there was perhaps a whiff of studiedness that made me feel like she wasn’t so much feeling the lyrics as she was reciting them for her acting coach — but that might just be me being nitpicky and protective of my favored ponies Drew and Melanie. Either way, Rachel should never again have to endure a giggling line like this from Steve Jones: “I wanna eat her up!” No, Steve, that is not how we show personality. Try again!
And with that, my prediction for Most Likely to Land in the Bottom Two: Stacy Francis and Lakoda Rayne
Probably Going Home
What did you think of this week’s X Factor? Who was your fave? Who’s your Bottom 2 prediction? Sound off below, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!