The X Factor Recap: Rock, Shock, and Four Sniping Judges

In the words of REM — and now, Melanie Amaro — “everybody hurts sometimes.” Unfortunately for Nicole Schpelunker, hurting time may arrive during Thursday night’s results-show telecast, as two of the three acts in her “Over 30s” category look like good bets to meet the same fate as the 15 (!) vocalists TKO’d under Paula Abdul’s watch over the last two weeks.

How bad is the prognosis for LeRoy “Dorian Gray” Bell and Stacy “Paw in a Bear Trap” Francis? Well, when asked by her fellow judges if LeRoy had a chance to capture the $5 million prize, the best Nicole could come up with was a tepid “Of course I’m gonna hold that possibility.” Ouch!

And Stacy, after being hoisted from the rafters and battered with verbal sticks by L.A. Reid and Simon Cowell, got one last thwack from blindfolded partygoer Paula Abdul, leaving a giant hole in her psyche and a pile of bittersweet candy (tastes like…failure!) on the stage that was promptly devoured by the excitable members of 12th-place act InTENsity.

The week in X Factor was also punctuated by excessive sniping among the judges — if their table was replaced by a cage, I swear we’d see Simon, L.A., Paula, and Nicole flinging their dung at one another — and intense arguing over whether or not contestants had adhered to a theme that Steve “Uncle Bryn” Jones so stiffly described as focusing on “rock songs or songs in a rock style.” Of course, considering that producers chose to play Starship’s Lite FM staple “We Built This City” coming out of commercial break, it’s pretty clear that most folks involved in the production wouldn’t know rock if it struck them directly in the forehead.

The good news, however, is that whether or not their performances met the legal definition of “rock,” I counted six performers — Drew Ryniewicz, Melanie Amaro, Astro, Chris Rene, Marcus Canty, and Josh Krajcik — who performed well enough this week to sail into the Top 9 with at least some chance of earning the X Factor crown and sash on Dec. 23. That deep and diverse bench is good news for X Factor‘s overall health, if not for the ladies of Lakoda Rayne.

Let’s review the week’s performances:

LeRoy Bell: Bob Seger’s “We’ve Got Tonight”
Nicole would like to remind you that LeRoy is SIXTY YEARS OLD, and not only is he still functioning without the help of a breathing machine, he is also following his dreams for as long as he can stave off the Grim Reaper. (My husband, in a moment of sublime sarcasm, caught a glimpse of LeRoy’s grade-school picture and asked, “They had color photography when he was a kid?”) The problem with LeRoy, though, is that if it weren’t for his age — or rather, the fact that he looks so ridiculously young/hot for his age — would there really be anything special about him? Don’t get me wrong, his Bob Seger cover this week was in tune and heartfelt. But as Simon pointed out, it was also wholly unoriginal. I spent half of LeRoy’s time on stage wondering what was causing one lens of his glasses to fog up, and alas, that lyrical question “Who needs tomorrow?” may prove all too prescient come results time.

Rachel Crow: Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
I love that we saw rehearsal footage of Simon telling Rachel to really read the lyrics to her song this week, when it’s pretty clear he didn’t bother to heed his own advice. I mean, seriously, you’re assigning a song called “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” to a cherubic 13-year-old girl? That’s just unfortunate. Also unfortunate? The whack styling choice of denim vest with red and black fringe sleeves and leather (pleather?) leggings. And the fact that the verses were pitched too low for Rachel’s comfort zone, as well as the brutal blast of backing vocalists that threatened to bury Rachel’s vocal alive. In her defense, the kid finished strong — she’s the kind of singer who needs to be flat-out belting to sound her best — but I didn’t hear anything that would explain the judges’ over-the-top enthusiasm.

Chris Rene: Bob Marley’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright”/”No Woman No Cry”
Is Bob Marley rock or reggae or both? Perhaps Simon and L.A. should’ve met backstage to hash out this matter with an arbitrator, because honestly, their episode-long argument (which extended to ballads by REM, Meatloaf, and U2) didn’t make for particularly good TV. Chris, however, was dynamite on this unexpected mashup. As Paula astutely pointed out, the guy may not hit every note of every song he sings, but he’s such a compelling presence on stage, he managed to almost completely make me ignore the tragic “youths pow-wowing on the stoop” choreography going on behind him. And when he’s paired with the right songs, you can easily hear Chris’ performances making the leap to modern radio.

Stacy Francis: Meatloaf’s “It’s All Coming Back to Me Now”
There were moments of screech
And there were flashes of yelp
If you make me listen again
I swear I’m gonna cry “help!”
It was filled with endless shrillness
More bad notes than any laws allow
Baby! Baby! Baby!

Simon dissed her like this
Then Paula trashed her like that
Stacy’s face just went blank
And it’s all coming back to me
She wore black leather gloves
And a tight silver dress
Her voice was a mess
And it’s all coming back to me
I try hard to resist
But it’s all coming back to me
A big ballad got mauled
And it’s all coming back to me now

Melanie Amaro: REM’s “Everybody Hurts”
Yes, one of these days — maybe more than one of these days — Melanie is going to have to do an uptempo number. (Might I suggest Hercules and Love Affair’s “Blind” or maybe even Britney Spears’ “Toxic”?) But putting aside her week-to-week trajectory, there’s no denying the sheer awesomeness of Melanie’s REM cover. I loved the little touches of stank face she dropped during the deeply restrained opening verse. I loved the fact that she brought the crowd to its knees without the use of a jumbotron, a jumbo jet, or a jumbo pack of backup dancers. And I loved that, deep down, you knew Melanie knew that Simon’s rival mentors had to try to find fault with her as a way to make sure she doesn’t have the competition wrapped up by Thanksgiving. Lies, L.A.! Lies, Nicole! The real truth is that this performance activated my tear ducts. So thank you, Paula, and good night.

Josh Krajcik: Foo Fighters’ “The Pretender”
Oh Nicole, always unintentionally hilarious and absurdly self-impressed, introducing Josh as covering “one of the most important rock bands today.” (Someone in the editing bay must agree, since they followed Josh’s comment about Nicole giving good advice with a clip of her suggesting he throw in a “rocker hand” gesture into his performance.) But while Josh certainly rocked hardest of any act this week, and while it seemed like he was hitting his notes like a carpenter with a nail gun, I’ve got to be honest: The sound mix for this performance was so ludicrously bad, there were whole sections where the lead vocal was buried under a shallow grave of electric guitars and ferocious drums. It may have been rock night on X Factor, but I’m not entirely convinced the production knows how to handle this particular genre.

Astro: Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missing You”
For me, this performance was like the musical equivalent of The Transformers movies: Gigantic, noisy, fast, explosive, and clearly crowd-pleasing. In other words, Astro knows how to deliver a particular type of sensory overload that makes an Oldie Olsen like me want to curl into a ball and hit CTRL+ALT+DEL for my brain. Or as L.A. put it, he has “everything it takes to be a major international star.” Yay?

Lakoda Rayne: The Outfield’s “Your Love”/Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way”
Did anyone else find it a little smarmy the way Steve Jones smirked about Paula being under pressure now that she’s down to a single act? Dude seriously made me think about getting on the Lakoda Rayne bandwagon just to spite him, and I can’t go for that (no can do). Seriously, though, kudos to the X Factor editing team for trying to humanize this quartet with an extended interview package where the brown-haired one (who really should be barred from getting the first solo lines of any performance) discussed the perils of being home-schooled, and one of the blonde ones gave her tragic backstory of spending years singing into her own mirror. As for their musical mashup, I kind of understood where all the judges were coming from. Simon’s “complete mess” critique had more to do with the throw-everything-at-the-wall staging and costuming than the decent (if not spectacular) vocals, while Paula’s boast that the girls have “earned their place” in the competition also held true — at least in comparison to Stacy and LeRoy. If Lakoda Rayne makes the Top 9, though, here’s hoping Paula gives them a stripped-down arrangement — with no backup singers — that allows voters to see just how talented (or not) this pre-fab act actually is.

Drew Ryniewicz: U2’s “With Or Without You”
Take away the misty blue “alien crop-circle” lighting and the complaints by every judge not named Simon that Drew does too many stripped-down ballads, and you’re left with the performance of the night — a haunting, ethereal rendition of a powerful rock ballad that was equal parts Ellie Goulding and Enya. And memo to L.A.: Two weeks ago, Drew covered hip-hop artist Nelly, so she’s already ticked that box, sir.

Marcus Canty: Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart”
No offense to Janis Joplin — who along with Aretha Franklin and Fantasia ranks among my Top 3 most soulful singers in the history of ever — but I would love to get through just one season of a reality singing competition without hearing a cover of “Piece of My Heart.” That said, I can’t be too mad at Marcus for turning the track into a danceable R&B jam. After all, the guy rarely if ever hits a bum note — even when he’s backsliding through the open legs of a line of devilish backup dancers — and he always infuses his performances with a winking humor that lets you know he’s not taking himself too too seriously. L.A. is making good boy Marcus go bad — and gemstone-encrusted sleeves aside — I’m kind of digging it.

Bottom Two Prediction: LeRoy and Stacy
Going Home: LeRoy

What did you think of this week’s X Factor? Who was your favorite? Who will go home? Sound off below, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!