The X Factor Semifinal Recap: Feel Good Inc.

The X Factor: The Search for the Star of the World’s Next “Iconic” Pepsi Commercial reached its semifinal round on Wednesday night, and there was plenty of good news to share.

Nicole Shapeshifter announced that “God is good” and the boos (booze?) she’d been receiving from the American public had not only made her stronger, but inspired her to wear an obscenely ugly rainbow-colored gown with a black lace overlay. Simon Cowell reported that despite last week’s gut-wrenching ouster, Rachel Crow is alive and well and, though he hadn’t laid eyes on her, was not actually being kept in a sensory deprivation tank labeled “Do Not Open Till Christmas.” And the producers set Steve Jones’ internal dial to “chipper” mode, resulting in a steady stream of adjectives ranging from “well done” to “amazing” to “divine.” (Yes, divine!)

Plus, thanks (or no thanks) to some Pepsi-sponsored ridiculata, America got to choose the first set of songs performed by the four remaining acts. “We’re all involved!” shouted Steve, who if he can prove himself to be brave, truthful and unselfish, will be turned into a real host by the Blue Fairy at season’s end.

But enough about Steve! Let’s go directly to the music without passing “Go” and without collecting $5 million.

Marcus Canty: Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You”
Just like Murder on the Orient Express, there were so many hands involved in strapping Marcus down to the expressway and into the path of a speeding bus for the duration of this performance. Let’s count, shall we? 1) America, for choosing Boyz II Men’s grotesque “I’ll Make Love to You.” Honestly, every time Marcus groaned the line “I will not let go till you tell me to,” my dinner traveled three inches back up my esophagus. 2) That chick lasciviously sticking her tongue out and trying to get Marcus to give her the white rose he was clutching during the opening stages of the performance. 3) The show’s director, for cutting to Simon’s exaggerated bewildered face (the likes of which we haven’t seen since Fantasia performed “Bore Me (Yawn)” during an American Idol Season 7 results show.) 4) Simon, for making the aforementioned face. 5) L.A. Reid, for allowing “The Interpretive Dance of the Three Red Negligees” to upstage Marcus from the back of the stage. 6)  Marcus himself, for agreeing to the white rose antics, and for uttering, “this is for that special lady” at the start of the number. 7) Nicole, for declaring that Marcus makes ladies get excited “in a classy way.” (Girl, don’t.)

Chris Rene: Sugar Ray’s “Fly”
There’s no denying Chris kind of sounded like he’d run a half-marathon before taking the stage to perform a wisp of a song that may have been selected by fans of Melanie, Marcus, and Josh as an act of open warfare. At times, Chris’ raspy little voice was like a sailboat in the middle of The Perfect Storm of aggressive backup singers, a blasting backing track, cheesily positioned “just hangin’ out” dancers, and blaring lights. And yet, despite the vocal shortcomings, the performance was breezily…enjoyable? Maybe it’s because Chris is like that weather-beaten pair of jeans that’s infinitely more comfortable than the starchy new pair you just picked up at the mall. Or maybe, as Paula put it, his “heart resonates with the world.” (Uff da.)

Melanie Amaro: Mariah Carey’s “Hero”
The second I heard viewers had chosen this world-class slice of treacle for Melanie, I wondered if Steve Jones would interrupt and announce that Pepsi had withdrawn its sponsorship out of sheer embarassment. Thankfully, though, Simon and Melanie cooked up a minor-chord arrangement that obliterated the “I believe the children are our future,” “Danny Gokey was here” vibe of this too-frequently-covered ballad. Paula was right that the new rendition of “Hero” didn’t soar and swell like Mariah’s original, but I liked its plaintive, questioning quality. Melanie delivered the kicker “you finally see the truth, that a hero lies in you” as more of a theory than a definitive statement, and while perhaps that was a little disconcerting at first, it certainly wasn’t dull or predictable. Nicole, however, took things too far, insisting to Melanie that “you’re liberating to all of us.” WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN IN THIS CONTEXT, YOU DOSEY FOOL?

Josh Krajcik: The Beatles’ “Come Together”
This rock-solid effort wasn’t Josh’s most thrilling vocal to date, but it a wise move to add hard blasts of guitar to the arrangement, the better to separate himself from the pop-R&B leanings of his three competitors. And, to her credit, Paula made a solid point that part of having the X factor involves the ability to sell tickets to live shows, something that shouldn’t be an issue for a veteran of the road like Josh. Did “Come Together” rise to the level of recent Idol efforts by Kris Allen, Crystal Bowersox, or Carly Smithson (sorry I forgot to mention her in my Wednesday live-blog!)? I can’t honestly say it did. Yet while I call nonense on Nicole’s “living and breathing that fire” critique, I’ll also admit that sometimes a B+ is good enough.

Marcus Canty: Wham’s “Careless Whisper”
I’ve watched “Careless Whisper” several times now, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it. Certainly, Simon’s volley of insults — “grotesque,” “a joke,” “Vegas in 1983” — was unneccessarily harsh, and probably just his attempt to get a Melanie-Josh-Chris finale that will provide the maximum suspense and ratings on a finale that occurs only days before Christmas. And yet L.A.’s boast that Marcus “looked like a champion” seems equally preposterous. I kinda liked the guy’s white tux with black piping, and the boldness of a dance remix, but by the time the song was done, he’d been upstaged by that army of ballroom dancers and too much falling confetti. And that’s not the final impression you want to make before the public votes on which three contestants make the finale.

Chris Rene: Alicia Keys’ “No One”
I know L.A. Reid probably thought he was helping Chris by declaring that “stardom was never about singing” and that his protege connects with the public because he has “lovability,” but really, that robbed Chris of the credit he deserved for a deep, soulful spin on a tricky Alicia Keys hit. Yes, it’s true Chris’ voice isn’t as big as his competitors, but as they say about other aspects of life, it’s not the size of the wave… And when Chris got behind that piano and declared that “no one can get in the way of what I’m feeling,” it was the most meaningful lyric of the night not because he held the note harder or longer or more bombastically, and not because as Nicole said “[his] spirit transcends across the universe,” but because he breathed his personal life experience into the words, made you feel them even as that distracting red grid patten blared on the screens behind him and 20 random dancers cavorted nonsensically to the beat. I like that Chris can do more than stand stock still and sing a ballad. I like that he’s already proven he can write music I’d like to download. And no one can get in the way of what I’m feeling.

Melanie Amaro: “Feeling Good”
Thank you, Simon, for finally giving Melanie a song with some genuine tempo, some serious sass, and some real opportunities to show off all the colors of her Godzilla-sized voice. I loved the little side-eye she gave during the opening verse, I loved that flash of falsetto on “river running free,” I loved how she was feeling it to the point that she almost lost control of the ending, and I loved the conviction she brought to the line “freedom is mine, and I know how it feels.” I didn’t love that the blast of floor lights almost rendered her invisible on occasion, but that’s not Melanie’s fault. Naturally, L.A. gave what sounded like a major compliment but really didn’t mean much when you consider it’s only Season 1 — “you’re the greatest female that’s ever graced this stage” — but who cares? Fire was breathed. Buildings were crushed. And the opposition should be running in terror.

Josh Krajcik: Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”
I know The X Factor is not American Idol, or any other TV show, but that doesn’t mean I am able to set aside the knowledge that “Hallelujah” has become the “running to the airport to tell her you love her before she gets on the plane”/”kissing in the pouring rain on a quaint city street”/”falling to the ground as the building explodes in the background” of reality singing competitions/TV telecasts in general. I’m tired of it. I want its jersey hung from the rafters, with no chance at a comeback till at least 2015. And while Josh sang “Hallelujah” tenderly, and with plenty of heart and conviction, I can’t join Nicole in crossing my hands over my chest in a display of raw, manufactured emotion, and I have to agree with L.A. that the performance lacked some excitement. I still hope Simon was right, that the performance sent Josh straight to the finals, because he deserves his shot at the Season 1 crown. But I’m still waiting for a followup to “Wild Horses” that has me waking up in the morning ready to go to iTunes and download it.

Anyhow, that’s my take on The X Factor semifinals. What did you think? Is there any way Marcus doesn’t get outsted on Thursday? Who’s your pick to win it all. Sound off in the comments, and for all my X Factor commentary and interviews, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!