The X Factor Recap: Oh, Pairs! [Updated]

eddie combsA number of crimes involving the male torso went down on Thursday night’s installment of The X Factor. Simon Cowell rocked a neckline that plunged dangerously close to his netherregions. A member of boy band Emblem3 wore suspenders — without a shirt! (I’ll pause for a moment while you fight back the acrid taste of bile). And oh the sounds that got caught and killed in the chests of fresh-faced Willie Jones and wheelchair-bound Freddie Combs! (We’ll just assume the former’s were low and rumbly, in a bebeh-lock-them-dawwrs kinda way, and the latter’s were tremulous and overbaked.)

This is not to say I wasn’t entertained. On Day 2 of Boot Camp, The X Factor took a page from The Voice and pitted its final 60 acts in head-to-head matchups. What better way to maxmize fear, loathing, and hysterical tears. It’s unclear, though, if the judges are treating the showdowns as either/or propositions — this seems highly unlikely — or if they’ll just use the inevitable comparisons as an added tool to narrow the field to the 24 acts who’ll head to the Judges’ Houses (or Homes Rented and Passed Off as Judges’ Houses) round.

But enough housekeeping details. We’ve got news to dish!

And the winner of The X Factor Season 2 is…PEPSI DRAGON! Girl just makes the same whooshing sound over and over again, but on top of a Max Martin-produced slice of synth-pop, you can’t deny she’s music’s next big star.

I kid, I kid. What I really meant to do was recount my three favorite acts from the one-hour telecast. Drumroll please…

3) Dinah Jane Hansen
2) Tate Stevens
1) Diamond White

It’s telling that Dinah Jane and Diamond were engaged in a head-to-head duel. SAVE THEM BOTH, BRITNEY!

Honorable mention goes to Lyric Da Queen…because why wouldn’t it?

But let’s rewind and talk about all the store-brand “Battle Rounds” — or whatever The X Factor wants to call ’em.

* Tara Simon strong-armed Jennel Garcia into covering Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” but much like the natural disaster referenced in the song’s title, both contestants got muddied in the process. Tara punished every note like an overzealous nun with a class of rowdy kindergartners, while Jennel, struggling to figure out if there was a way to provocatively tousle her hair and grind her hips to the rhythm, quavered and wavered like a middlweight boxer who accidentally wound up in the heavyweight title match.

* To my ears, Carly Rose Sonenclar won the “only one preternaturally mature 13-year-old white girl can advance to the Judges’ Houses” showdown over Beatrice Miller. Still, while the duo displayed solid pitch and phrasing, I’m not sure I needed to hear middle-school girls spitting lines like “better run, better run, faster than my bullet.” (Does that make me a fuddy duddy? No, it just means I have better judgment than Simon Cowell.)

* A lot of questions crossed my mind when David Correy and Vino Allen tackled “What’s Going On?” as part of the “only one tattooed dude can advance to the Judges’ Houses” showdown. First up, is David going to mention his quest to meet his birth mother every time he’s in front of a camera, because it might make his “journey” unbearable as we march toward the inevitable live season-finale reunion Simon Cowell is probably already planning? Second, how much better was Demi Lovato’s makeup this week? Third, why doesn’t Vino know the cardinal rule of never reacting noticeably when you’ve missed a lyric? And finally, HOW COME THE PIANIST WAS WEARING LATEX GLOVES? Save that creeperie for Law & Order: SVU! Ultimately, while Vino’s voice is perhaps a tad more distinctive, it’s also less polished. Plus, I agree with Britney: “He scares me a little.”

* I can’t believe the judges paired Diamond White and Dinah Jane Hansen, but I guess they’re the last two standing in the “teenagers who live in crowded houses” category. At 13, Diamond seems a little more polished than her 16-year-old rival — you get the sense she’s had at least a year of auditions and acting lessons on her quest for musical stardom — but nevertheless genuine and adorable. Dinah, for her part, is a little more awkward, but also just a tad more soulful: Her struggles in life inform every note she sings. The duo’s stripped-down, slowed-down take on “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” would’ve been impressive from singers twice their age, and I can’t wait to see what these girls will be able to do if they make it to the live shows. Diamond’s voice proved slightly bigger when she powered through the glory notes, but I like the way Dinah adds a little stank to the ends of her phrases.

* Sister C and Lauren Jauregui — two of my audition-round favorites — sounded incredible on the four seconds of “These Arms of Mine” that the producers let us hear, but then we were treated to random comments from Britney and Demi about Sister C being “annoying” — without any footage to support that accusation. Nothing like seeing someone’s reputation get randomly stuffed into a bag and slammed repeatedly against a wall, right?

* I don’t want to hear 13-year-old Reed Deming sing something as mature as One Republic’s “Secrets.” Ick. No. Therefore Brandon Hassan wins the battle for me, for you.

* Ally Brooke outshone Julia Bullock on “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” (Man I love that song.)

* Jeffrey Gutt sounded rock-solid on “If I Die Young,” but what wretched backstage crime did his rival commit to cause the producers not to show one second of his singing, or even to identify him with a chyron?

* Under the heading of “continued random character assassinations,” Demi implied that, by choosing The Tony Rich Project’s “Nobody Knows” for their duet, 37-year-old Tate Stevens somehow sabotaged 17-year-old Willie Jones. “I think he knew what he was doing,” she huffed, after Willie totally blanked on his lyrics, and Tate finished the song with equal parts passion and restraint. But let’s be honest: If Willie’s going to succeed on The X Factor, this probably won’t be the last unfamiliar song he’s asked to cover. And once you’ve committed to a performance, it’s your job to grab the mic and remember those words — no matter how nervous or young or underprepared you are. Thanks, though, to previews for next week’s Judges’ Houses round — and Willie’s very distinctive hair — we know the kid will stay in the picture despite whiffing on Task Two.

* Arin Ray and sickeningly pretty Normani Hamilton turned “What Makes You Beautiful” into a romantic ballad, and it worked surprisingly well, even if his upper register is a little thin, and she tends to over-enunciate (which still beats mumbling, in my book).

* We then got treated to a disaster montage, kicking off with Jillian Jensen’s reasonably good cover of Sugarland’s “Stay,” while her duet partner Latasha Robinson blanked on her lyrics and began a fast and tearful descent into madness. “I humiliated myself,” she wept, as shark-like cameras hunted her through backstage corridors and supply cabinets, making sure to extend the bad vibes for as long as humanly possible. “Smile! You’re on X Factor!” Freddie Combs and Jessie Bryant turned “Up on the Roof” into a bizarre piece of performance art, punctuated by long silences and spoken-word improvisation. And Nick Youngerman did everything but beg for the Heimlich Maneuver as he shouted “I’m choking!” Britney, meanwhile, found it unbearable to witness the tears of one teenage-girl contestant who’s performance was circling the drain. I’m guessing Brit didn’t see Drew Ryniewicz, Rachel Crow, or InTENsity get ousted in Season 1.

* And finally it was time for Day 2 of CeCe “I paint my face with cheetah print and work in a post office” Frey vs. Paige “I’m an absurdly attractive single mom with confidence issues” Thomas. Paige entered whining about how CeCe had forced them into tackling One Republic’s “Secrets” — “I just feel like I got played a little bit,” she pouted — but even though CeCe has been painted as a villainess (or at least as a cocky diva in need of a takedown) since her audition, I felt no sympathy for Paige, not even when she blanked on the lyrics and started spitting out random bits of word salad. CeCe at least got all her lines right, but her voice sounded wobblier than an egg stood on its end. To be fair, both women had already been brought to the brink of tears with Simon’s “why do you want this?” line of questioning, but then again, you wouldn’t see Pepsi Dragon fall apart under pressure, would you?

Who were your favorites from The X Factor‘s fifth episode of Season 2? Were there any moments that made you cringe? Hit the comments with your thoughts!