The X Factor Top 8 Performance Recap: Big Band That Rocks the Cradle [Updated]

Carlito Olivero X FactorThanksgiving is nigh, and the forecast calls for excessive gluttony and three-to-four inches of pie on Thursday afternoon. But that didn’t stop Simon Cowell and his X Factor minions from attempting to cram their barely concealed agendas down America’s gullets during Wednesday night’s Top 8 performance telecast.

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Yes indeed, Big Band Night brought out the best in two or three contestants, but bizarrely, they weren’t the ones to receive the most enthusiastic praise from The One Whose Reaction Shots Are Oh So Gif-Worthy, The One Whose Acting Is Better on Glee, The One Who May Not Actually Know the Names of Her Two Remaining Acts Unless They’re Written on the Back of Her AmEx Bill, and The One Who Already Knows Which Acts He Wants Signed to His Syco Label — and Will Do Anything to Ensure One of ‘Em Comes Out on Top.

In other words, how did not one single judge mention Restless Road’s screaming massacre of “Life Is a Highway,” the only relief from which arrived when the 25-piece orchestra managed to intermittently drown out the dubious country trio? And why was everyone acting like Ellona Santiago was the second coming of Beyoncé when she hit at least a half-dozen wince-inducing notes that would’ve caused the Lady Knowles to wish the perky teenager into the cornfield alongside Latavia and Latoya?

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What’s more, I can almost guarantee that 99 dentists out of 100 would recommend watching and listening to Josh Levi’s “Treausure” over Rion Paige’s “Swingin’,” and yet from the feedback they received, you’d have thought they were absolute equals. Urgh!

I know, I know, at this point in the shelf-life of the American reality singing competition, producer manipulation should be about as shocking as a Kim Kardashian selfie on Twitter. But I don’t think I’ll ever stop hoping for honesty and transparency in the process.

On that note, let’s cut to letter grades for the week’s performances — and because I’ve got early-morning holiday travel, I’m keeping my reviews to a Twitter-esque 140 characters or less:

Rion Paige: John Anderson/LeAnn Rimes’ “Swingin'” — Grade: C- | “Swingin” is such a one-note song, and alas, that note was not pitched correctly for Rion whose voice strained like cold butter through a sieve for most of the song.

Restless Road: Tom Cochrane’s “Life Is a Highway” — Grade: D- | Colton’s tone on his solos was bafflingly reminiscent of The Swedish Chef (maybe that inspired Paulina’s Muppets comment later in the telecast), and the harmonies on the bridge had me dialing 1-800-Jesus-No.

Jeff Gutt: Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” — Grade: B | Not exactly an inspired song choice from Kelly, considering it’s been done in the recent past — and with far more gusto — by Adam Lambert, Melanie Amaro, Jennifer Hudson and even Dez Duron. But Jeff was still above par, hitting all his notes on a song with a high degree of difficulty.

Josh Levi: Bruno Mars’ “Treasure” — Grade: A- | Josh showcased more charisma and energy floating, spinning and leaping around the stage tonight than Restless Road has mustered up in 6 live performances combined. Oh, and the kid’s vocal was spotless, to boot!

Carlito Olivero: Ricky Martin’s “La Copa de la Vida (The Cup of Life)” — Grade: A- | Yes, Carlito was cheesier than a plate of stuffed shells, but c’mon, he was covering the official anthem of the 1998 World Cup. And he did it with high energy, wicked enthusiasm and darn near note perfection. I can’t be mad at it!

Alex & Sierra: Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” — Grade: B+ | The whole staging was verrrry Sonny & Cher — in other words, fantastic! But while I once again have to tip my imaginary hat to the duo’s creative rearrangement — it honestly took me half the song to remember that it’s a T-Swift original — the end result had a few moments that sounded a wee bit strident. (Vexing, though, was that once again the biggest risk takers get some of the harshest feedback from the judges.)

Lillie McCloud: “Summertime” (from Porgy and Bess) — Grade: B | Simon was right that Lillie’s decision to once again stand stock still on a pedestal drained some of the rawness and energy from her performance. Does she probably have the best, most polished voice of the season? Sure. But did it feel a little like she was coasting? Kinda. And shouldn’t Lillie have been aware of — and strenuously avoided — a song that Fantasia Barrino has forever ruined for the reality singing competition genre? Abso-freakin’-lutely.

Ellona Santiago: Jessie J’s “Mamma Knows Best” — Grade: C+ B- | OK, OK, my initial C+ was a tad harsh, but while Ellona razzled and dazzled like she was the star of her own Baz Luhrmann production number, I felt like — once again — she went intermittently sharp on most of her ad-libs, probably because she was expending so much energy dancing. And the judges’ failure to call her out on the problem probably means she’s doomed to repeat it.

And nope, I’m not bothering to judge the group performance of “Cry Me a River.” Like Simon said, we’re really supposed to critique people based on a few lines — or in Lillie’s case, a sentence fragment? Nope, let’s call it what it was — Pure Theater for the Sake of Filling Out the 120 Minutes — and leave it at that.

Should go home: Restless Road, Rion
Will go home: Lillie, Rion

And with that, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of Top 8 performance night? Who were your faves? Who surprised you? Who will and should be at risk? Take our poll below, then expand on your thoughts in the comments!