Steve Jones emerges to "I'm Bad," which is undeniably appropriate. When the music stops and the backup dancers freeze, Steve welcomes the audience and then booms into the microphone: "THANK YOU VERY MUCH SEXY DANCING PEOPLE!" I can't tell if it's "Thank you very much! Sexy dancing, people!" or "Thank you very much, Sexy Dancing People!" but either way, it's hilarious enough to rewind three times.
A brief tribute to the King of Pop is our segue into the performances, including a plug for the Cirque du Soleil show. Then Steve introduces the Jackson brothers: Marlon, Tito and Jackie. Steve asks Marlon, "What does this mean to an actual Jackson?" Steve is the king of awkward phrasing.
Brother Tito introduces Katherine Jackson and Michael Jackson's three kids, who are sitting in the audience. We learn tonight's hashtag is #beatit and then Josh is up first. I'm feeling slightly uncomfortable that the family had to do an upbeat episode of reality TV on the heels of the Conrad Murray sentencing, but the Jacksons are ready to roll, so I am, too.
Team Nicole: Josh Krajcik
When Josh was young he thought Michael was "the coolest," clearly setting himself apart from all the other youngsters on the playground. Josh isn't comfortable with Michael ("It's not my sound"), but is going to perform with his guitar to help up the comfort level. His rendition of "Dirty Diana" sounds cool, but all the dancers wiggling around in white men's dress shirts reminds me more of Risky Business than anything else.
L.A. "That was cool, man. It was the first time I've really seen you step out of your comfort zone. You struggled, but you landed on your feet." Paula "Some of the best performances come out of that discomfort. It was a showstopping performance." Simon "As a spectacle it was great, however you were overproduced; you got lost in all the choreography." Nicole "We actually like to take risks. Michael is so inspiring we feel him in our veins!"
Astro Astro warms up with another little mea culpa and then moves into how inspiring he finds Michael Jackson. Astro is also outside of his comfort zone, and raps his way into "Black & White." The bones of the song are there, but Astro doesn't sing any of it, not even the chorus. The rhymes are so good that I'm not sure the lack of actual singing will matter. What will the judges say?
Nicole "I don't know if this was my favorite performance, but I will say I love the lyrics you wrote. I feel like this is the first time you really had fun." Paula "I think you're extraordinary; I think your words are important." Simon "That's what someone your age should be doing, taking a classic and making it younger and fit a new generation." L.A. "I'm proud. I'd like to think the Jackson family is as proud of you. It was truly, truly amazing."
Marcus Canty Why do I feel like this could be Marcus's week to shake things up? He can sing and dance and he has a Jackson-esque quality sometimes. Only...he's looking like Canty does Usher does Jackson in this version of "PYT" and the vocals sound a little shaky. Is it just me? He does bust out a standing back flip and take it from this former cheerleader, that shit is hard.
Nicole "I love you, PYT! I hope America appreciates you. You are the whole package." Paula "What a beautiful homage to the late, great Michael Jackson. You left it out there." Simon "I agree with everything Paula just said, only the vocals aren't that great." L.A. "It was an inventive arrangement. I hope that flip flips you into some votes."
Chris Rene We find out that Chris's grandfather wrote "Rockin' Robin," which the Jackson 5 recorded. HELLO! More goosebumps.
Chris comes out with a smooth, R&B version of "I'll Be There." He truly looks healthier and healthier every week, and while his rhyming is his strong suit, his vocals are improving, too. This performance is smooth but impactful. The judges are going to love it. Right?
Nicole "What's so amazing about Michael Jackson is that you always feel his spirit through his music, and I felt your spirit tonight. I loved you up there tonight. You sounded the best you ever sang." Paula "You look the best you've ever looked. You manifest in the heart department." Simon "The vocal was a little bit shaky at the top; when the rap kicked in, much much better. You are going to need a lot of support." L.A. "You know you are the truth. Great job."
Drew Drew sits in a chair, illuminated by a spotlight, and warbles "Billie Jean," accompanied only by a piano. Simon calls it an exercise in stripping away distracting production. I call it "what Drew does every week." Drew can sing, but the simplicity here feels just as stagey as Josh's crazy dress-shirt dancers.
L.A. "You took 'Billie Jean' and you made it your own, and it pains me to say this, but I liked it." Nicole "I like you. The whole chair thing, like, I just don't understand that. You showed range this week and you had passion." Paula "This was your best vocal performance. However, Simon on a week of Michael Jackson, you chose to have nothing visual; in paying homage to Michael, you should have something visual." Simon argues with Paula and Nicole a lot, and drinks out of his Pepsi glass.
Rachel Crow Rachel idolizes Michael Jackson, and is ready to tackle the challenge to perform a Jackson song. She gives me goosebumps every time she appears on screen. She pops up in a cropped leather jacket and one sparkly glove, and I realize she wasn't even born when Michael was rocking that look. I was only a little younger than Rachel when Michael was rocking that look. The hashtag for that is #imreallyold. The song is "Can You Feel It" but ironically, this might be Rachel's weakest performance.
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L.A. "It didn't translate. That wasn't the best I've seen you." Nicole "I didn't feel the connection between you and the world that was created around you onstage." Paula "I absolutely adore you. It's time to get back to what you want to do." Simon "It's obviously anti-Simon night tonight, so I wouldn't take any notice. You always put on a show. You look like a pop star."
Melanie Amaro We get a brief recap of Melanie's "out of the closet" Virgin Islands accent from last week. Simon and Melanie are ready to take a big risk with this week's song selection, and when Melanie charges out onstage to flashing strobe lights, I'm expecting a big first note -- instead she gives us "Earth Song," which starts with soft opening notes. She is as comfortable and non-gospel-y as she's ever been on the X Factor stage.
L.A. "I felt like we were at a Melanie Amaro concert. You were amazing, and maybe the best of the night." Nicole "Not only was it the best of the night, it was the best performances I've seen on the entire show." Paula "It was flawless and you are gorgeous up there! You nailed it!" Simon "I could not be more proud."
Tune in for the results tonight on Fox at 7 p.m. CT. You can view video excerpts from last night's performances online.