The X Factor Gets Grateful

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Last night's episode of The X Factor was all about gratitude. Contestants dedicated their performances to someone special in their lives, telling heartwarming tales designed to maximize viewer empathy and increase voting by tugging on the ol' heartstrings. And you know what? It worked. The theme resonated both because of the tie-in with the Thanksgiving holiday, and the increased emotional connection between performer and song choice.

The gratitude theme also stands out against last week's incident with 15-year-old hip-hop artist Astro, in which the contestant displayed a distinct lack of gratitude after landing in the bottom two and throwing a temper tantrum on live television. But more -- much more -- on that in just a minute.

While this week's episode is centered on gratitude, that doesn't mean the competition is over. In fact, two contestants will be sent home on tonight's live results show: the person with the lowest number of votes will automatically go home; the two contestants with the lowest number of votes behind that person will battle it out and the judges will send one home, as per usual. So essentially the producers are raising the stakes and manipulating the emotions of the audience, having the contestants dedicate performances and tell intensely personal stories, and then forcing voters to send an extra person home.

*Warm fuzzies*

Team Simon

Rachel Crow In the tearjerker opening act, we learn Rachel Crow was an abused crack baby, adopted by a loving family who gave her (and her adopted sister) a stable home to grow up in. Rachel's father said, "She chose us," and I defy anyone who was watching to tell me they didn't get choked up. Rachel is wearing the most darling beaded tuxedo shirt and open-front plaid skirt with black leggings -- normally a recipe for fashion disaster, but on this cutie it works. Her stylist likes her. The judges gush over the performance of "I Believe" by Yolanda Adams, which she dedicates to her family.

Melanie Amaro Suddenly this week Melanie Amaro has a Virgin Islands accent. Have I not been listening closely, or has she not been talking much? It's just much stronger this week, right? Anyway, she dedicates her performance to God, because all the people in her life have let her down, including her parents, who sent her to live in VI with her grandparents because they couldn't afford to raise her. Frankly, it's a little uncomfortable to have her blowing kisses to her mom from the stage and dissing her parents in the pretaped interviews. That said, she kills it on "The World's Greatest" by R Kelly. The best part comes after the performance, when she rambles on, causing host/timekeeper Steve Jones visible pain as he tries to keep the show on track.

Drew I like Drew. I like her voice. I like her style. This week she dedicates her performance to her best friend Shelby, who has always stuck by her. Apparently they are a little uncool, a little dorky by whatever standards are held by 14-year-old girls these days. Drew picks "Skyscraper" by Demi Lovato, a song and person I am barely familiar with, and it sounds great...it also sounds like every other song she has sung since the beginning of the competition. During the critique, Simon and L.A. go at it over L.A.'s criticism that the song is "too old" for Drew (IMDb puts Demi Lovato at 19 years old); Steve, desperate to move the show along, blurts out: "Stop right now. Please...Thanksgiving!"

Team Paula: Lakota Rayne

Each girl dedicates the performance to someone special -- a boyfriend, a grandmother, a father. The girls perform Taylor Swift's "You Belong to Me." Oddly, their vocals are more off than usual, but the performance is better -- it actually has some energy. Even Simon likes it, and Paula is sobbing. Seriously, sobbing. Over a Taylor Swift song.

Team Nicole Leroy Bell Leroy Bell dedicates his performance of Sarah McLachlan's "Angel" to his late mother, who encouraged his musical ambitions by buying him his first amp. The same thing is wrong with this performance as all the others -- it's so low-key. L.A. starts to say something about it not being Leroy's best performance and gets booed, and Paula steps in to correct L.A., saying this was Leroy's best performance yet.

Josh Krajcik Josh dedicates his song to his 13-year-old daughter, who he says inspired him to believe in himself and his musical dreams again. It's just Josh, playing a grand piano and singing the Rolling Stones' "Wild Horses," in the most powerful performance of the night. That it is the most powerful performance of the night is no excuse for Nicole to practically collapse, sobbing about how Josh's music is going to "change the world." It's a Rolling Stones cover Nicole, take it easy.

Team L.A. Reid

Marcus Canty Marcus dedicates his song to his mother, a single mom who raised him and his sister alone. His version of the Babyface-penned, Boyz II Men-recorded "Song for Mama" is a hit with the judges, especially Paula and Nicole, who I think might be in love with Marcus. L.A. says Marcus is as good as any singer he's ever worked with, which I think might be slightly generous, but he's the record producer and I'm a blogger who only sings in the shower, so what the hell do I know?

Chris Rene We already know about Chris Rene's drug-abusing past; he's seven months sober and dedicates his performance to his drug counselor, Tim. Chris does a mash-up of The Beatles' "Let It Be" with his original, "Young Homie," which we first heard when he auditioned. The judges love the Young Homie part, split on the Let It Be part and Simon thanks Chris for inspiring thousands of people to clean up their lives.

Astro (Author's Note: Josh Krajcik performed last, but I saved Astro's story for last because it didn't end after the live performance last night.)

Quick recap-within-a-recap: Last week Astro landed in the bottom two, threw a bit of a fit, didn't want to perform for the judges in the "sing-off" portion. While he ultimately did perform, Astro totally half-assed it, which prompted judges L.A. and Simon to call him out for his behavior, as well as a certain amount of Internet backlash. Subsequent news stories surfaced after that debacle reporting that Astro had been difficult in the hours leading up to the November 17 show, wearing a set of Dr. Dre headphones during his performance which producers had specifically instructed him not to wear due to licensing issues as well as The X Factor's own agreement with Sony for a similar product.

This week, Astro had to eat a little bit of humble pie, apologizing (without ever uttering the words "I'm sorry") to fans for his behavior, and promising to be more mature going forward. Astro performs original lyrics to Jay-Z's "Show Me What You" and, as usual, does an amazing job. The kid is definitely talented, but is his ego too far out ahead of his place in the competition? Astro does the humble thing, thanks the judges while they profusely praise his performance. Paula says he's well on his way to becoming prolific, and Simon says he "admires" Astro for rising to the occasion and admitting where he went wrong last week.

Not so fast, Simon!

When I hit The Googles this morning, I came across this piece from the New York Post in which Astro claims that the show's producers purposely placed him into the bottom two for the headphone incident. He also says that his mother urged him to quit the competition, but he decided to stay and ride it out. Fox officials insist that last week's results were accurate, and that Astro earned his own way into the bottom two. I think this proves that those of us who bought that lame apology are the real turkeys this Thanksgiving.

Tune in for the live results show on Fox, which airs at 7 p.m. CT. View video excerpts from last night's show online.

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