The X Factor: Let's Go Halfsies

First, this recap was delayed because the Wednesday night baseball playoff game was rain delayed, canceling that night's X Factor episode--yet another reason for me to hate baseball. Second, naming the latest round of competition "the judges' houses" is really stupid. When the first phase is "auditions" and the second phase is "boot camp" why is phase three "the judges' houses"? It just sounds stupid to wring your hands and say things like, "Making all the way to 'judges' houses' and getting eliminated would be just horrible!"

On the upside, the judges' houses are pretty sweet. There are a lot of big eyes and dropped jaws when the contestants get to see where their mentors live, and each team finds out who their mentor is when the respective judge walks out of their own front door. That's as much suspense as we get this episode, which isn't much since we found out who got who last episode.

The eight acts from each team will perform a song chosen by their mentors, and four acts will be eliminated after "judges' houses".

Yep, still hate that.

Team Paula Abdul: The Groups

Paula has a beautiful home in Santa Barbara, and her tastes run feminine so the contestants guessed correctly she (or Nicole) was their mentor. Paula brought in producer Pharrell as a consultant for the tryouts. The first four tryouts were from The Anser, The Brewer Boys, 4Shore, and the newly-formed and terribly-named Lakota Rayne. Lakota Rayne is the four-girl mash-up created by the judges from four eliminated soloists. They do a great job on a country-esque version of Lady Gaga's "Born This Way", much better than you might expect from a group who has only been singing together for a short time. That said, "Lakota Rayne" is the dumbest group name ever. 4Shore was a standout, with perfect harmonies and choreography that choreographer Paula Abdul thinks might be "too perfect."

Team L.A. Reid: The Boys

Reid brings in superstar Rhianna as his guest adviser, and the whole gang meets up at his pad in the Hamptons. 14-year-old rapper Brian Bradley nods approvingly, and says this is the kind of house he would buy if he had five million, which makes me laugh because five mil wouldn't pay the gardener's salary for this place. That said, Brian is the best of the four which also included Skyelor Anderson, crooner Phillip Lomax, and Nick Voss. Nick Voss' version of "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" moves between wobbly and passable. I'm not sure this guy will move on.

Team Nicole Scherzinger: The Over-30s

My cold, black heart softened up a bit this week--Nicole came across as sweeter and more relaxed at her Malibu home, where Enrique Iglesias was her guest consultant. Even though she squealed an unhappy, "REEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLYYYYYYYY!?" last week when she was assigned the over-30s, this week she is looking at the upside of things: "It means that much more to them. They have a story to tell and have lived their lives--maybe two lives!" Dexter Haygood continues to maximize on his James Brown-like qualities, but his powerful backstory of former quasi-fame and subsequent fall into homelessness is as much a draw to keeping him in the running as his talent. His performance of Beyonce's "Crazy in Love" had sparks of potential. We also heard from wedding singer Elaine Gibbs and single mom Stacy Francis, both of whom delivered strong vocals. James Kenney also performed, but he has his work cut out for him against the big voices and personalities in his category.

Team Simon Cowell: The Girls

This team is the big winner, and not just because Cowell is a star-maker--he brings them to his home in France. Trust me, this guy is not living in some 1st arrondissement flat--he's got quite the view of the entire city, and the Eiffel Tower looks like a toy ladder from his front yard. Simon's guest consultant was Mariah Carey, until Hurricane Irene grounded her flight. Instead he has a group of three guys who rush over after every performance and agree with everything he says. Simon Battle and Tara Woolshin give a couple of weak performances; Tara sings well, but she was not feeling "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones, and it showed. Rugby player Caitlin Koch and 14-year-old Drew Ryniewicz were far more compelling, with beautifully sung ballads and interesting phrasing that had Simon grinning ear-to-ear. He really does look like a Cheshire cat.

You can view part two of the judges' houses competitions Sunday night at 7 p.m. CT on FOX. View video excerpts from last night's episode online.

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