This roller coaster ride called The X Factor has already brought us down to 12 final contestants, and now the interactive fun begins. America--the lines are open! (well, they were open last night) and you get to choose the next big super star ... or at least the next somewhat popular recording artist with a lukewarm debut album and a contractual obligation to X Factor: North American Tour.
Wednesday night's show set up each performer for a show-stopping number, designed to move them forward to the next round of competition. We were shown brief glimpses of meetings between mentors and contestants, and snippets of insight from rival mentors, as well as rehearsal footage.
Steve "Not Ryan Seacrest" Jones kept things moving at a good pace, but with five fewer contestants there were no "shut up Paula we're moving on" moments like last week.
Stereo Hogzz:"Rhythm Nation" by Janet Jackson Paula introduces her first group with a hilarious, disjointed greeting looking straight into the camera: "Coming up now! Get ready! Hold your seats!" It's priceless Paula. The Hogzz do an incredible job with a really fun song and the judges respond to it.
L.A. says, "You absolutely have what it takes to be a star." Nicole announces, "The Stereo Hogzz have landed!" Simon gushes, "Not only do I think you are one of the best groups I've seen on one of these competitions, I work for a record label--I don't think there's a band in the world right now that's as good as you. That was a master class of choreography, being slick, vocals, charisma. I just wish I was mentoring you." Paula is jumping up and down and pumping her arms, prompting the Hogzz to start a "Paula, Paula" chant.
Lakota Rayne: "Landslide" by Fleetwood Mac If you are singing this song and you aren't Stevie Nicks, I pretty much won't like you. That said, the harmonies are pretty and the girls are, too but their styling is dumb. The theme is supposed to be "four seasons" but we only know that from watching the rehearsal clips--without that they just look like four girls in long dresses.
L.A. says: "You look incredible! Tonight I felt the blend, felt the harmonies." Nicole agrees: "You sound like one voice tonight. It was so beautiful. It was effortless." Simon displays a measure of sanity, stating: "I hate the concept" in reference to the girls dressed as seasons. Paula defends them and finishes with: "I'm proud of you, now let's go get frozen yogurt!"
InTENsity: "Kids in America" (Kim Wilde)/"Party Rock Anthem" (LMFAO) The kids think they are too "Glee" and so do I. And I don't even watch "Glee". Considering they are totally manufactured, they are impressively cohesive as a group.
L.A. gives them an ambiguous: "That was fun, fun, fun!" Nicole has fun with puns: "That was fun-tastic! Fun-omenal!" Simon actually likes them, saying: "That was terrific. I like the fact that there's a bit of a rebellion going on here." Paula obviously has a lot of affection for them and thanks them for their hard work. What, no frozen yogurt for the kids?
Chris Rene: "Long Ago" The Carpenters In the flashback footage we hear lots of talk about how Chris needs to connect with audiences through lyrics, while Chris explains he feels better singing his own songs than covering other music. He starts off terribly off-key, but when the tempo picks up and he starts to flow he gains confidence and the rest of the song is stronger.
Nicole loves Chris: "I have so much mad love for you my friend. You sound absolutely amazing, you've grown so much vocally; you sound beautiful." Paula agrees, adding: "I am so proud of you Chris. You are honest, transparent in your thoughts." Even Simon thinks it was good, stating: "I thought it was a big improvement. I like you and I love your honesty." L.A. keeps it simple with a "He's hot!"
Astro: "Hip Hop Hooray" Naughty by Nature Astro "makes the song his own" as reality singing judges like to say, and mixes in his own lyrics with the song. I don't want to like this snotty little kid, but he's really good. The judges love him.
Nicole offers a compliment, and displays a possible lack of good judgment: "You know how to get the party started right. I want to go to the club with you right now!" Paula is also an Astros fan: "You march to the beat of your own drum. You're bold, unique, daring." Simon says, "You are a real little star. Your ego is getting bigger ... you need that confidence, that swagger." L.A. says: "I'm proud. You keep bringing it."
Marcus Canty: "Every Little Step" by Bobby Brown L.A. Reid wrote this song for Brown, and in rehearsals focuses on getting Marcus to concentrate on vocals, urging him not to get lost in the performance.
Nicole says, "I felt like I was watching a concert!" six times. Paula--whose music career is of this era--states: "You are a total performer; a total package." Simon thinks the song choice was narcissistic on L.A.'s part, but admits: "Marcus you have come alive. This is you relaxed, this is what we loved about you in your first audition." L.A. wants Marcus to keep up the hard work.
Leroy Bell: "Already There" by Lonestar Yawn. I love Leroy Bell but this song is boring. That said, Leroy's version is a huge improvement over the original. Leroy is amazing but I am not sure he is finding his musical niche with Nicole. I think he might do better with L.A.
L.A. totally agrees with me, saying: "I can't say I love the song choice, but I love your voice." Paula busts out a vague: "I've never seen anyone work so hard; you wrap your life experiences around every song." Simon repeats past criticisms of Leroy: "I think you've got a confidence issue. I don't think Nicole has given you the right song." Nicole fights back, saying: "You know what Leroy? Sometimes less is more. You make all the dads across America proud tonight."
Josh Krajcik: "Jar of Hearts" by Christina Perri It really doesn't matter what Josh sings--he's my boy. This song starts off sleepy but Josh's Joe Cocker-like voice gives me goosebumps, as usual.
L.A. raves: "I liked your before, but I really dig your after." Paula testifies: "I am a believer." Even Simon gets a little gush-y: "That was incredible. It's like you wrote the song! You took a risk and it paid off." Nicole sums it up: "I feel like a proud mom but we're like the same age. What I love about you ... is I feel your voice in my veins."
Stacy Francis: "Up to the Mountain" by Patty Griffins Stacy Francis is gaining a little more self-control on stage. Read: Not sobbing so often and losing so much mascara. She does have a beautiful voice, and her main challenge is to exhibit more control when she moves between keys as well as prove that she's "more than" a gospel singer. Simon, for the record, doesn't think she has to prove she's more than a gospel singer, stating gospel singers sell plenty of records.
L.A. compliments her, saying, "You are so poised, I am so proud of you. You are getting better and better. You stir souls when you sing." Paula follows up: "The way you interpret songs is magical." Simon gives himself credit for advising Nicole on the song choice and says, "This is what you should have been doing right from the start. One of the best performances of the night." Nicole is tearful, offering: "You were the epitome of grace and poise and beauty."
Rachel Crow: "Walkin' on Sunshine" by Katrina & The Waves This is one of the most fun performances of the night, and this song was made for Rachel Crow. She is spunky and precocious and just--different. X Factor different? I think so.
L.A. loves her, saying:"You are one of the most charismatic people I have ever met. You have something special." Nicole tells Rachel: "You are America's sunshine. You have a classic recording voice." Paula: "I love the fact that when you see Rachel you think of sunshine--you evoke that!" Simon predicts: "This girl is going to be around for a long, long time."
Melanie Amaro: "Desperado" by The Eagles I like that they chose this song for her, because it kept things low key but still allowed her to sing powerfully. Not every song has to be a rendition of a Whitney Houston song. I don't even particularly like this song (partly because of that Seinfeld episode) and I kind of like this rendition.
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L.A. compliments/snipes: "The only thing Simon ever did right was going to get you back." Nicole tells Melanie: "There is no limit to what you and your voice can do." Paula breaks out a weird simile: "Your voice is like fine china. You take it out on special occasions." (Wednesday nights on Fox?) Simon throws down: "I didn't realize how good you were--you are seriously, seriously good. You are the one to beat--trust me."
Drew: "Just a Dream" by Nelly Yes, she took a song, slowed it down, and gave it a folksy vibe. Yes, she's been doing it for weeks. But she also brought this one back up-tempo again, at least a little, and Drew's interesting voice makes most everything she sings sound compelling. She has a haunting quality to her voice and it makes you want to hear more.
L.A. loves Drew: "You know what you have? You have the spirit of a superstar." Nicole compliments her song choice: "This is one of my favorite Nelly songs. You are so relevant." Paula offers: "I totally live for that last note that you sing." Simon gives an uncharacteristically humble critique: "I am seeing a star emerge in front of me right now. I'm not her mentor, she is my mentor now."
Tune in for tonight's results show on FOX at 7 p.m. ET. You can find video of last night's performances at the X Factor website.