Wednesday night The X Factor extended its two-hour format to two and a half hours, allowing us to see each team - Boys, Girls, Over 30s, and Groups - perform, as well as the judges' elimination decisions. While 2.5 hours is quite long, the fact that the show didn't get crazy and make us wait over lengthy commercial breaks for the judges' decisions, but got right to the point with judges making their final choices immediately following their team's performance was good. I call that refreshing reality television. Oh yeah, and host Steve gets to dress up and be the only person in the camera shot a whole bunch of times! No longer a bridesmaid!
Each judge was required to move three contestants forward, which means L.A., Paula, and Nicole had to cut one act while Simon had to cut two. If you recall, at the end of the "judges' house" round of competition Simon had a change of heart and added a fifth, previously-eliminated contestant, Melanie Amaro.
So who will move on to the next round of live shows?
Team L.A.: The Boys
First up is tiny rapper Brian Bradley, who everyone is now referring to as "Astro," and who performs "Jump" by Chris Cross. He is high-energy, on point with his lyrics, and overly-cocky as usual. The crowd and the judges love him. Chris Rene is a crowd favorite who didn't seem to warm to his song, Madonna's "Love Don't Live Here Anymore". That said, the judges love him and his unique qualities; Simon sees his potential as a recording artist, and I see what a difference a haircut makes.
Phillip Lomax croons his way through a somewhat perfunctory performance of "I'm a Believer" by the Monkees - is anyone else in this category really in danger of going home? Doubtful. Finally, Marcus Canty delivers on "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me" by Culture Club. L.A. Reid sends Phillip Lomax home, and it's clear it wasn't a difficult decision.
Team Paula: The Groups
First up is Houston group Stereo Hogzz, who are by far the best group in the competition. Their version of Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness" is almost flawless - their harmonies and their choreography are blossoming under Paula Abdul's coaching. InTENsity is next (the mash-up of 10 solo artists the judges put together to compete as a group) and they appropriately perform a mash-up: "Footloose" and what the Internet says is "The Clapping Song." In spite of my distaste for the new Footloose remake, I like the performance - while some of them are clearly more talented vocally than others, they do well for a new group.
The Brewer Boys are cute and fun and I warm up to their George Michael "Faith"/Hall & Oats "Rich Girl" mash-up, but it's lacking a little something. Not Bieber bangs, but something. Finally, Lakoda Rayne does "Come on Eileen" by Dexys Midnight Runners. I'm a die-hard fan of the original, so I remain unmoved, but the audience and judges love it.
Paula chokes her way through her decision, and lets the Brewer Boys go. They apologize for letting her down and I think she is approaching apoplexy, but Host Steve hurries things along and Paula remains upright.
Team Nicole: The Over 30s
Nicole kicks off her group with Dexter Haygood, who remembers all of the lyrics to "I Kissed a Girl" by Katy Perry. Most of the judges hate the song choice, but Dexter is an affectionate fan favorite - enough to send him further? Doubtful. Next is Leroy Bell - did someone pass a law that every time they say his name, they have to add "60-year-old"? His version of Pink's "Nobody Knows" is good but kind of snooze-inducing.
Nicole's biggest success might be Stacy Francis, who looks amazing and sounds great on George Michael's "Teacher". Simon hates the song but I like the fact that Stacy doesn't have an excuse to roar in excess, and her voice is nicely showcased so I don't know what the big deal is. Finally, my very favorite Josh Krajcik does an a cappella rendition of "Forever Young" by Bob Dylan and brings the house down. Nicole sends a bewildered Dexter home.
Team Simon: The Girls
It's not hard to see who the executive producer is on this show! Simon's acts have over-the-top productions that I highly recommend you check out on the X Factor video page. No amount of makeup or staging can make Simone Battle sound good - I understand why so many fans were incensed at Cowell's choices during judges' house rounds, because this girl just can't sing. I don't even recognize the song, which the Internet tells me was Mariah Carey's "Just Be Good to Me." If you say so, Internet!
Rachel Crow is charming as always, but not as bubbly, when she performs her mash-up of "Where Did Our Love Go" (Supremes)/"Baby" (Justin Bieber). Drew (they've dropped her last name, Ryniewicz, already) does "Flashdance...What A Feeling". Everyone gushes, but I feel like we've seen this "take a song, slow it down, crackle voice" thing before. I'm ready for Drew to sing something faster than a funeral dirge.
Simon's favorite Tiah Tolliver comes out in a weird catsuit and weird makeup, with a weird set and weird dancers to do "Sweet Dreams" by the Eurythmics. I would make a joke about bad dreams, but Nicole does it for me; Paula reminds Tiah - again - that her pitch is not great. Finally, Melanie Amaro comes out and proves why Simon had to fly back to Florida to retrieve her. She sings a faithful version of "I Have Nothing" by Whitney Houston, but she sings it well.
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Simon hems and haws about who to choose, but it seems like an easy choice: he sends Tiah and Simone home, putting Rachel, Drew, and Melanie through to the next round. Bonus: Simone grabs the mike from Host Steve and announces she's dropping her new video tonight, called "He Likes Boys."
The next episode of The X Factor will air at 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 2. The hour-long results follow-up episode will air on November 3.