Last week's "X Factor" shocking results show was all about drama, drama, DRA-MA, as the judges bitterly fought over the eliminations and poor Drew Ryniewicz got caught in the crossfire. This Wednesday, there was more drama, of course: "If they want a war, they're going to get a war," Simon Cowell snarled at the episode's start, and host Steve Jones even urged viewers to chime in on Twitter with the hashtag #glovesareoff. But other than Simon's threat to poke pins in a Nicole Scherzinger voodoo doll (hey, are those available for sale on the "X Factor" website?), most of this week's drama centered on a last-minute song switchup that quite possibly altered the entire course of this season. (Spoiler alert: Conspiracy theories ahead!)
The remaining five contestants sang two songs each this week, and their second performances were supposed to be of tunes selected by the public in some sort of "Pepsi Challenge" that I assume had nothing to do with the Coke-vs.-Pepsi blind taste-tests conducted in shopping malls in the 1980s. Anyhoo, a fly got in the ointment--or in the Pepsi, as it were--and so with only 24 hours' notice, the second songs were changed. Steve Jones, bumbling non-master of ceremonies that he often is, didn't really explain this all that well, only saying something along the lines of "there was an error." It sounded like something a bureaucrat at the DMV might say after you stood in the wrong line for an hour and didn't fill out the right forms. Later an official statement from the show spelled it out a little more clearly. ("There was an error in communicating the song selections to the production team, so in the interest of fairness for all contestants, the Pepsi Challenge songs were moved to next week," it read.) But still. This meant that the performances the contestants had been rehearsing for days would be delayed till next week--and that of course, one of those contestants would never get a chance to sing his/her Pepsi Challenge song at all. (Because he or she would be gone by then, you see.) Instead, for their second numbers, the top five would sing tunes of their own choosing, going with the "save me" songs they would have normally done during a sing-off.
With song choice always being so crucial in competitions like these, this last-minute switch would either be to the great benefit or detriment of the contestants. And that is where the conspiracy theories come in. Chris "Young Homie" Rene, who only really excels when he performs his original material and has faltered repeatedly when forced to cover songs outside of his comfort zone/singing range, benefitted the most from this change to the game, since, for his second song, he now got to do...wait for it...one of his originals. He got to sing in the final "pimp spot," too. Make of that what you will. Was this a set-up? Was this a voting scandal of hanging-chad proportions? Did the show's other songwriter, Josh Krajcik, have the option to do an original too--and if so, why didn't he? Oh, who knows. But it's fun to ponder, right?
Moving on--for now, at least. There were other errors this evening, mostly on Scherzinger's part. Nicole seemed to have made a severe error when calculating just how much self-tanner to slather on herself before the show; she accidentally called Chris "Josh" during one critique; and she picked a song so lame for the actual Josh, she may as well have included a bus as one of the many onstage props, so it could run right over him mid-song. But that last "error" wasn't entirely her fault. See, for their FIRST songs, the top five had to adhere to a dance theme, complete with hipster sister DJ duo Nervo onstage working the decks. And it was a theme that didn't really sit well with any of the contestants. First of all, the theme didn't really mean anything, since the show's Now That's What I Call Techno definition of "dance music" was something a la "anything that has ever been remixed or could possibly maybe be remixed in the future." Chris and his fellow Team L.A. Reid member, Marcus Canty, fared best with this theme due to their more urban-leaning signature styles, but the song choices for other contestants just didn't quite work. I guess they were lucky that their second songs were entirely up to them. Because even Simon admitted last week, when trying to save his protégé Drew, that the judges can get it very wrong when it comes to song selection.
And so, without further ado (and I realize there's already been a lot of ado here), below is my recap of how the top five did this week. Which one will be dancing out the door Thursday night, and which four will finally get to take the Pepsi Challenge next week? Read on...
Melanie sings "Someone Like You"
For her first, "dance" song, Melanie performed that club-banger floor-filler, "Someone Like You" by Adele. Yes, granted, it was the accelerated-BPM remix version, but it was still a ballad
. As the clubby mastermix beats kicked in, I thought Melanie, who looked like a true Donna Summery diva this evening, was going to bring it--but she never really did. I actually could totally see Melanie going the dance-diva route, in a Frenchie Davis/Martha Wash sorta way, even singing on a David Guetta track or something--she's certainly got the voice for it, and that musical direction would make her seem a little more relevant to today's dancey marketplace. But she just didn't push it enough. Where was the fire and ferocity from last week's excellent "Earth Song" tour de force, which was THE best performance of Michael Jackson Night? And then
, just when the song got going, suddenly it STOPPED, as if one of those Nervo girls had jerked the needle off the record. Even Melanie looked a little caught off guard. The judges loved this, however, with Paula Abdul's only (somewhat valid) complaint being that the performance was "too short," and L.A. gushing over and over again that it was "really, really good." Nicole called Melanie a "rock-star diva," proving once again that she has no idea was rock is
(although, granted, this was less ridiculous than the night she called Stacy Francis a "glam-rock diva"). This performance was not quite dance, and it was definitely
not rock. It was just another safe performance from a woman that I absolutely KNOW can do better.
Melanie sings "When You Believe"
For her second, last-minute song, Melanie chose to sing both parts of the Mariah Carey/Whitney Houston duet, "When You Believe." Zzzzzz
. She sang the hell out of it, but it was a beyond-predictable choice. And it certainly wasn't relevant to what's going on in music now. After she belted out the ballad in a pageanty floor-length column gown, Melanie then went off on another rambling tangent about how happy she was to have been saved by Simon and brought back to the show. It was cute when she did that two weeks ago (when she revealed her real island-girl accent for the first time), but this time it smacked a bit of desperation. This time, I wouldn't have minded if Steve Jones had done what he usually does and cut her off. Once Melanie finally quieted down, L.A. called her "amazing," Nicole announced that her faked-baked flesh was covered in goosebumps, and Paula called her "one of the greats." Eh. Don't get me wrong: I think Melanie is
the technically best singer left in this competition. But her performances just didn't do it for me this week, and I wish the judges had criticized her just a little
instead of hailing her as the second coming of Whitney and Mariah combined.
Marcus sings "Ain't Nobody"
For his dance song, Marcus went with the perennially crowd-pleasing disco-soul classic "Ain't Nobody" by Chaka Khan--and as the show's resident dancing machine, he was most definitely in his element. Say what you will about Marcus (and trust me, I've said plenty, because he's had several off nights), but when he's on, he is ON, oozing oodles of swag and coming across as relevant to today's pop music scene. This was a fun performance, and for once Marcus didn't get too winded while trying to dance and sing simultaneously. Said Nicole, "You took us to church and the dance club at the same time!" (Um, what kind of church does Nicole go
to, exactly?) Said Paula, "You look fantastic, and as far as I'm concerned, it's an even playing field, and you performed like it was the first time we saw you." Even Simon, who made it abundantly clear last week that he would have preferred Marcus to go home instead of Drew, was nice. "I have to be fair and judge you within the competition, and I have to say that was a very, very good performance," Simon began. "I have to give you credit. I like people who don't act like victims. You came back strong, and good for you."
Marcus sings "A Song For You"
For his second song, Marcus went back to balladeering, warbling the Leon Russell mellow gold classic "A Song For You." Marcus often struggles with big, belty ballads (remember "Mama"? "Neither One Of Us"?), but he was vocally solid this time and pulled it off. "Thank you for reminding us all why we fell in love with you," said Nicole, although her comparing Marcus to a "young Al Green" was a bit much (and a bit blasphemous, even). Paula also overdid it when she declared this Marcus's best performance to date. Only Simon was really honest, telling Marcus, "I'm not jumping out of my chair" (hey, that's Randy Jackson's line!), "but you're likable, and that is important." Yes, I think a lot
of people like Marcus. I was convinced that he would go home this week, but now, I am not 100 percent sure.
Rachel sings "Nothin' On You"
For her dance song, Rachel did B.o.B.'s "Nothin' On You" (with "no chair," Simon pointed out, having learned from his staging mistakes with Drew last week). And while her vocals were a little shaky at first, she definitely exhibited the joy and exuberance that had been oddly missing from her Michael Jackson performance last week. The song was of her choosing, Simon further pointed out, and it seems like this girl does well when left to her own devices. I wasn't crazy about her styling--she looked like Sheena Easton circa the "Sugar Walls" video, and I'm not sure if that was Simon's doing--and I thought Paula went way too over the top when she said this was Rachel's best performance yet (um, no). But overall, I couldn't find much fault with this performance. It was not Rachel's best, but it was solid. L.A. found one
fault, however. "I have one concern, and it's a lyrical concern," he began, explaining that he was perplexed by Rachel's choice to keep the gender-specific lyrics of the original song intact. "Beautiful girls, all over the world--who were you singing to?" Sassed back Rachel, "I was singing to Paula and Nicole!" (Nice comeback, Rachel.) Then Nicole gushed, "I'm just waiting for the Rachel Crow doll to come out, complete with her own bathroom," thus setting up Simon's aforementioned "voodoo doll" barb perfectly. (Nice comeback, Simon.)
Rachel sings "Music and Me"
For her second song, Rachel chose Michael Jackson's "Music and Me" and totally redeemed herself after last week's disappointing "Can You Feel It" Jackson performance. Rachel has been compared by the judges to a young Michael before, and while I still think such praise is over-reaching, tonight in this performance, I saw glimmers of that. This was good. "You're the star that we always thought you were!" raved L.A. "You're an old soul in a 13-year-old. Beautiful job!" praised Nicole. "You are such a great role model. You're every kid's best friend and every parent's daydream," summed up Paula. Paula was dead on
, too. If she is right, then Rachel will scoop up votes from all demographics and possibly win this thing.
Josh sings "We Found Love"
Oh, Josh. My beloved burrito boy. I'm worried about him this week. I knew this soul-rocker would be the most disadvantaged doing a dance theme, and after his misguided mentor Nicole surrounded him with gyrating cage-dancers and silly staging during his Michael Jackson performance last week, I feared what the Pussycat Doll would come up for him on Dance Night. Turns out, I had reason to be afraid, be very afraid. Josh had to sing Rihanna's "We Found Love," and while it would have been great if he'd done a slowed-down, rocked-out, stripped-down version--like how his fellow over-30's contestant James Kenney memorably covered Rihanna's "Russian Roulette"
at the Judges' Houses--I assume he didn't have that option here. So instead Josh had to sing backed by Calvin Harris-esque block-rockin' beats, and it was all just kind of wrong. But once again--as was the case with his ill-fated Jackson performance--his voice was not
the issue. It never
is, because Josh is a great
singer. The judges all made this clear. "You always sing good, we know you can sing," said L.A. "But in the recording world, I could never see you doing that song." (Well, duh. Do you really think Josh would record a song like this for his future album, L.A.? He had no choice!) Said Simon, "I think you have a very good voice, but the song was completely inappropriate. And what made it worse was you were surrounded by a ridiculous dance routine. This is the second time that's happened." (Again, despite my love for Josh, I sort of agreed. Nicole is clearly insane.) Ugh. I hope Josh finds votes in a hopeless place this week.
Josh sings "Something"
For his next number, Josh was thankfully back in his zone--no damn cage, no damn cage-dancers--covering "Something" by George Harrison, aka The Coolest Beatle. What a relief. Nicole should just let Josh choose all his own songs from now on. "Thank God you had a second chance tonight! That's the Josh I love," sighed L.A., even though he said the performance was "ever-so-slightly karaoke." (It wasn't.) Raved Paula, "Adjectives don't describe your brilliance anymore!" Simon told Josh he looked "actually insane" during the performance, but overall thought this was a "massive improvement." Then he advised Josh, "Do not allow any of this crazy choreography anymore. Adele doesn't need any props, and neither do you." I sincerely hope Nicole was listening. If she doesn't heed Simon's advice next week, should Josh make it through, I'm getting out my Scherzinger voodoo doll and a set of the sharpest stickpins I can find.
Chris sings "Live Your Life"
This rapper-singer was totally in his element doing T.I.'s "Live Your Life" for his dance song, technically becoming the second male contestant of the night to cover Rihanna. Chris certainly could have related to T.I.'s original redemptive hard-luck lyrics, but instead he rapped his own verses, and he pulled it off--even though he almost fell off the unnecessary Jamiroquai/"Virtual Insanity" people-mover placed on the stage. His performance had good energy, was in a key that suited his somewhat limited vocal range, was relatable, and most importantly, was relevant
to the current music scene. Said Nicole, "I just love your spirit, I love your energy! You did so good, it sounded like you wrote the hook as well!" (Then she called him "Josh." Oops. She's clearly been hanging out with Paula too much.) Paula called this "one of the most fun performances I've seen." Simon put it best with: "I'm not going to say you're the best singer, because you're not, but as a potential recording artist
, I think you are doing brilliantly." I understood Simon's point, especially since most modern-day recording artists use so much AutoTune anyway, whether they can sing well or not seems like a moot point.
Chris sings "Where Do We Go From Here"
It was when Chris did his second song that the conspiracy-theorizing I mentioned about 97 paragraphs ago came into play, big-time. First, they showed him getting a personal phone call from Stevie Wonder--yes, THE Stevie Wonder--who told him, "You are inspiring me." Then he got to do an original song, "Where Do We Go From Here." Yes, while the other four contestants had to scramble to prepare 11th-hour cover songs, Chris did a song he wrote that we can assume he knew inside and out because, well, HE WROTE IT. Again, why didn't Josh
do an original--was that even an option for him? But you know, "Where Do We Go From Here" was
a good song. Not as good as Chris's other famous original, "Young Homie," but good enough to get him through to the top four. It might even help him win. And by playing an acoustic six-string and thus transforming himself into a WGWG (White Guy With Guitar, i.e., the Cook/Allen/DeWyze type that always wins these shows), I really do think Chris sealed the deal. Simon called the decision to do this song a "stroke of genius." Paula said, "The universe works in mysterious ways; had that [Pepsi Challenge] glitch not happened, you wouldn't have been singing that song. It always works out right." I couldn't help but wonder if the show might have panned out very differently if Chris had
had to do his Pepsi song instead, as planned. But I guess we'll just see what happens when he does his Pepsi Challenge song next
week, because we all know he ain't going anywhere for now.
So now it is prediction time...and this is the toughest one to call yet. Everyone in the top five was once a frontrunner, which means everyone (except Chris) is at risk. Melanie was a little dull and sang first in the kiss-of-death spot, so she's not entirely safe. Statistically, Marcus has a good chance of going, since he's the only one who's been in the bottom two or three previously. Josh has gotten a raw deal with his song assignments for two weeks in a row. And it's possible that America may even be getting a little tired of Rachel, who doesn't switch it up much from week to week. Really, it could be any of them. But I am going to pull a page out of my old Statistics 101 textbook and say Marcus will probably be the one to go Thursday night. Tune in then to find out if I'm right, when it's time to once again face the music.
Nervo's music video
In defense of Steve Jones
Paula & Nicole on "Worst Reality Stars" list
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