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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The X Factor: “Top 4 Perform”

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God, what more is there to say about The X Factor performance shows at this point? Last week I commented that we were left with the five chillest personalities (this was prior Rachel's “PROMISE ME, MOMMY” moment during the last eliminations) and now, with the last minor gone, that holds even more true. America has chosen the four nicest people for the semifinals round, which resulted in the most boring performance night since the Thanksgiving Emotional Manipulation Round. The addition of the previously botched “Pepsi Challenge” song (in which the contestants sang whatever song some teenagers on Facebook voted for) also predictably failed to add any real intrigue. So yeah, way to go, America! And way to go, Pepsi!

Nope, the reason to watch the show now is purely for the judges. The contestants aren't really out to surprise us anymore – nor would I wish them to, honestly – for them, this stage of the competition is more about cementing their identity in their final weeks in such a public forum. I wasn't watching tonight biting my nails over whether Melanie was going to sing a Whitney or Mariah song (Mariah this week, it turned out) so much as I was anxious to see how Nicole Scherzinger would come back from the humiliation of last week's ridiculous sham of an elimination. Of course, the intro played up this narrative the only way The X Factor knows how (with the subtlety of a nuclear missile) but you know what? That shot of Nicole weeping is never going to get old, so I'll take it.

Nicole's strategy for her X Factor return was to turn up everything that is offensive about her demeanor as a judge to 11. There was a lot of talk about spirit and freedom, as well as a very belated comeback to Simon about Josh's crazyeyes (it's called “The Look of Steel,” apparently) which was met with a fabulous Simon WTF face. I try not to snark on fashion in these recaps because we only have so much time and I prefer to judge people based on their awful personalities, but good lord – when she walked out in that see-through Ms. Frizzle dress I nearly spit out my Pepsi Max. (Were there boos during her entrance, or was that wishful thinking on my part?) But more exciting than all of this is the news that she will be performing at tomorrow's eliminations! If I had enough IRL friends who watched this show I would invite them all over to watch and eat celery sticks and apply our imPRESS Manicure stick-ons. Wait. This is a great idea. Los Angeles residents, please RSVP in the comments.

But… I digress. I guess I have to talk about tonight's performances. I'd say that Marcus is a lock for elimination, but seeing as how that prediction has panned out over the last three weeks, I'm keeping my mouth shut. Actually, I'm gonna go out on a limb and say I thoroughly enjoyed both of his performances tonight; one probably for the wrong reasons, and one pretty genuinely. His Pepsi Challenge song, “I'll Make Love To You” was absurd enough to make me suspect it was a bit – from the rose to the gyrating girl in the background to the crowd interaction – but I had a big stupid grin of disbelief plastered on my face from beginning to end. I'd call that performance many things, but “classy” and in “good taste,” as Nicole and L.A. did, are not two of them. However, his second song, a dance-ified version of “Careless Whisper” was silly and fun enough for me to get behind, and actually sounded like something I could imagine hearing on the radio. Simon's critique that “It was grotesque,” and was “Like being at a Vegas show in 1983” failed to register with me as negatives, sorry.

I think Chris Rene came away the clear winner of tonight, the unfortunate Pepsi Choice pick of Sugar Ray's “Fly” notwithstanding. (Seriously, though? That was in the running? “Fly” is for singing at 1:30 AM at the karaoke when you've given up trying to sing good songs and just want to make the other drunks laugh. Get your shit together, Pepsi.) He did as much with that song as he could, and I laughed out loud at Paula's praise that he looked like “a million bucks after taxes” (So like, three million bucks?) but his second performance, Alicia Keys' “No One” had three big factors going for it: 1) It was an excellent choice for him at this stage in the competition, 2) He played the piano, 3) His dad died of cancer. See, most people on a show like this would have just ridden the dad cancer angle from the beginning, but that was Chris' secret semifinals wild card. That's just how much backstory this guy's got. And perhaps that all sounds a bit cynical, but it does speak to something I actually believe about Chris – for a certain audience, he is intriguing. We don't know everything about him yet, and he still has the capacity to surprise us. And that could be what wins this competition.

Melanie, on the other hand, failed to surprise in any way at all tonight. The Pepsi Challenge voters continued to sabotage the semifinalists, tossing Mariah Carey's “Hero” at Melanie, which I managed not to fall asleep during only because of the truncated arrangements of all the songs on tonight's show. L.A. said he “didn't feel [her] love for the song,” which seemed counterintuitive given how much she freaked out about being @ replied by Mimi in a later behind-the-scenes segment. Simon said it didn't sound like karaoke, which is probably true because nobody sings “Hero” at karaoke on account of how dull it is. Her second song was equally forgettable, but more disappointing. As overdone as “I'm Feeling Good” is, it has a lot of room for creative expression (see My Brightest Diamond's version for proof) which Melanie failed to capitalize on tonight. L.A. Reid very dramatically proclaimed her “the best girl to grace this stage” which means she's better than, what, four other girls? Unless he's referring to the fact that X Factor tapes in the same sound stage that American Idol does, which seems unlikely. In summary: Melanie has a good voice and is boring. Some things never change.


Josh probably got let off the hook the most by the Pepsi Challenge voters, merely forced to sleepwalk through a “hard rock” version of “Come Together.” Though this wasn't Josh's week by a long shot, I really hope that the Nicole association doesn't bring him down, because she was pretty goddamn horrible in her praise of him tonight. “You're just living and breathing, and I'm in awe!” she squeals, with the most terrifying plastered-on smile I've ever seen. He followed that up with a rather unoriginal rendition of “Hallelujah,” a song which I really could do without hearing again on this type of show, and Nicole declared it a “beautiful prayer,” a phrase apparently so poetic she decided to tweet it again later. I think Josh is safe, from America's vote, at least. He's still got another week with his mentor, and I wish him nothing but the best.

The math is simple, as Steve Jones says. Four acts, three spots in the finals. I fail to see how math has anything to do with this, but okay. There's also no judges' deliberations tomorrow – the act with the least votes is automatically sent home. Whether this was planned from the start, or a way to avoid another disaster like last week, who knows, but given how things have gone these last few weeks, I guess it's not too early to congratulate Marcus on his X Factor win.


Stray observations:

  • Don't worry, I wasn't actually drinking a Pepsi Max.
  • “I haven't said anything yet! Boo me after!”
  • Another big difference between X Factor and American Idol: Idol would never feature a tweet (“Sometimes the judges spew out random drivel just because they have to say something.”) that criticized the judges so harshly and accurately. That X Factor acknowledges its haters puts it in a completely different universe from its sister show.
  • Also, somewhat less successfully: “LA Reid? More like LA RUDE!”