Wrenching five minutes of tension out of 60 minutes of programming ain’t easy, but tonight’s ‘X Factor’ managed to deliver plenty of drama, even as it revealed the flaws in its judge/mentor system.
The tone of the competition was set by the very first ‘American Idol’ winner Kelly Clarkson, who sang the appropriate “What Doesn’t Kill You,” from her just-released album “Stronger,” and it offered welcome advice to the nine remaining contestants, two of whom would face their exits from the program tonight.
Special guest Bruno Mars was also on hand with a song that fit what would happen to those voted off tonight: “It Will Rain.”
So, we were down to the nitty-gritty, and after next week’s double elimination, all of a sudden, ‘The X Factor’ will be down to five, but tonight, nine will become seven.
After the weekly Pepsi Choice performance by the remaining nine of a mash-up of Pink’s “Raise Your Glass” and “So What,” with circus performers and Josh Krajcik in a derby, no less—all part of the interactive promotion that had the audience choosing the production elements—Steve Jones called Lakoda Rayne and Drew to the front of the stage. One of the two would be eliminated as the lowest vote-getter.
This wasn’t a tough one to figure out. Simon Cowell wasn’t about to lose one of his star pupils yet, or was he? After all, though I’d been picking the Rayne gals to disappear for weeks—believing that the competing groups didn’t stand a chance against individuals in terms of public identification—I thought their performance of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me” the night before was enough to get them a reprieve. Even L.A. Reid and Simon seemed to be warming to the gals, who were beginning to differentiate themselves as individuals to boot.
Alas, it was not to be, as Jones indicated the end had come for the lissome gals of Lakoda Rayne, though they quickly piped up, “The dream is not over… You will be seeing Lakoda Rayne in concert everywhere.” Of course, that wouldn’t surprise me, especially if a Nashville label gets a hold of them. That meant Drew was the first of the now-eight finalists to earn a return trip next week.
After a brief plug by a breathless Howie Mandel for his show, “Mobbed,” which was to follow ‘The X Factor,” which he described as “Glee meets Punk’d… Gunk’d,” Jones ticked off the survivors one by one…
Chris Rene (well, there goes one of my picks to go home), Rachel Crow, Josh Krajcik, Melanie Amaro and (another bit of a surprise, at least to me), Astro…
That left the next two lowest vote-getters (to now-departed Lakoda Rayne). Leroy Bell, who was my own choice to be eliminated, and, in a bit of an upset, Marcus Canty, who just the night before L.A. Reid had gushed was “as great as any singer I have worked with,” including Babyface and Boyz II Men, after his performance of the latter’s “A Song for Mama,” which he proceeded to sing to his own mother, seated front-row center. After that, it seems pretty cold for America to make him once more sing for his supper, and the deadline his moms gave him to make it as a performer. Whatever happened to mom and apple pie?
When Jones asked the two how they felt having to go head to head, Leroy Bell confessed for the first time, “scared,” while Marcus admitted, “I’m not used to being down here.”
Marcus went first, picking Christina Aguilera’s “You Lost Me,” which was a bit of a surprise since earlier this season his mentor L.A. Reid didn’t even recognize an Aguilera song. It was a strangely muted performance, as the vaunted song and dance man stuck to the basics. Looking like Marvin Gaye in his knitted cap and stubbly beard, the 60-year-old Leroy Bell was literally singing for his life, and leaned into a very soulful, though also understated version of The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down” which showed off his strengths—his cool composure and sandpaper vocals—and weaknesses—a rather understated to the point of bland presentation.
So now, it was up to the judges to decide who stayed and who was sent packing.
L.A. Reid was up first, and despite his disclaimer (“I like both of these guys”), you know he had to go with his man Canty, calling him more consistent, even though Bell boasted more of the “sizzle factory,” citing his incredibly enthusiastic following. Again, it all came down to “who could be the massive star.” Concluded L.A. “It pains me because I like the cat, but I have to send Leroy Bell home.”
Nicole, of course, had to pick her guy Leroy. “No doubt Marcus is a star,” she began. “But Leroy proved to us it’s never too late to go for your dream, that you can change.”
Give Paula Abdul credit. She correctly noted, given this evening’s performances, Leroy Bell was obviously better. “Marcus, you are one of my favorites, but you didn’t deliver on this song. I think both of you will go on to be stars and sell lots of records, but I have to send Marcus home based on tonight.”
Then it was up to Simon. If he nixed Canty, Leroy Bell would move on. If he turned down Bell, then the “deadlock” would send the decision back to the voting totals.
“I like them both,” he averred. “But I’ll leave it in the hands of the public by sending Leroy home.”
With that, it was back to Steve Jones, the vacuum at the center of the show, but one who keeps things moving, delivers the verdicts and comforts the losers. Kinda like an invisible God with a clipped British accent, when you think about it.
At this point, he revealed that the lowest vote-getter among the two was Leroy Bell, who accepted the public’s verdict like the stoic man he is. “It was a great ride, a wonderful journey,” he said. “I learned a lot. I gave my all tonight.
And indeed he did, but at the end of the night, Lakoda Rayne and he had the two lowest vote totals. And now, it’s on to the Magnificent Seven, soon to be pared down to five.
If you’re counting, both Simon’s Girls (Melanie, Drew, Rachel) and L.A.’s Boys (Chris Rene, Astro, Marcus) have all three of their contestants still in the running, while Nicole’s Over 30s are now down to one (Josh Grajcik) and Paula, who had the Groups, is left with none.
POWER RANKINGS: THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
1. MELANIE AMARO: I’m still reeling over her transformation last night. With the best voice in the competition, and all of Simon’s wiles, she has to be considered the front-runner.
2. RACHEL CROW: Hard to imagine she won’t be around until the final three, at least, with a crowd-pleasing personality, tons of talent and a $5 million smile.
3. JOSH KRAJCIK: A long shot, for sure, but he could well have the “Horses” to pull off a major upset, if the great American rock heartland chimes in.
4. CHRIS RENE: People seem to respond to his story, and it’s a good one. His soulful hip-hop has a lot more commercial appeal than fellow rapper Astro’s hard-core old-school flava.
5. DREW: Her girl-next-door appeal is undeniable, but L.A. keeps chipping away at Simon’s “age inappropriate” choice of material for her, and by that, Reid means appealing to the adult audience. Strange thing to say about a Bieber fan.
6. MARCUS CANTY: His third-lowest vote total this week seemed to unnerve him. He was lucky to get a pass. The rest is up to him.
7. ASTRO: Got to figure his days are numbered. Don’t see him surviving next week’s double elimination, but he’s a talent to reckon with outside this lowest-common-denominator competition. Maybe the judges will save him.