Now that the ground rules have been established, the gloves came off on tonight’s “The X Factor” with the real competition not between the contestants, but among the four judges, who alternated taking pot shots at one another and urging the audience to vote for their charges.
After last week’s power play by Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul to deny Simon Cowell’s Drew a shot in the final five, even usually genial host Steve Jones got into the spirit by introducing the #glovesareoff Twitter hash tag to stimulate the already fierce competition.
“It is personal,” glowered Cowell into the camera. “If they want a war, they’re going to get a war.”
One contestant will be eliminated tomorrow night, leaving the remaining four in what is being called the Semi-Finals. Each of the five contenders—Melanie Amaro, Rachel Crow, Chris Rene, Josh Krajcik and Marcus Canty—sang two songs apiece tonight, the first a contemporary hit done dance-style, with a pair of DJs, the other a song of their own choosing they had to come up with in 24 hours after a glitch in the Pepsi Challenge portion of the competition. Or, as I suspect, they’re making it up as they go along.
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Melanie Amaro knocked out a disco version of Adele’s “Someone Like You” with all the aplomb of the front-runner she is, even L.A. admitting, “The only thing that bothered me about it was it was really good.” Nicole said she “looked and sounded like the rock star diva you are,” while Paula called it “a great way to open the show.” Simon insisted, “it wasn’t karaoke,” pointing to the “change… which has given you confidence.”
Before her second song of the night, a soaring take on Mariah and Whitney’s “Prince of Egypt” contribution, “When You Believe,” prefacing it with another patois-inflected tribute to Simon’s belief in her that bordered on the uncomfortable. Still, that character revelation might have earned her $5 million as it has put her in the driver’s seat for now. “Of course that was great,” sniffed Reid. “Amazing… Safe, but amazing.” Nicole said the performance “gave me goosebumps all over… You didn’t just sing. You believed every word.” Paula said, when she closed her eyes, she could hear “Whitney and Mariah,” while Simon turned to L.A. and admonished him. “If that’s what you call safe, give me a break,” calling out the man who discovered Whitney, Clive Davis, in the audience, to back him up. Amaro remains in the lead, but it’s shrinking.
Marcus Canty was up next, and he leaned into Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” with all the aplomb of a show business veteran. Unfortunately, he just doesn’t have the compelling back story to catapult him above the others, but that didn’t stop him from turning on the charm. “You took us to church and the dance club at the same time,” marveled Nicole. “You performed like the first time we saw you,” echoed Paula. Even Simon was complimentary, ignoring the fact Marcus knocked out his beloved Drew last week. “That was a very, very, very good performance. You came back strong and proved a point.” All L.A. could do was turn to the public to keep Canty’s candidacy alive. “Vote, vote, vote,” he ordered.
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His second song, a cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” pleased Nicole and Paula, but didn’t have Simon jumping out of his chair. “I’ve heard that same version of the song many times on shows like this,” he said. “You are likable.” L.A. Reid defended his guy: “Muhammad Ali got knocked out twice and came out like a champion, and that’s what you did. Keep doing what you do. Don’t listen to any nonsense. I got your back.” Canty remains a long-shot, but he’s more than shown he’s got the goods.
Rachel Crow chose B.O.B’s “Nothin’ on You” and belted it out of the park. L.A. slyly—and a little tastelessly, if you ask us—wondered what “beautiful girls all over the world” she was singing to, with the preternaturally adult 13-year-old not missing a beat. “Paula and Nicole,” she beamed. “I’m just waiting for the Rachel Crow doll to come out,” gushed the ex-Pussycat Doll,’ while Paula called the performance “beautifully fearless… Your vocal depth transcends all generations… Your best in the competition.” Simon was cheeky. “I’m waiting for the Nicole doll to come out… a voodoo doll,” before praising her comeback to Reid.
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For her second song, which she chose herself, Crow begged the Michael Jackson comparisons she’s gotten from the beginning by covering the Gloved One’s “Music and Me,” a perfect choice. Even L.A. had to admit, “Your vision for you is so inspiring. Rumors are Hollywood is already circling the wagons. You are the star that we always thought you were.” Nicole called her “an old soul in a 13-year-old body.” Paula said she was “every girl’s best friend and every parent’s day dream… You’re fantastical and magical.” Cowell responded: “Keep away from her, Paula; she’s doing just fine without you.” IMO, Crow is closing the gap on Amaro.
I personally love Josh Krajcik because he’s a classic rocker at heart, and his straight-up version of Rihanna’s current smash, “We Found Love,” was the evening most controversial. I thought it was cheeky, daring and it worked. L.A. and Simon disagreed. “I could never see you doing that song,” sniffed Reid, while Cowell called it “inappropriate,” attacking mentor Nicole’s “ridiculous dance routine” and insisting he was “lucky you have a second chance.” Paula thought Josh could “make any song believable… You nailed it,” while Nicole insisted he showed he could be versatile and current… You made the song your own.”
For Krajcik’s second second song, he was on more comfortable ground, leaning into George Harrison’s “Something,” for a version L.A. said was “ever so slightly karaoke, but really good.” Paula effused, “Adjectives don’t describe your brilliance,” while Simon called it “a massive improvement,” even though “You looked insane… your eyes were rolling around in the back of your head.” Countered Nicole: “That’s called getting lost in the music and letting go.” Sniped Cowell: “You should get lost, Nicole,” before adding that Josh should not “allow any of this crazy choreography… Adele doesn’t need any props, and neither did you.” Nicole seemed to like that analogy: “He is the male Adele. What I call Krajcik Magic.” Why didn’t she think of that before now? Krajcik remains an appealing, if increasingly unlikely dark horse.
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The last remaining rapper on the show, Chris Rene wrote new, self-referential lyrics to a reggae-hip-hop flavored take on T.I.’s “Livin’ Your Life” which wowed the panel. Nicole enthused, “We’re living your life right along with you.” Paula said, “You turned it into your own song. This is one of your best performances.” Simon admitted, “Supporting an artist like this is important. You may not have the best voice, bas as an overall potential recording artist, you re doing brilliantly.” Beaming with pride, L.A. turned to viewers to cast their ballot for Rene.
Just as he did at his audition—where he performed his own composition, “Young Homies”—Rene turned to an original, “Where Do We Go From Here?,” to try to separate himself from the pack. As Simon himself put it, he was either “stupid” or it was a “stroke of genius,” finally admitting it was the latter. “The sky’s the limit for you, baby,” offered Nicole, while Paula marveled that the “universe works in mysterious ways,” referring to the torturous journey through drug addiction to recovery that brought him to ‘The X Factor’ stage. “This is what I was waiting for.” And it may well have pushed him back into reach of the first prize.
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POWER RANKINGS: FAB FIVE
1. MELANIE AMARO: Did nothing to lose the lead, unless you’re wondering if she’s starting to overdo the island patois shtick.
2. RACHEL CROW: She’s Michael Jackson and Shirley Temple rolled into one. The $5 million would be nice, but she may make that in small chunks anyway.
3. CHRIS RENE: The blue-eyed hip-hop soul man proved how eclectic he can be this week, with a rap number followed by a solo acoustic original that put him squarely back in the race.
4. MARCUS CANTY: Nothing not to like, but this multi-talented soul man needs to pull out all the stops to spring the upset.
5. JOSH KRAJCIK: It’s definitely a miracle he got this far. The girls understand, but the antipathy of L.A. and Simon could hurt him in the long run. He could be waving goodbye tomorrow night.
1. RACHEL CROW, “Music and Me”: The comparisons are inevitable.
2. CHRIS RENE, “Where Do You Go From Here?” Put him back in the thick of things.
3. MELANIE AMARO, “Someone Like You”: Adele would’ve been impressed.
4. RACHEL CROW, “Nothin’ On You”: Not only can she sing, but she’s pretty witty to boot.
5. MELANIE AMARO, “When You Believe”: Brilliant, if predictable.
6. MARCUS CANTY, “Ain’t Nobody”: If nothing else, there should be room in Las Vegas for this new Sammy Davis Jr.
7. CHRIS RENE, “Livin’ Your Life”: Dude is eclectic, to say the least.
8. JOSH KRAJCIK, “We Found Love”: Not the disaster L.A. and Simon insisted, but still a bit of a stretch for the big guy.
9. MARCUS CANTY, “A Song for You”: Nice rendition, but the song is a little moldy at this point.
10. JOSH KRAJCIK, “Something”: Beautiful voice, but is he too steeped in rock to win the popular vote? Plus, this song’s been done to death.Now that the ground rules have been established, the gloves came off on tonight’s “The X Factor” with the real competition not between the contestants, but among the four judges, who alternated taking pot shots at one another and urging the audience to vote for their charges.