Thanksgiving came early to “X Factor” Tuesday night. The theme is: giving thanks to somebody special. “Tonight it gets really personal,” judge/mentor Paula Abdul promises. “We’re going to see a lot of tears.”
This sort of spoiler right at the top is messing with the whole live reality show premise, and we’re momentarily thrown, but ready to move on. “The pressure is immense,” says show host Steve Jones, because two acts must go home tomorrow.
Out come the judges LA Reid (Evita arm wave), Nichole Scherzinger (run in place in sheath dress), Paula Abdul (smiling broadly) and Simon Cowell (nods and winks).
More spoilers: What about “Astrogate”? Steve asks LA, referring to last week’s tantrum by kid rapper Astro, but making it sound like the lid will be blown off some backstage cover-up. Reid: “I expect a turnaround.” He also implies that Astro is the product of a tough environment. That would be Brooklyn, even the nice parts.
First up is huggable Rachel Crow, the Cabbage Patch Kid X-testant. Thanking: Mom and Dad adopting her. Sad factor: High! Rachel was born to a crack addicted, was herself addicted to crack at birth, and was abused as a child. Her song is Yolanda Adams’ “I Believe,” sung with a big choral backup. It’s a bit out of her range, though her dress -- plaid shear gift wrap -- is arresting. Plus, Fox found some leftover confetti from the last “American Idol” finale. The judges gobble her up. LA, sadly: “I wanted to be critical.” Nicole: “You’re such an inspiration.” Paula: If anyone ever questions there are angels on earth living, it is you.” Simon commends himself for lowering the age limit to accommodate kids like her.
Marcus Canty is next. Thanking: His mom. Sad Factor: High! His dedicated mom steered him through growing up in a tough neighborhood in DC. Marcus will attempt the Babyface/Boyz II Men “A Song for My Mamma.” His mamma is in the front row, fighting back tears, and he reaches down from stage to take her hand while still singing. Intentions good, execution mediocre. The judges eat him him up too. Nicole: “You sang from your heart” Simon: “Tonight I actually felt a connection…I think you put yourself back in the competition tonight.” LA says he’s as great a singer as Babyface and Boyz II Men.
Melanie Amaro, thanking: “God for all he’s done for me.” “Why did you pick The Lord?”, says someone we think is the showvocal coach, or production assistant, or resident blogger, in a taped bit, sounding like he’s reading a line from a school Christmas pageant. “He’s the only one who hasn’t let me down,” she explains. Sad factor: Medium-High. As a girl, Melanie was sent to the U.S Virgin Islands, apparently because her mother in Florida couldn’t take care of her. Years later, when she came back, “I was the girl with the accent, so one seemed to understand me when I was speaking.” She sings R Kelly’s “World’s Greatest”, with another appearance by the X-Giving Backup Choir, and she’s technically quite good. Her post-song comments, however throw in all the emotion the song would have benefited from. Suddenly, Melanie breaks into a before-now-not-heard-on-the-show accent, saying this is the real Melanie speaking, and thanks Simon for giving her the chance to be on the show. It’s simultaneously a Personal Emotional Breakthrough, and, since she now reminds of Rihanna, a Good Career Move! Nicole just has to give her a hug. Paula tells her she’s so great she doesn’t need a choir. But Simon, who seems to be reading from some other script, calls that a “silly criticism,” and when Paula tries to gracefully back out he tells her, “oh shut up”. Simon had something else to say about America voting for her because we need her in this competition, but after stepping on his protégés Personal Emotional Breakthrough, we figured that was enough of Simon, and we tuned him out.
Chris Rene, thanking: His Rehab Counselor. Sad Factor needle has been so over-stimulated by weekly Chris Rene rehab checks, it won’t register. Anyway, as we’ve heard so richly before, Chris was in rehab, though this time there’s a few seconds of a car-crash reconstruction by the X-Factor Documentary Unit, commemorating Chris’s pre-rehab self-destructiveness. Chris does a kinda hip-hop version of The Beatles “Let It Be” leading into “Homey Watcha Trippin’ On” which is his original creation and the tune with which he auditioned. The first part is pitchy and droopy, and the second is better. The judges eat him up. Nicole: “You’re such an example, and such a blessing.” Simon: “You may have helped thousands of people.” Paula wants to take this opportunity to thank Chris’s counselor and “thank all the counselors.” We hope the thousands of people who, at that moment, got up and checked themselves into rehab, did so after casting their X-vote, for Chris’s sake.
Lakoda Rayne, Paula’s only remaining group, Thanking: Dads, boyfriend, Grandma. Sad Factor: Low. Four girl singers, and not one story of addiction – what are the odds? They’re singing Taylor Swift’s “You Belong to Me,” and it’s a good song choice. They are very Swiftian -- especially the tallest one. The girls tackle this song with a zone defense, scattering around the stage before huddling up at the end. They are intermittently okay, but the Taylor vibe plainly energizes them. LA Reid, archly: “This week you actually managed to drum up some excitement.” Paula, weeping: “The sky’s the limit!”
Likeable LeRoy Bell -- the sole contestant in the over-60 category – Thanking: His mother, who passed away two years ago. She raised six kids and from an early age encouraged him to pursue music. He still seems broken up about her death, as we see him talking to one of his five sibs. “Tonight my mom and I are going to be together again one more time,” he says. Sad Factor: High! The tune is Sarah McLachlan’s “In The Arms of An Angel,” which seems sure-fire (plus, they throw in another appearance by the X-Tabernacle Choir), but LeRoy doesn’t bring the required intensity. LA: “not your best…heartfelt for sure.” Simon, starts by saying that normally he agrees with LA – which is odd, because he’s forever picking telegenic fights with LA -- then concludes with, “this is the first time, LeRoy, I actually feel you meant every word…I think you really made your mark this week.” Best line of the night comes next from Steve, who must have been backstage on the phone dealing with a plumbing problem at home or something, during the wind-up to LeRoy’s performance. “It was amazing! I felt like it was a song you were singing for your mum!” Steve guesses. “It was,” LeRoy explains patiently.
At last, we hear from Astro, who the show has cast in the Thanksgiving Pageant as The Kid Who Was Not Thankful on Thanksgiving. We get a recap of Astrogate, namely him coming on stage last week for the Bottom Two Sing-Off and expressing doubts as to whether he should participate and asking the audience for encouragement and, upon receiving it, starting to sing. Rather than interpreting this as showmanship -- didn’t James Brown have a whole number built around refusing to sing, then being brought back on stage by his manager and singing -- and he was the Godfather of Soul! Anyway, the judges have decided it was insubordination, so poor Astro has to apologize all around. Astro’s stepdad comes on camera to explain that, “for the first time in his life he felt alone.” And, if this is as bad as it gets for Astro, his Sad Factor just plunged to zero. We get to see Astro being bucked up by the online support shown by his fans after last week’s show, so that’s who he is Thanking: The Astronauts, his fans. Astro is performing Jay-Z’s “Show Me What You Got” with some of his own lyrics, such as explaining how he’s got “no chances this week. I’m 15 and 15 is the new 25.” It’s fun and Astro has turned this whole story line to his advantage. But then, after the song he says, “Last week I had a moment…I could have handled myself better and promises Team Astro that “I’ll never let you down again.” Nicole admonishes him to “always remain grateful.” Paula lets him know that “you are well on the way to becoming prolific and I mean that from my heart,” which must be a big compliment in her social set. LA: “You did the necessary thing, you humbled yourself and apologized. All I can ask for you is to be a gentleman.”
Drew, Simon’s waifish protégé, Thanking: Her best friend Shelby. “Me and Shelby have gone through loser status together,” she says. Sad Factor: Zero – Avril Lavigne and countless other artist have built a career on loser status, so no points there. Drew will perform The Weekly Drew Song, which is always the same though different -- in this case a slow, waifish take on Demi Lovato’s “Skyscraper.” This time she adds an almost high intensity break toward the end, and she sings from atop Bald Mountain, so it’s meant to be different. LA is unusually animated, directing his comments to her mentor Simon for not giving Drew “age-appropriate” material. “You’re doing songs for people that are 40,” he says. LA just lost about 90 percent of his credibility -- Demi Lovato is way under 40. Drew, who always seems well-prepped for these moments, launches into a speech about how this is a good song choice for young girls and a message “going out to everyone who felt worthless.” Simon, to LA: “I’m sick to death of your pointless, stupid criticism.” LA to Simon: “It’s not my fault you guys have a limited vocabulary of music.” Simon to LA: “You’re talking rubbish…You’re trying to make people feel that she’s worthless.” LA to Simon: “The real point is, you can give it out but you can’t take it.” Steve to LA and Simon: “This hast to stop. Please. Thanksgiving!”
We declare Steve the winner of that round.
Josh Krajcik rounds out the festivities, Thanking: His 13-year-old daughter, for inspiring him to strive to have a musical career, which he dropped because he lost the love of his life – her mother. Sad Factor: Un-rate-able -- we need to know more about this loss. Josh is singing The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses” alone at the piano while the X-alleluja Chorus takes a smoking break. It’s a bit uneven, but he looks like he’s feeling it deeply. Big love from the judges. LA: “You have everything it takes to win this competition.” Paula: “You’re larger than life.” Nicole can’t speak for weeping but manages to choke out that, “your music can change the world”.GALLERY: View more photos from "X-Factor."