Marcus Canty performs on “The X Factor.” (Ray Mickshaw/Fox)

“Now it’s war!”

That’s the WWE-Style Voiceover Man announcing the start of Wednesday night’s “X Factor,” by way of recapping last week’s Very Special Anger Management Show, in which Simon threw a hissy fit over the removal of his mentoree Drew and seemed particularly angry that the two female judges, Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger, weren’t persuaded by the momentousness of Simon having actually admitted to an imperfection: that he had made a bad song choice for Drew.

“Maybe it is personal and if they want a war, they’re going to get a war,” Simon reaffirms in a taped bit at the top of this week’s performance show — though it’s not clear what war would involve. Even more biased judging of each other’s contestants by the judges, maybe?

Once the judges are seated at their table, show host Steve Jones dares to ask Simon about last week. “I’m a little bit more prepared this week” Simon snarls, ominously. Nobody asks Steve about that moment last week when Drew was eliminated and he commanded the contestants to stop hugging each other. Nobody asks Paula or Nicole about the death threats they’ve reportedly received since voting to boot Drew.

Oh, and now that this competition is down to just five X-testants, there’s room for everyone to sing two songs and still have enough time for Fox to air an episode of what it’s calling its “new hit,” “I Hate My Teenage Daughter.” Let it never be said Fox doesn’t have a sense of humor.

First round: Dance Music.

First up: Melanie Amaro, singing a danceable version of Adele’s sad “Someone Like You,” which she sings while the X Corps de Ballet romp around in ninja suits. The entire function of the dancers on this show is to create an extra challenge of distraction for the singers. Anyway, Melanie starts a bit weak but finishes strong, proving again she’s best of the lot at overcoming “X Factor” overproduction numbers.

Marcus Canty will sing Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody.” Mr. Entertainment, struggles to make his stage presence felt in the rush-hour crowd of dancers, though things pick up for Marcus as the song continues. “I shouldn’t be very happy with you, should I?” Simon says, adding, “ But I have to be fair and judge you within the competition.” Why start now, Simon? Anyway, Simon thinks Marcus did well, adding, “I like people who don’t act like victims or blame other people” which is odd because that’s just what Simon has been doing so far tonight.

Take, for instance, Simon’s introduction of mentoree Rachel Crow: “With her own choice of song — no chair — it’s Rachel.” That’s a reference to Simon’s song choice and staging for Drew — the song choice and staging that got her booted from the show. Move on, Simon! We have! Rachel will sing B.O.B.’s “Nothing on You,” with the chorus of “beautiful girls all over the world,” etc. which is lyrically a puzzler but the whole up-tempo thing is Rachel’s strength. “Who are you singing to?” judge LA Reid asks her. “I was singing to Paula and Nicole!” she shoots back without missing a beat. Nicole can’t wait for the Rachel Crow doll to come out, prompting more seething from Simon about a Nicole voodoo doll. Then Simon weirdly compliments Rachel on her quick wittedness by saying, “Somebody told me you did stand-up comedy years ago.” Years ago? Like when she was 7? Simon is having quality control issues tonight.

Josh Krajcik, Last of the Over 30s, now has to sing a dance song, because there are no dance song exemptions tonight. Josh goes with Rihanna’s “We Found Love” and, wisely, does not even attempt to dance himself, though in the gloom behind him, the X Corps is doing something dance-like. LA says he didn’t find Josh believable as a dance-tune singer — what? Like Josh wanted to do a dance song? Simon savages Josh for being “surrounded by a ridiculous dance routine.” Is Simon just noticing this feature of “X Factor” at this late date? Nope — apparently it’s intended as a slap at Josh’s mentor, Nicole, because Simon follows with this insult directed at her: “If you spent more time in America than in England, you’d do a better job.” Like we say, definite Simon quality-control issues tonight.

Chris Rene sings a version of T.I.’s “Live Your Life,” with his own lyrics added. His voice can’t compete with the arrangement and, while he seems to be having fun with the moving stage, he appears to nearly fall off at one point. Simon is no longer angry — he’s pompous, nattering on about how great it is that “the public are supporting a kind of artist like this on the show” which he calls “really important.”

Round 2: The Pepsi Mess-Up

Show host Steve has promised us at the top of the show we were in for some real shocker for the second round of songs tonight.

Turns out, this week’s second round had been sold off to Pepsi for another of those so-called Pepsi Challenges. Last time Pepsi empowered viewers to vote and force the X-testants to perform a group sing while dressed as circus clowns. This week, Pepsi planned to empower viewers to pick one of three songs set aside for each of the remaining X-testants. The songs were chosen and the X-testants had been rehearsing the viewer picks for days. But, Steve explains, “an error in communication with the songs selection here on the show” has made that Pepsi promo impossible this week. You think you’re going to get off that easy with this transparent cover-up, Steve? We’re calling the FCC! We’re calling the Parents Television Council! We’re calling for Fox parent-company chief Rupert Murdoch to be hauled before Parliament! Again!

Steve continues: The contestants get to choose their own songs and “they only found out about this change last night. So the pressure to get ready has been incredible, bear this in mind.” Well, all right then, carry on.

Cut to tape where we see the contestants being told they will have to sing their save-me songs, and Simon droning about how this is the kind of thing that happens “in real life,” so it’s all about character building, and not some ridiculous mess-up by the producers — like maybe someone forgot to get some of the tunes cleared.

Anyway, Melanie Amaro will sing first, and she’s chosen Mariah Carey’s “When You Believe” and sounds like a pro. Then she gives another of her on-their-way-to-becoming-trademark “This is my now” speeches, after which LA Reid pegs her performance as “safe but amazing.” The ladies love her, and then it’s Simon’s turn and he manages in a few breaths to both compliment Melanie and introduce “my very good friend” and veteran record producer Clive Davis who’s in the audience — also an amazing and safe performance. To finish, Simon weirdly shifts to expressing grave doubt about Melanie’s chances, telling viewers they should vote for her because “if this girl ends up in the piranha pool, she’s out.”

Marcus Canty’s second song is Leon Russell’s plaintive “A Song for You.” Marcus always does better when he drops the Mr. Entertainer routine and just stands in front of a mike and sings straight out. This continues to be true. The ladies love him — they picked Marcus over Drew last week when those two X-testants sang for survival. Simon clearly hopes Marcus will go home this week, saying, “I’ve heard that kind of version of that song so many times on these shows.” LA tells his mentoree, “Don’t let him get into your head … I’ve got your back” and compares Marcus to Muhammed Ali in his capacity to get knocked down and stand up again.

Rachel Crow sings Michael Jackson’s “Music and Me.” It’s a simple song — a bit too simple to be very interesting, but a great vehicle for Rachel. Nicole correctly pegs her as “like an old soul in a kid’s body. “My mission is just to inspire the kids — that’s all I want to do,” says Rachel, sounding way too much like a kid who’s been prepped for an interview with an agent for Disney. “I hear that Hollywood is just circling the wagons, I hear all kinds of rumors,” says LA.

Josh Krajcik sings the Beatles’ “Something.” “That’s the Josh I love,” LA says, but then adds that it was “ever so slightly karaoke — but really good nonetheless.” Paula to the rescue: “Adjectives don’t describe your brilliance.” Simon’s take on Josh’s shot at genuine emotion: “You looked actually insane.” How desperate is Simon not to have one of his mentorees land in the Bottom 2 this week? Anyway, Nicole jumps in to say that what Simon calls “insane” is actually someone getting lost in the music. Simon, who apparently learned nothing from last week’s experience — if you call the two female judges “Squiddly” and “Diddly” they’re going to vote your X-testant out of the competition — tells Nicole to get lost. Earlier in the night, he even made some crack about the two female judges being interchangeable. Anyway, Simon tells Josh he should just be the singer/songwriter guy in this competition, and shun all further use of the X-Dancers, as he did with his second number tonight. The X-Dancers, however, have throughout this season demonstrated a cockroach-like annoying resilience, so we’re not optimistic.

For his second number, Chris Rene decides to sing an original tune, which we can only assume is called “Where Do We Go From Here,” given that the phrase is repeated about 30 times during the otherwise charming little number. Most refreshingly, Chris sings the song while seated, legs crossed, and playing the guitar. “Where do we go from here!” Nicole asks rhetorically. Nicole really is the mentor version of nails on chalkboard. “The universe works in mysterious ways,” adds Paula. Simon admits the original song choice was a stroke of genius, and LA says he could not be more proud.


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