The Final 5: Marcus Canty, Josh Krajcik, Chris Rene, Rachel Crow and Melanie Amaro. (Frank Micelotta/Fox)

Only one X-testant will be cut from “X Factor” tonight. And yet, we are rushed into a Lenny Kravitz performance, singing “Rock Star City Life” and “Are You Gonna Go My Way.”

“Handsome man!” show host Steve “Too Tall” Jones observes. We’re gonna miss Too Tall when they bring back “X Factor” next season. No, they haven’t announced it yet, but the ratings haven’t been quite what creator/exec producer/star mentor Simon Cowell had hoped, so somebody’s gotta pay -- and, because we’ve watched lots of CBS’s “Undercover Boss” we know that when the top guy is trying to figure out what’s gone wrong with his vision, some poor middle-level slob usually gets it in the neck. That would be you, Steve.

Hopefully, they’ll lose lame-ola mentor Nicole Scherzinger too. And maybe the “groups” category.

“Last night the judges were pretty well behaved,” Steve recounts. “I wasn’t told to shut up once!”

We’re treated to a video all about the madness that is “X Factor’s backstage, what with all the costumers, and makeup artists, and hairstylists, and X-dancers. Here’s an idea: get rid of the dancers too!

In no particular order, the first X-testant America voted into the semi finals is Josh Krajcik, announces Steve.

Josh’s good fortune does not sit well with LA Reid and Simon – they share the four remaining mentorees, which means two from their pool will be singing for survival.

Then Steve makes it worse for Simon, announcing that, in no particular order, the second act going through to next week is LA mentoree Chris Rene. This means LA’s perennial survival-singer, Marcus Canty will square off with either Simon’s Rachel Crow or Simon’s Melanie Amaro.

Steve tells Rachel, Melanie and Marcus that he “genuinely can’t believe one of you” will be going home. Where have you been Steve? Marcus has been in the same position the previous two weeks!

Steve wonders how Rache’s feeling. She says she is scared but loves us all.

Steve remembers Marcus has been in this boat twice before, and asks about that. Marcus explains to Steve that, yes, he’s been in this same position twice already, and he’s now going to “step up.”

Melanie, when asked, tells Steve she’s really nervous – so nervous she’s lost her accent again – but is confident her fans love her.

It’s time for Mary J. Blige to sing her new ballad, dressed in white, as is the solo guitarist, who is her only accessory on stage – unless you count the giant rotating diamond the X-producers have floated over Blige’s head like some sword of Damocles because god forbid they should ever leave well enough alone.

Anyway, whatever it is she’s singing, Steve’s buying – and he urges us to buy it too.

The last act to make it to safety is Melanie Amaro. Unfortunately we can’t just wrap this up and send Marcus home so we can watch “Bones,” because there’s still a heap of time to kill. So Marcus and Rachel will sing for survival.

“I’ve just got to go out again and deliver,” Marcus tells Too Tall Steve. “I’m going to sing as best I can and I love you Marcus, its okay!” says Rachel – such a good kid!

Because of this week’s Pepsi Challenge snafu, the X-testants had to use their survival songs on Wednesday night, and we’re in for two repeat performances. For Marcus that’s “I’m Going Down” – only this time his non-microphone hand is going wild for emphasis. In Rachel’s case it’s “I’d Rather Go Blind,” and it’s even better than the first time she sang it. Rachel clearly aced this round and now we’ll hear from some real industry pros, who know true talent when they hear it: the mentors. Just kidding!

LA, Marcus’s coach, informs viewers, “I am a man of principle.” And by “principle” he means he will vote, not based on the best performance, but based on who’s on his team. So LA votes to send Rachel home, and we hope that’s a lesson to little Rachel about “principles.”

Simon is brief. “What’s the point of even saying anything …Marcus you’re going home.”

Paula: “The one who really blew me away was Rachel Crow.” She votes to send home Marcus.

So now we have one vote for principles, and two for talent, and it’s down to Nicole.

Nicole weeps, Nicole stammers. Nicole presses her temples with her bejeweled, perfectly manicured fingers.

“Okay, I can’t made this decision, because I’ve been up there, and love and adore both of you,” Nicole wails while making it all about her. Nicely played, Nicole!

“I have to go to deadlock,” Nicole emotes, meaning the contestant with the fewest votes from the public will go home.

So the tally is: two for talent, one for principles, and one for not understanding the rules.

Too Tall informs Nicole that there is no option called “not making a decision.” To throw it to deadlock, is to make a decision to vote to send home Rachel, tying the mentor votes at 2-2.

Nicole looks annoyed – TTS is cutting in on her Big Moment.

“I don’t want to have to stay that,” Nicole snaps. “I don’t want to -- I’m just going to have -- Yeah, I don’t want to send you home, I just don’t --.”

She does the two-handed finger-quote: “The act I have to send home is Rachel.”

Steve, who’s not so dumb as he looks, then proceeds to steal Nicole’s big scene, announcing that, based on Nicole’s act of idiocy, he’s now required to send home the act that got the fewest viewer votes, that act being:

Rachel Crow.

Little Rachel falls to the floor and starts bawling like the little girl she is. Some day Rachel will realize how lucky she is to get out of her X-commitments and one step closer to being free to go out and sign a deal to become the next Disney kid star. Poor little Rachel is now thinking that people don’t like her. Too Tall Steve has gotten down on his knees near Rachel and is finally a proper height.

Mentor Simon Cowell rushes up on stage to comfort Rachel. Rachel’s mom rushes up on stage to comfort her.

“Mommy! You promised!” Rachel cries as she weeps in her mother’s arms.

Too Tall knows his duty: he asks Rachel how she feels and sticks the microphone in her face.

“I love you so much everybody for voting…Thank you for giving me this because without you I’m nothing…I will go so far, I promise you, and I love you,” she says through the tears. It’s a classic Hollywood speech. Kid’s a natural.

“We’re going to be hearing a lot more about Rachel Crow,” a clearly disgusted Simon tell the inquiring Too Tall, who then snags Nicole on stage to ask for her thoughts on having crushed a young child’s dream.

The non-shy audience in the X-theater begins to boo loudly at Nicole, who turns her back to the camera and, with shoulders hunched, skulks off.


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