X Factor USA 1.17 – Top 9

Tonight on X Factor USA: Miserypalooza, wherein all our contestants compete to see who has the most tragic backstory, and thus are most qualified to be grateful to Simon Cowell, who singlehandedly pulled them from their miserable existence to sing on this show. Let the tearful confessions begin! 


Tonight’s theme is Thanksgiving, appropriately enough, and the surviving nine acts are to sing a song to the person in their lives they’re most thankful for. This is tricky because all of them are sincere and heartfelt in their choices, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to be any good. We must set aside our empathy and focus on the talent. And by “we” I mean you and me, because the judges sure as hell aren’t going to do it.

Right off, Steve breaks the bombshell that two acts are going home tomorrow night. “I know!” he says like the news gave us all angina. I couldn’t find an exact reason for the double elimination, except perhaps that the ratings for X Factor are shrinking faster than Demi Moore’s body mass index. Perhaps some manufactured drama will encourage more people to watch. Speaking of manufactured drama, LA takes a moment to assure us that “Astrogate” is a thing of the past now that he’s given Astro a stern talking-to. On with the show.

Rachel Crow / “I Believe” by Yolanda Adams: Straight off, Rachel’s story of being born to an abusive crack-head mom and then adopted by her current loving parents is the one to beat, since it brings a lump to the throat of even the most jaded television recapper. Ahem. Rachel’s wearing what looks like a Scottish version of one of those crocheted doll toilet roll covers , but it doesn’t matter because she’s her usual talented self. She starts crying the second the song is over, setting the tone for the evening. LA tells her he wanted to be critical but can’t because she’s so good, a theme he’ll explore over and over tonight because he’s a dink that way. Paula is back to her amazing self as she says to Rachel, “Sweetheart, if anyone ever questions that there are angels that exist on earth living, it is you.” Who can argue with that?

Marcus Canty / “A Song for Mama” by Boyz II Men: Marcus is singing for his mom, who made sure her kids would have a better life no matter what neighbourhood they lived in. Because she forgot to videotape herself walking to the bus stop in the snow with her two wee children, the show does a reenactment of it, complete with howling wind. Ha! Marcus deeply loves his mom, and is so overcome with emotion while singing that his voice cracks at all the high notes. Let’s go with that generous theory, shall we? I should mention at this point how impressed I am with the X Factor stage, which is nothing short of the holodeck from Star Trek, able to transform into whatever they need it to be. For Marcus, it’s a huuuge photo album of happy, destitute memories. The judges eat it up and ask for seconds as Paula and Nicole get all shiny-eyed. The audience boos Simon when he says he’s got to be honest (“that doesn’t mean it’s going to be bad!”), but all he wants to say is that he thinks Marcus is back in the competition. Not to be outdone, LA says Marcus is a just as great a singer as Babyface. Um, what are they drinking from those Pepsi cups, Diet Hyperbole?

Melanie Amaro, “The World’s Greatest,” R. Kelly:  Melanie is singing for God tonight, because He’s the only one who has never let her down. Which is both depressing and uplifting, I guess. I’m not sure R. Kelly had God in mind when he wrote this song, but let’s not quibble. Melanie is dressed to kill, and sounds like a million (or should I say five million) bucks. She’s backed up by a choir, and they kill it. She bursts into tears when she’s done, so thrilled and grateful she is that she was able to witness to the whole world at once – lowish ratings notwithstanding. She falls apart as she thanks Simon for bringing her back, suddenly letting loose with the accent she’s so carefully smoothed over all these weeks. The judges are overcome, to the point Nicole has to hug her instead of critiquing the song. Heh. Steve Jones just about strokes out, it takes them so long to wrap it up.

Chris Rene /  “Let It Be” and “Young Homey”: Chris is singing for his 12-step sponsor, Tim, who helped save Chris from his meth addiction. Suddenly, I want to beat the shit out of Walter White. I wish just once Chris would sing a song without the rap/reggae vibe. I don’t know, maybe his voice isn’t strong enough for that, although what I hear of it, I love. Aw, then he sings a bit of the song he wrote and performed for his first audition. The holodeck meanwhile displays the words he has tattooed on his fingers in the same font, which isn’t weird at all. Chris may not be the best singer, but he’s awfully cute and that may take him farther than his talent with all those hungry young ladies watching at home.

Lakoda Rayne / “You Belong With Me” by Taylor Swift:  The girls are singing for whoever in their family cries when talking about them, which makes them cry. I’m not exactly sure how a song about a boy who doesn’t notice how hot you are for him shows gratitude and inspiration, but roll with it. This was my favourite performance by Lakoda Rayn, period. It’s fun and they actually sound pretty good! Every time I hear them I keep thinking that only one of them can’t sing, and it’s tainting the whole group. I can’t pick out who it is, though. Guess what? LA wanted to hate them, but they were so good he didn’t. Sheesh, that man bugs me. Simon agrees with me, and says it’s their best performance yet. He also says he wishes two acts weren’t going home tomorrow. Which is more or less saying they should pack their bags and say goodbye to the swimming pool at Paula’s house. Paula sobs and tells them the sky’s the limit, because she knows this show is about to become a big ol’ brick wall if they try to go straight ahead. Having said that, the voters have surprised us before so don’t count the Rayne out yet.

LeRoy Bell / “Angel” by Sarah McLachlan: LeRoy is singing for his mom tonight, and he wins Miserypalooza because she died two years ago and never got to see him become successful in the music biz (such as it is). I’m a bit distracted from the performance because LeRoy’s beard is sparkling. Like he’s a Cullen! I approve. LA doesn’t like LeRoy’s rendition of the SPCA theme song, but the rest of the judges disagree; Simon even winks at LeRoy, which is unprecedented. Myself, I feel absolutely no emotion coming from LeRoy (and admittedly through my TV) when he sings. I suspect he’s a cyborg, which would explain a lot.

Astro / ???: I don’t want to rehash what happened last week, but I do want to say that I only had to listen to his mom talk for ten seconds before I understood where he got that pissy attitude from. Heh. Astro tosses this week’s theme out on its ass and raps on and on in his own words about how the damn internet bloggers can’t stand him (heeeeee), but his Astronauts will always stay true. He lists a slew of countries that support him – and also rhyme – but can he really not remember “Nova Scotia”? This Canadian thinks he should have said “Nunavut” instead. He tries hard, but this is the first time I didn’t enjoy him. His enthusiasm and chutzpa have slunk away whimpering, and I imagine the Vote For the Worst people are rubbing their hands together with schadenfreudic delight.  Simon tries to spin it by saying that hip hop artists are edgy and unpredictable, which make them interesting and popular. We shall see if America believes him.

Drew / “Skyscraper” by Demi Lovato:  Drew is singing for her BFF Shelby, with whom she’s weathered being a profound nerd all the way through junior high. If you didn’t know it before, you know it after seeing all those photos of them geeking out together. Even her mom judges her harshly! Drew tries her damndest to sing this song differently than all the other weeks, and she more or less succeeds. As always, it’s a huge relief to hear someone sing something current. Good for her! It all immediately goes to hell when LA criticizes her for singing a song for people who are 40. Okay, what?! Has the man never heard of Demi Lovato? I guess if it doesn’t rap, it doesn’t exist. It’s inexcusable for a professional who’s judging others to be so dumb about the music industry. Paula points out the duh, obvious, which doesn’t even make him pause. Simon loses his temper, and he yells at LA saying, “I am sick to death of your pointless, stupid criticism.” To which LA replies, “You can give it but you can’t take it.” Then they give each other wedgies and Indian rug burns. I think if they’d been sitting beside each other it might have come to blows, which would have been awesome. As it is, they just snipe at each other like an old married couple until Paula breaks it up. That’s right, Paula is the rational one. “Thanksgiving!” Steve says with a disbelieving eyeroll, which is the only funny thing he’s ever said. Everyone has an LA and Simon in their family, am I right? Just not with private jets.

Josh Krajcik / “Wild Horses” by The Rolling Stones: Josh earns the sweet spot tonight and then some. He’s singing for his daughter (whom he had when he was just 17), and he’s chosen a song that he’s sung to her her whole life. It’s just him and the piano (and twelve laser beams shooting into the sky), and he’s so very good. What a gravely, sexy voice he has. He actually reminds me of David Cook after a few too many turkey dinners. The judges stand and clap and rave and cry, and practically give him the five million bucks right there. I hope they don’t jinx it for him, and people vote for him to make extra sure he gets through to next week. ::waves my little Josh flag in the air::

Should Go Home: LA and Astro’s mom.  Astro and Lakota Rayne.
Will Go Home: Astro and Lakoda Rayne. But given my record, don’t bet the rent money on it.