Fleeing the sanctity of the judges' homes, the competition goes live in front of a stadium-sized audience, extending the show's already-formidable length to two-and-a-half hours. Fortunately for us, the judges can now slam each other over song selection and arrangements, so the floodgates are open for personal attacks. Let the games begin!
Over the bloated runtime, five acts must be eliminated – one by each judge except for Simon, who has to lose two Girls to make up for resurrecting Melanie Amaro last week. After contestant introductions by some announcer on leave from the monster truck rally, LA Reid's Boys are up first.
Kicking things off, Astro (who has now shed his birth name altogether) is handed the shockingly classic-sounding beat from Kriss Kross's "Jump," and he completely makes it his own. His lyrics are solid, and he switches up his flow more than some rappers do over whole careers. "This is what you're going to be doing your entire life," Paula Abdul decrees. "You just killed everybody," confirms Simon, in an attempt to talk "street."
Chris Rene's take on "Love Don't Live Here Anymore" offers more style than substance, but the kid's got undeniable charisma. Phillip Lomax, who does Sinatra by way of Bruno Mars, got this far along on his uniqueness within the group. This time, however, it just isn't enough to save his wonky "I'm a Believer" cover. "I just wish you had a personality and a voice," Nicole says, and it's the first brutal blow of the night. "You were like a racecar driver and LA put you in a tractor," Simon says of the song choice. He then dismisses the performance, correctly, as "too throwaway" and "too cabaret." "Thank you for the constructive criticism," LA retorts, witheringly.
Before Marcus Canty walks onstage, we flash back to LA assuring him, "You got that Bobby Brown in you," which sounds more like a threat than anything. The alarming song selection, "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," is not in the soul singer's pocket, though, and he sounds uneven. During the elimination, LA pardons Astro first. His next pick is Marcus, and Chris barely looks nervous when it's down to him and Phillip. Sure enough, LA calls his name next. Host Steve Jones then gets to interview the newly axed Lomax and awkwardly tell him, "I did not want to be speaking to you in this capacity." Poor Steve Jones!
Paula's Groups are up next, lead by the Stereo Hogzz, in a series of outfits loaned from hitmen and limo drivers. The guys perform "Try a Little Tenderness," a perennial with increased relevance lately, due to Jay-Z and Kanye's "Otis." Weirdly, none of the judges seems aware of that song's direct influence when they praise the "originality" of throwing a rap verse onto this particular Otis Redding tune. At least Simon takes this opportunity to give some long-awaited props: "My mouth won't say it . . . Paula, you did a really good job."
When the young Brewer Boys get brewing, some girls from their key demo are placed in a circle around them, seat-dancing against the floor. It's a little gross, as is the mix of George Michael with Hall and Oates. "This didn't shine for me like it should have," says Simon, and the audience boos him.
Next the same narrative is told twice for the two groups who were assembled, Voltron-like, after being dismissed as solo artists. Polyphonic Spree-sized Intensity is up first. ("We are Intensity," they announce with so little animation it seems like a parody.) After a somewhat rote take on "Footloose," Simon pronounces them "the new young Glee," because the problem with the Glee kids is they definitely aren't young enough. "You're like my little pumpkin patch," Nicole adds. They're not her only miniature objet d'art of the night, though: later Rachel Crow will be "my little miss sunshine" and Drew Ryniewicz "my little fairy princess." The other thrown-together group is
Danity Kane Lakoda Rayne. The ladies of Lakoda put a bubblegum-country sheen on "Come on, Eileen," impressing the judges. Ultimately, Paula ends up eliminating the Brewer Boys (finally!), but not before breaking into serious tears.
In the Over-30s, Dexter Haygood has been good as James Brown, but not as himself. Here he vamps through Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl," sapping the song of its gender-tension, but not without pizzazz. "Tonight, you found Dexter," LA chirps, and Nicole optimistically suggests he has "the Dex Factor." (Sigh.) Dex's nearest competition, the least senior senior citizen of all time, Leroy Bell, is up next. Maybe it's the sleeve tat that throws me, but he looks almost too good for his age. Although Leroy seems plenty comfortable, Simon nails him for awkwardness and a lack of confidence. Nicole, who mentored Leroy, is rocking and crying at this point, and you sort of want to pass her a blanky.
"This needs a massive, massive improvement in the right direction," Simon says of depressing diva Stacey Francis, after her shaky George Michael cover. Nicole insists her mentee had "wings" during the performance, though, and upon being pressed by LA for clarification here, adds that Stacey's wings allowed her to soar. So she's got that going for her.
Burrito boy Josh Krajcik sounds Michael Bolton-y as ever here, brazenly jamming with no backing track. When it comes to elimination time, he's picked second after Stacey Francis to advance to next week's show, leaving behind Dexter and Leroy. Dexter is booted, and for once he keeps himself together. Well, almost. "I'm in the Foggle Zone," he says. "It's like the new version of the Twilight Zone." It's exactly like that.
Finally, we arrive at Simon's Girls. Simone Battle is on first, in a candy-colored superhero nightgown. She's off-pitch pretty hard, though. "I've never understood why you've put her through" LA tells Simon of a performance that Paula demurs against as well. "These guys have never liked you," Simon says to assure Simone she did well. "Five million dollars?" LA nudges, and Simon doesn't deflect the judgment in his voice. He couldn't – Simone is toast.
Rachel Crow appears next, in an outfit that my Inner Nicole dubs "my little Janelle Monae." Ripping joyously through a nicely curated Motown medley, Rachel sounds lovely. "You'd make a terrific actress," Paula says, but she doesn't mean it as a compliment. Nicole: "I don't know what your mentor was thinking with that song." Speaking for us all, Simon assures Rachel not to listen to "Squiddly and Diddly," nicknames which should ride out through time immemorial.
Drew Ryniewicz does a typically stunning "What a Feeling" from Flashdance, impressing all. "Simon, that was so good," LA says simply, prompting Mr. Cowell to wink at Ms. Ryniewicz, in one of the nicer moments of the entire series. "I'm going to have a very tough decision," he says afterward. No kidding.
Clad in Catwoman gear, Tiah Tolliver vamps her way through "Sweet Dreams" by the Eurythmics, which is on-theme for Halloween. Afterward, Paula again chides Tiah for her pitch, to which Simon contends Tiah "sang her nuts off." Dude isn't helping her case much there.
Batting clean-up, Melanie Amaro does Whitney justice with her powerful pipes on "I Have Nothing." As LA notes, it's a predictable choice, but it doesn't matter. Once again, Melanie is flat-out fantastic. When Drew and Rachel are saved from elimination first, and only one more contestant will make it through, the crowd starts chanting Melanie's name. Considering last week's drama after she was mistakenly booted, there would probably be rioting if she wasn't picked here, but of course she is. And furthermore, duh.
Next week will leave the two-and-a-half hour marathon format behind and split into the reliable performance-then-results format. Now that the rivalries have heated up between the judges and almost all the riff-raff is gone, things are going to get pretty interesting.
LAST EPISODE: Back on the Chopping Block