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'X Factor' Recap: It's a Real Live Free-for-All

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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 

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