After the astronomical levels of drama last week, when a certain pint-sized rapper nearly refused to perform, this Thanksgiving episode promises to be a feel-good palate-cleanser. However, between the overdose of saccharine song dedications and some overheated adversity between Simon Cowell and LA Reid, things get as heavy as midnight turkey leftovers in the lower intestine.
At the top of the hour, host Steve Jones explains what's to come. Much like a sitcom Thanksgiving dinner, everybody at the table takes turns saying who they're thankful for – before bursting into a song inspired by that person, of course. "I'm thankful for all the talent I've been given," says a characteristically modest Simon. (Surely that talent, in return, is thankful for each day spent within such a delightful body.) Also, thanks or no thanks, The X-Factor is still competitive as ever – this week, two contestants will get the boot.
Rachel Crow is up first, singing Yolanda Adams' "I Believe" to her adoptive parents. In order to understand each contestant's relationships in question, we get pre-taped segments featuring interviews and home video footage. The good news: baby Rachel Crow playing near a Christmas tree is even more adorable than you'd imagine. The bad news: basically everyone on the show is locked into an arms race to see who can make us cry harder. It's like the "Teardrop Awards" sketch from Mr. Show, but for real. "Rachel was born to a mother who was addicted to crack cocaine," Rachel's adoptive mom says with a smile. Why are you smiling, Rachel's adoptive mom? "You've made me a believer tonight," Nicole says, after another star turn from the 13-year-old wonder. Just tonight, Nicole? Girl's been killing it for two months.
Any sense of tearjerker pageantry found later in the episode seems like an exercise in subtlety and restraint compared to Marcus Canty's over-the-top tribute to his mama. It's so over-the-top, the top becomes the bottom, and there's no shelter from the schmaltz. Marcus sings Boyz II Men's "A Song for Mama" to his mama, who is fanning herself to keep from having a pride embolism, while pictures of Mrs. Canty populate the 60-foot high screen behind her. "You're making all the other sons out there look bad," says Nicole, crying. I watched this with my mama, though, and even she was making barf gestures during it. "I picked this song for my mom," Marcus says afterward, and it's the most redundant thing anyone has ever said, ever.
Not settling for any mere mortal, Melanie Amaro dedicates her song to God. "I want to thank God for all he's done for me, because he's the greatest," she says, launching into R. Kelly's "The World's Greatest." It's an odd choice, considering that Kells was probably singing about himself or Muhammad Ali with that joint, not the Man Upstairs. Nobody questions it, though. "I'm supposed to criticize that?" LA asks, adding, "I can't!" That's when Melanie has a Howard Dean moment, letting her emotions take over. She gives an unsolicited speech about these emotions in a Virgin Islands accent, and then goes on about the accent. Nicole is so moved, she makes Melanie come over and hug her. Paula approves too, but she cautions against the accompanying choir: "You don't need that." Simon counters that the choir is appropriate, given the churchiness of the performer. Then he more or less begs the audience not to vote Melanie off because "we need her in this competition." Yeah, it got weird.
Chris Rene dedicates his song to Tim, the counselor who got him through rehab. Midway through a hip-hop take on "Let It Be," Rene segues smoothly into a "Young Homie" reprise, which LA nods his head through appreciatively. He loves this song, and he's not alone. "It's so nice to see you back where we fell in love with you in the first place," Paula says. Simon agrees, but not before expressing displeasure with what Chris did to a perfectly good Beatles song.
The four members of Lakoda Rayne are thankful for a dad, a boyfriend, another dad and a grandmother, respectively – which makes their cover of Taylor Swift's "You Belong to Me" three-quarters thematically gross. Performance-wise, though, they're more on point than they've ever been before. "The more you stay in the competition, the more America is going to fall in love with you," Simon says, and the Lakodas light up. Then he drops this bomb: "I just wish there weren't two people going home this week." That's not even a thinly veiled insult. In response, four very beautiful faces fall at once.
LeRoy Bell gets in a much earthier mom dedication than Marcus Canty's Mamapalooza spectacular. Considering that his mother passed away recently, LeRoy's take on "Angel" has as much pathos as anything else. LA says it was heartfelt, for sure, "but not your very best." Simon says he normally agrees with LA, which is something I disagree with, "but not tonight." He then goes on to say how he finally got to know LeRoy with this performance. This disagreement is just a taste of what's to come, though.
No surprise that Astro would address "the incident, the thingy" from last week. "What you want me to do – I'm sorry," he says, adding, "I'm from Brooklyn." Henceforth, throwing a temper tantrum on TV will forever be known as the Brooklyn Way. Thanks, Astro! Tonight, he flips Jay-Z's "Show Me What You Got," and dedicates it to his supporters: the Astronauts. It's a return to the impressive lyrics and energy that preceded last week's debacle and it seems like effective damage control. "Can I be an Astronaut?" Paula asks. Even Simon seems to pardon the young rapper's outburst. "The music business needs unpredictability," he says.
Drew sings Demi Lovato's hit "Skyscraper" for her best friend in the sweetest dedication of the night. Simon has a look of dumbfounded enjoyment on his face the whole time. Little does he know he and LA are about to come to blows. "I'm directing this toward your mentor and not you," LA says, to a round of audience boos. "I don't understand the selection of material. It's not age-appropriate music." Drew defends what the song means to her, leaving it to Simon to point out that Demi Lovato is also a young girl. "LA, I'm directing this at you," Simon says. "I'm tired of your pointless, stupid criticizing. It's unfounded and inaccurate." When LA tries to get a word in, Simon tells him to shut up, and continues: "You are talking complete and utter rubbish." Steve cuts them off with one word: "Thanksgiving." Sad that it's a British guy who has to remind them of this.
Finally, Josh Krajcik takes us home with a piano ballad version of "Wild Horses" dedicated to the 13-year-old daughter I'm not sure we knew he had. The content of the song is a little iffy in a parental context, but Josh sounds great, putting real emotional nuance into every syllable. The judges are impressed, and Simon even gives Nicole props on her mentor work with Josh. Since she looks so composed, it seems that perhaps Nicole won't say something bonkers, but nope. "Beyond this competition, I think that you have the potential to make music that will change the world," she says, putting an onus on Josh not seen since Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure.
Predictions for tonight: Two performers have to go this week. If I learned one thing last week, it's not to count Lakoda Rayne out, so it's anyone's guess who's next.
Last Episode: Astro Falls Back to Earth, Avoids Going Home