After a Tearful Moments montage, reminding us of last week's surprise ending, last night’s opening suggests the theme this week is war. "Prepare for all-out war," goes the bombastic voiceover. "This is war," LA says, in case it's not clear. Finally, a contemplative Simon looks directly at the camera and intones, "If they want a war, they're gonna get a war." They who? Never mind. Let's not dwell on the fact that I'm 80 percent sure this is a line from Scarface anyway. What's interesting about all the war talk is that this episode more accurately resembles a 1960s-style Love-In.
At the top of the hour, Nicole comes out looking trapped inside of an enormous origami napkin dress, and Steve Jones teases a "major twist" later. This week, the contestants get two chances to impress the fickle league of X Factor voters. Their first song is a dance number; the second one the audience voted on in a Pepsi Challenge (which is very confusing because, hello, there already was a Pepsi Challenge, and it was perfect).
The shocking twist: some mechanical voting error prevents the Pepsi Challenge from being properly tabulated. Through the magic of flashback, we see the contestants finding out this news the previous night, prompting Chris Rene's best reaction shot ever (it looks like his mind's been blown into fragments). Instead of the song they'd worked on all week, the contestants must perform what would have been their save-me song. “This is the kind of challenge that happens in real life," Simon says of the setback, only whenever the song I'm voted into singing short-circuits, usually we go straight to the Gilbert and Sullivan lightning round.
When an accelerated dance beat kicks in, Melanie Amaro sounds lost singing Adele's "Someone Like You." (Somewhere out there, Adele is setting fire to the rain over this.) Melanie remains overpowered until the bridge, when she abruptly starts asserting her vocal dominance. "The only thing that bothered me about it was it was that it was really good," LA says, bafflingly. "What I loved was that it wasn't karaoke," Simon says. Anything but karaoke! It seems like the most notable thing about Melanie's second song will be Paula looking at her watch during the Whitney Houston cover, but then after it's over, Melanie addresses the audience again. This is turning into a habit. As prophesied, the West Indian accent revealed in her first outburst is back, and spicier than before. Your homework assignment, commenters: Pick out a Sasha Fierce-like name for Melanie’s alter-ego.
"DJ, drop that beat!" Marcus Canty commands at the beginning of Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody." Marcus is suited up and surrounded by dancers decked in Day-Glo, with a background set stolen from Tron. "You took us to church and the dance club at the same time," Nicole says afterward, a Mad Libs compliment she's used before. Everyone else agrees, even Simon, who admits he should be mad at Marcus since his presence this week equals Drew’s absence, but can’t he be mad. The second time out, Marcus tries a slower jam (Donny Hathaway's "A Song for You"), which elicits similar positive responses, this time in comparisons to Al Green, according to Nicole, and Muhammad Ali, according to LA ("Ali got knocked out twice and came back like a champion"). Why stop there? Surely there’s a great author or painter he can be compared to as well.
Rachel Crow first sings "Nothin' On You," Bruno Mars' tribute to beautiful women, which doesn't sound at all weird coming from a 13-year-old female child. Rachel seems a bit winded initially, struggling to keep pace with the song. Perhaps she's weighed down by her hair, which is bigger and denser than ever and appears to be eating her head. "You are such a little star," LA tells her afterward. "I'm just waiting for a Rachel Crow doll," Nicole agrees. When the girl delivers her staccato ha-ha's at this prompt, it sounds like perhaps there already is a Rachel Crow doll. This case doesn't hold any less water after the second song, when Rachel greets Nicole's bizarro "old soul" compliment with this gem: "My mission is to inspire the kids." Someone please tell her she is the kids.
It sounds an awful lot like Josh is about to sing Coldplay's "Viva La Vida." I was standing by on notice, ready to push up my glasses and declare outrage that this is considered a dance song, but suddenly Rihanna's "We Found Love" kicks in and Josh wraps his muscular vocals around it. "You were great as a singer," LA says, "but I just don't buy that song for you." The crowd disagrees and duly voices their disapproval, but Simon feels the same way. Of course, any up-tempo dance number would sound wrong on this guy, though, and it's not his fault. Josh takes his lumps and comes back strong the second time with a little "Something" by the Beatles. "Thank God you had a second song," LA says, glowingly. "That's the Josh I know!" Paula then insists that Josh's performance is "beyond adjectives," a compliment which also defies description.
The less said the better about Chris Rene's first song, a dancey take on TI's Numa Numa-sampling, "My Life." Before his second performance, though, Chris gets what should be the thrill of his life, but probably isn't (dude looks kinda out to lunch half the time, and God love him for it). A clip shows Stevie Wonder calling in to the X-Factor earlier to chat up Marcus Canty and Chris Rene on speaker phone. While Chris and Marcus sit side by side, the legendary Wonder sings the praises of "Young Homie," Rene's much-celebrated original song. "You are inspiring me right now," Stevie Wonder says. "Um, I'm still right here, you guys," Marcus Canty doesn't quite say, but he's thinking it.
Stripped down to the essentials – a stool, a guitar, some jeans and boots – a well-scrubbed Chris delivers the stunner performance of the night with another original song. "Where Do We Go From Here?" is obviously based on the recent tribulations of Rene's life, but unlike "Young Homie" here he doesn't explicitly reference them, which makes the song more universally affecting. The judges are floored. Paula nearly ruins the mood with a typical space cadet rant about how the universe works. Everyone seems like they’re waiting to see what Simon thinks. "You're this close to $5 million and you choose to do an original song – that's either stupidity or a stroke of genius," he says. That would be a pretty messed up lead-in to insulting a dude, so of course it ends up being a compliment. Then the judges applaud each other for all being in agreement for once.
Predictions for tonight: Seems like it'll come down to either Marcus Canty or Rachel Crow for the elimination, but you never know.