Over two days of performances in the judges' homes, very little was revealed that we didn't already know. Also, there were precious few glimpses inside the houses themselves – meaning we may never find out what Simon Cowell's bunga bunga room looks like. But now it's time for all heads to report back to the chopping block for another round of cuts. Last night's X-Factor found all the judges reducing their broods by half.
"I had a little bit of a wobble last night," Simon announces at the top of the show. This is Brit-speak for "I got bladdered as a lorry," which is also Brit-speak for "I got wasted." It's easy to understand why Simon might have tossed a few back, though – he probably has the toughest decisions to make out of any of the judges. Should he keep around talented tween Rachel Crow, even if she's a little too precious? What about the magnetic but inconsistent Tora Woloshin? These are the kinds of age-old quandaries best decided by those with lucrative Pepsi sponsorships.
This round of eliminations adheres to a very strict formula. Step one: In a pre-interview, two or more contestants explain why winning this competition will fix his or her [looming foreclosure, hungry babies, drug problem, faded youth]. Step two: Contestants and I start crying. Step three: During the judge's appraisal, the editors toggle back and forth between contestants, making it hard to tell what's being said to whom. For instance, Paula offers the inscrutable faint praise, "I'm so proud that you ended up making it to my home," toward either the Brewer Boys or Two Squared. Step four: Tension is strung out and then released via a fake-out (Simon to Drew Ryniewicz: "To be honest, you weren't the best teenager I saw yesterday . . . you were the best contestant altogether!") Step five: Contestants and I start crying again.
The biggest fake-out of the night comes when Caitlin Koch's moment of truth is juxtaposed with Tiah Tolliver's. At first Simon exchanges some genial pleasantries with each of them, and then he works up a head full of steam. "What do you think has gone so wrong with you," he asks Tiah, "that I'm the only one still defending you at this point?" When Tiah can't put her finger on a diagnosis, Simon steps in. "I've made a decision," he says. "It's bad news." SMASH CUT TO CAITLIN, LOOKING DESTROYED. The bad news is for her, apparently. This turns out to be a pattern – whoever gets the most damning remarks is the one who will be kept on board. Surprise!
Some of the decisions made this episode are not surprising at all, though. When Christa Collins, a former Disney child star, comes out wearing a flapper headband with – I swear to God – a brown plastic fetus lying on top of a shimmering lily pad, it's clear she must pay for her crimes against fashion. At the opposite end of the spectrum, there was no way thirtysomething Josh Krajcik was going to show an appropriate amount of chest hair or be sent home before his time, and he fulfilled both prophecies. Also, Marcus Canty could have probably slapped LA Reid right in the terrifyingly well-groomed face, and still have advanced to the next round.
The episode is not without some shocks, however. The perennially color-coordinated boys of 4Shore are sent packing for not having a strong, identifiable leader within their ranks. Does the Boyz II Men prom-jam "End of the Road" make a crescendo-ing appearance, playing them off? You bet it does. The jettisoning of 4Shore is all the more baffling, though, considering that Groups judge Paula Abdul later praises all 2,700 members of Intensity, and advances them onto the next level. I guess this is the kind of decision-making that can be expected from the judge who says things like, "I need more joy out of your performance." Also cut loose unceremoniously is 16-year old wailer Jazzlyn Little, who has a big voice but an equally large confidence problem. This insecurity is written right across her chest when she meets with Simon wearing a shirt that reads "I LOVE YOU" in giant solicitous block letters. Goodbye, Jazzlyn!
The final surprise is still to come, though. "If I don't make it, I'll be devastated. I'll sit at home chanting, 'Wow – what happened?'" says superstar-of-tomorrow Melanie Amaro. At this point in the episode, three spots have already been filled in the Girls group, and either Melanie or Rachel Crow will take the final one. "Well, Rachel Crow is adorable," you might think upon seeing these two pitted against each other, "but next to Melanie she sounds about as appealing as a kazoo-fronted crust-punk band." This is all the more reason why it's an outraged Melanie who gets sent home. However, in a move that refreshingly seems like it would never happen on American Idol, Simon suffers a crisis of conscience and flies to Florida the next day to bring Melanie back as the 17th contestant. When you're Simon Cowell, it's not too difficult to fight City Hall and win. (Probably because "City Hall" is "his own personal TV show.")
Next week, we leave the judges' opulent-yet-secrecy-smothered homes behind for the "Finalists Revealed" episode, whatever that means. (Uh, we already know who the finalists are?) If the promo is any indication, what will be revealed is how the finalists look decked out in carefully selected garments from a resourceful wardrobe department, and so much makeup.
Previously: Home is Where the Coaching Is