At the conclusion of last week's marathon two-and-a-half-hour X Factor, the judges eliminated five contestants. This week, dapper man-candy host Steve Jones announces that, for the first time, the judgment ball is in the viewer's court, so to speak, as the mentors and their contestants will be "fighting for your votes." (Incidentally, the mentor-contestant coupling "L.A. and the Boys" sounds like a first-draft title for Entourage.)
Seldom does a moment tick by without Jones referencing a call-in number or the website that explains how to vote using Twitter. It's complicated! Eventually, someone even conducts an extensive tutorial on how to use Verizon's iPad app to vote, for those who require hand-holding. Simon follows up by praising the app and also complimenting Verizon on their terrific commercials, in which he stars. There's a Mr. Show infomercial-sketch feel throughout these proceedings.
So how do the contestants fare? The Stereo Hogzz prove that they can sing while performing complicated choreography, and more importantly, that the group contains both a Rico Suave and a Just'n. Donning red military band jackets and a Che beret or two, the Hogzz tackle "Rhythm Nation" like it's headed for their end zone. Afterward, Simon strives to win the Superlative Awards with this baffling declaration: "I don't think there's a band in the world as good as you."
A rare hatless Chris Rene sings the Carpenters hit "Superstar" after a set-up segment establishes that Chris does better on his own songs. "I write songs about my life," he says. "So when I sing other people's songs, I feel like I can't relate to them." All the judges are "proud" of Chris, though, which brings us a step closer to them just presenting him with a golden AA chip already.
Before smoldering senior LeRoy Bell takes the stage, his full progeny is revealed: two kids in their 30s, a plethora of grandkids, and a bonus 13-year old son for good measure. Over-30s mentor Nicole decides to stick him with a Lonestar song about missing one's kids to highlight his emotional state right now. It's kind of a boring song and a hokey premise, and it doesn't reveal anything new about the intriguing singer. Fittingly, both L.A. and Simon love the voice but disagree with the song selection.
Sometimes it's harder to read L.A. than the others. "It's tough to criticize you because you're so lovable," he says to 2011's Shirley Temple, Rachel Crow. Does that mean he wants to criticize her, but he's holding back? SPILL IT, REID! Crow sings "Walking on Sunshine" in front of a set that looks like an Escher painting giving chase, and she changes the chorus slightly. Nicole criticizes Simon's modification. "It's called 'being innovative,'" he explains. "It's called 'It's a hit! Don't change it,'" Nicole fires back, losing the argument. Meanwhile, Paula inevitably dubs Rachel "Little Miss Sunshine."
Before Lakoda Rayne sings Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide," Paula announces that each member represents a season. I'm no meteorological scholar, so I struggle to see how these dresses signify seasons. ("Ah yes, the majestic purple bruise of winter is now upon us": nobody, ever.) "Girls, I think I speak for everyone when I say you look incredible," L.A. says, which is not a terrific line for a singing competition. Simon continues this thread by glossing over blended vocals to hate on the Lakodas' "prom gowns." Paula closes out this bizarre segment with a non-sequitur: "Now let's go get some frozen yogurt!"
Looking like a chunky, bearded Joey Lawrence, Josh Krajcik soldiers dutifully through an unexciting song called "Jar of Hearts." It isn't much of a showcase for his Bolton-esque talents, though. Josh is as underserved by the song selection as LeRoy Bell was, meaning Nicole might be out of her depth with the over-30s category.
"It's so easy to do Mariah, Whitney, Celine," says Simon, explaining his song selection process for Melanie Amaro. It's true – frontrunner Melanie has proved she can deliver the goods on those divas' songs, so why not challenge her with the Eagles? Against a tranquil backdrop featuring the moon over calm ocean water, Melanie delivers a flawless "Desperado," prompting raves all around.
Astro's Naughty by Nature/Missy Elliot mash-up is a hit, with lyrics and cadence beyond his young years. "In Africa, they say 'Astro bomaye!'" he raps, a reference to the chants aimed at Muhammad Ali before the Rumble in the Jungle. "I know Jay-Z's got his eye on you," Paula says afterward, perhaps hinting at a future guest.
The ten Intensity kids give an energetic and patriotic performance of "Kids in America," backed by a teeny-bopper tech-house beat. (It's no surprise which colors and shapes are prominently featured onstage.) "I shouldn't like you, but I do," declares Simon before apologizing to Paula again, with a civility that is starting to lose its novelty.
Introduced while lying barefoot on rose petals, Drew is dressed like a Disney ballerina hero this week to sing Nelly's "Just a Dream" with a Dolly Parton gait. She nails it. Afterward, L.A. informs Drew that she has the wrong mentor, cryptically adding, "You know you should be with me."
"Isn't one Bobby Brown enough?" Simon asks of L.A.'s efforts to mold Marcus Canty into the shape of one of his famous pupils. Fortunately for Marcus, the judges all gush over his mimicry of Brown's "Every Little Step." Unfortunately for Marcus, the song still resonates with the creeptastic stench of John Travolta's recent nightmare cover.
When Simon called Stacy Francis a "church singer" last week, apparently he lit a fire under mentor Nicole. "If he wants gospel, we'll give it to him," she says before Stacy's "Up to the Mountain." It's a beautiful performance, but it's distracting that Stacy imbues every song with Dreamgirls-level drama. "I didn't want to take credit for this," says Simon, taking credit for Stacy's highly lauded showing. Then he makes her give daddy a kiss. (Gross.)
Predictions for tonight's results show: The Over-30s are the weakest category, so Leroy Bell or Josh Krajcik will have to go. Goodbye, Josh!
LAST EPISODE: It's a Real Live Free-For-All