The inmates are running the asylum. Simon Cowell and the gang were stripped of their magical decision-making powers last night and forced to watch as America decided which contestants moved on to the finale. There were no Save Me songs, no showdowns, no judges dodging their duties and throwing it over to deadlock. Instead, it was all about what America wants. Democracy in action!
Steve informs us early on that during the performance episode last night, the show received 30 million votes – which means, statistically, that at least three people you know voted on The X Factor last night, which seems impossible. Also, I'm terrible at math, so that's probably not true. Our boy Steve also mentions that tonight's special guests include Florence and the Machine, and… Nicole Scherzinger? How'd they manage that coup?
As always, the show opens with a group performance, and this one finds the contestants singing Blackstreet blended with Tears for Fears. Somewhere in the world, Girl Talk is taking a long, hard look in the mirror and thinking things over. From the moment "No Diggity" kicks in, Josh looks uncomfortable. It's a sharp contrast to Chris Rene and Marcus Canty, who are right at home with this song. "Baby, you're a perfect ten/I want to get in," just does not seem like a Josh Krajcik kind of come-on, though. Here, we also get our first hint that Melanie Amaro will survive the night, as the crowd totally loses its collective mind the moment her lips first part.
Some brief Steve-talk about the show's next season leads to the terrifying prospect of "X Factor Booths": pop-up enclosures used for audition purposes that will be placed in malls throughout the country and also my nightmares. Imagine the horror that happens in those booths! Next, for the second night in a row, the audience is made to clap along in time to the show's theme song while Steve grills the judges. Here's a gem from Paula, regarding which performances she liked best the previous night: "Being the only impartial judge, I'm looking at this and taking it very partially." Love her.
After a commercial break, Steve is interviewing the judges and contestants backstage. (Dude shoulders a bigger burden than usual tonight.) He tries three times to get LA to admit that he's feeling smug about the competition, since LA is the only judge with multiple mentees remaining. Getting LA to admit that he feels smug? Next, Steve will be trying to get the Great Lakes to confess that they occasionally feel damp. At first, Paula is missing from all this, due to the magic of live TV, but sure enough, she materializes out of the ether to kiss all of the contestants on the face, apropos of everything. Did I mention that I love her? With my heart?
When Florence and the Machine are introduced, a caption flashes across the screen touting "85 million internet hits," whatever that means, and "Grammy nominated." The producers probably would have been better off trusting that people know about Florence in the Machine already (which they must) than using these two selling points. There's an odd, churchly stained glass window background during the performance, which feels inappropriate for a song that invokes the phrase, "Say my name." Florence Welch sounds amazing, though, particularly on the final chorus, which she trills into oblivion.
For the second time tonight, it gets extra time-filler-y up in here, as we get general appraisals from the judges about the contestants. Somebody is running out of ideas. "What I like about Marcus is he's had three weeks in the bottom, but he hasn't once sulked or complained," says Simon. It sounds sincere enough, but Simon also sounded really sincere the previous night when he was ripping on Marcus to avenge Rachel Crow and Drew, like Liam Neeson out to harm the men who kidnapped his daughter. Also taking a stance contrary to his demonstrated position is LA. Although he always finds some way to criticize Melanie, here he simply says, "When you listen to Melanie sing, it's like drinking warm honey." Hmm, maybe that is a criticism. Warm honey is still too sticky and sweet to drink and it could be used as some kind of ant trap. What are you playing at, LA Reid!?
The first two contestants going straight through to next week are Chris Rene and Melanie. It's all down to Marcus and Josh now. Steve interviews the pair backstage about their chances of winning, and they both answer very courteously, somehow managing not to say, "I hope America votes off this fool over here, and lets me slide."
Before we get the chance to see who makes it, though, Nicole Scherzinger blesses us with a song called "Pretty," about not wanting to be so pretty. Humblebrag much? A wave of fog rolls by the stage as what appears to be the cast of Stomp drums on some upside-down oil barrels. If you thought watching Nicole emote after each of Josh's performance was rough, wait until you see her attempt to put some stank on this chorus. Yikes!
The high point of the night comes afterward, though, when Steve asks Simon to weigh in on the performance, and Simon does so in the style of Nicole, since she can't critique herself: "I believe in you. You believe in me. You transcend the universe. God is smiling on you. Life is a waterfall. And you are the ultimate rainbow." The resemblance is uncanny!
Finally, Steve is allowed to reveal who made it through to next week. It feels kind of anticlimactic, with no judges' votes leading up to it. Turns out, the audience finally sends Marcus Canty packing. Before he goes, though, he shares a very special moment with Steve. "Why you lookin' sad, Steve?" he asks. "Because I like you, and I don't want you to go," the host replies. It's basically the most adorable thing ever.
Marcus takes his lumps more gracefully than any other previous contestant, even cool-as-a-cucumber Leroy Bell. He's smiling the whole time, he tells his family to stop crying, and he can even be seen dancing along in the corner as the clips from his best performances play. Rasputin has finally fallen, only now he seems like such a nice guy, I wish I could give him a kinder nickname. (Alas, I cannot.)
Next week: IT'S THE FINALS OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG OMG!!!!!!
Last episode: Melanie Amaro Dominates Semifinals