We sure learned a lot of lessons on Wednesday's performance episode of The X Factor. LA Reid and Simon Cowell let it be known that they're not above even the pettiest of schoolyard squabbles. Celine Dion, Diddy, and Bob Marley were all unmasked as bona fide hotel-trashing, groupie-devouring rock stars – at least judging by their inclusion on Rock Night. All of this turned out to be mere prelude, though, to the true rock revelation of the evening: Nicole Scherzinger used to be in Days of the New.
Would the results show turn out to be equally surprising? In a word: yup.
After an opening group cover of "We Will Rock You" that finds Chris Rene suffering in comparison by rapping after Astro, host Steve Jones gets to the initial part of the eliminations rather quickly. The first two contestants with enough votes to make it through to next week are LeRoy Bell and… Lakoda Rayne? Really? Even as I type this, it doesn't quite seem possible. If that it is indeed what happened, what other nonsense might also be? Is gravity still a thing? It's almost worth it to keep Lakoda around, though, just to see a happy, relieved Paula float through the rest of the episode without the indignity of having all her acts voted off first.
Before we an find out who else is safe, it's time for this week's infomercial. The contestants take a field trip to see a professional cameraman who's worked with "everybody from Eve to Missy Elliott to Shakira." Not exactly the broadest of spectrums, but fair enough. It's unclear, though, why everyone acts humbled to have the opportunity to work with a professional photographer when they've been styled to death and photographed in every episode since boot camp. After the pro explains what's so great about the particular Sony camera he'll be using, he reveals that Sony's got a surprise gift for the whole gang – brand new Sony cameras! "Everyone was snapping photos of each other," LeRoy says in amazed testimonial. "It was really cool." It wasn't.
Next up is a guest performance. This week it's Rihanna, who just cannot stay away from The X Factor, and nobody is complaining about that. Maybe it's the strange mojo between her and Steve Jones that brought her back. ("Glorious, glorious lady," Steve says of her at one point. Her performance of new single "We Found Love" looks like a 1990s dance party. A parade of extras from Clueless hit the stage in so much waist-tied flannel, ripped jeans, and pleated skirts. And once again, it's a bit of a shock when Ri-Ri talks, letting her Barbados accent off the leash.
When the competition returns, Simon actually looks like he's sweating for once, which is weird. Dude is supposed to be unflappable. This is like seeing Zach Morris or Bugs Bunny crack under pressure, and it stirs up so many feelings! Add to the feelings-pot all the other scared faces as everyone awaits their judgment, but especially Rachel Crow's as she begins to snuffle and cry in a heartbreaking way. The producers really milk the moment – piping in a loud heartbeat noise to fill the silence Steve leaves between announcing names.
After Rachel Crow is finally called, it's down to an odd pairing: Astro and Stacey Francis. When Steve asks Stacey how she feels, she can't even talk and so just shakes her head in typical dramatic-Stacey fashion. Nicole then says into the microphone, "My heart goes out to Stacey right now," which is a weird way to put it when she's standing right next to Stacey right now and could just turn her head and address her directly.
It seems obvious that Stacey is going to be the one to go, but then something really surprising happens. It's not that Stacey does a life-changing "Amazing Grace" (although she does indeed do a very good job) – rather, it's that Astro completely falls apart. Before our very eyes, he responds to being lumped in the bottom two by regressing into the immature, petulant schoolboy he's still at the right age to embody.
"On the real? I really don't want to perform," Astro says. "I don't think it's necessary." He then leaves the decision in his mentor's hands, who tells him to go for it. This seems a lot like the Astro of yore, when he was still Brian Bradley and he acted like a brat to get a rise out of Simon. It's weird to see him like this again after he's earned our respect. The song he performs is fine, if a little on-the-nose. It's called "I Never Can Say Goodbye," and there are rhymes about each of the judges involved. More importantly, Astro's heart is clearly not into it, and neither is the crowd. As it turns out, neither are the judges.
"You've come too far to give a lackluster performance," LA says to his figurative son. Although he looks disappointed, he sticks by Astro and votes off Stacey. Nicole votes for her mentee because of course she does, and Paula votes against her. That leaves Simon in the deciding slot. He addresses Astro's problems, talking to him like an ill-tempered nun in Catholic school. "I don't like your attitude… Think of your mom watching."
Finally, Astro explains his behavior. "No disrespect to you, Simon, or to this show, but I just feel like if they're gonna put me in the bottom two, I don't wanna perform for people who don't want me here." Simon informs him that this is part of being a grown up, just as all our guidance counselors told us when we were first started singing on a competition show. After some hand-wringing, Simon says he's voting for the person he thinks has the better chance of winning – Astro.
It's hard to believe we're never going to see the clip again from Stacey's audition where she says, "I don't want to die with all this music in me, Simon." All the "Fran-atics" who voted for her are going to be so disappointed. Keep reaching for that rainbow, Fran-atics!
Next week: Will Lakoda Rayne somehow dodge a bullet yet again?
Last Episode: Josh Krajcik Shines During Rock Week