“It was an unforgettable night,” says fully clothed underwear model, Steve Jones, of The X Factor‘s previous episode. Unforgettable isn’t necessarily a positive descriptor, though; especially in this instance, when it refers to the Bonanza of Suck that was Wednesday’s Michael Jackson showcase. Mr. Takagi had an unforgettable night at Nakatomi Plaza in the original Die Hard, after all, but that was mainly because of his own gangland-style execution at the hands of Hans Gruber.
Pictures of Michael Jackson lined the stage during the opening group performance of “Man in the Mirror,” one of the King of Pop’s signature songs that inexplicably wasn’t played the night before. Hearing Rachel Crow roar out the chorus gives us access to an alternate universe where the oddball song selections had been better curated. (Seriously – no “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough”?)
The theme of everyone bemoaning misguided MJ song choices runs through the entire episode. “I did the best I could with that song,” Rachel says, about her relatively deep cut, “Can You Feel It?” Damn, if only Michael Jackson had a catalog rich with world-beating classics – then it would be practically impossible to go wrong. If only!
Chris Rene is the first of the seven contestants who is granted safe passage to next week’s show, and he makes a questioning face like he didn’t hear correctly. Whether he’s displaying false modesty or genuine confusion is anybody’s guess. Melanie Amaro is through next, then Rachel Crow. Neither LA nor Nicole looks too happy about all this. Nicole especially makes some classic distress-faces while awaiting her sole remaining mentee Josh Krajcik‘s stay of execution. Her eyes are like well trained assassin’s hands, flinging so many ninja stars at the competition.
Since it is Michael Jackson week, what better musical guest to drop by than UK Grime artist Tinie Tempah, who also isn’t sure exactly who he is or why he’s there. Tinie has a fun little dance, though, that I call the Bowler’s Arm Swing, for self-explanatory reasons. It’s over soon enough, though, and we’re back with the contestants.
Josh makes it through to next week and celebrates by hefting Nicole up into the air. Of his three peers that are left, one will be dismissed for low votes, leaving the remaining two to battle it out. Steve reads off a sampling of some of comments the judges made about these contestants the previous night. “But,” he adds, theatrically throwing a tiny cue card down to the ground, “What does America think?”
Apparently, America thinks Astro should go home. Some might say that Astro was the most interesting thing going on this show, but ultimately the heart wants what it wants and the people have spoken. Steve tries to talk to the young rapper, who repeatedly leaves him hanging while collecting hugs all around. Astro accepts the audience’s decision like a little mensch, though. “The only reason I’m mad is that I don’t get to see my girl who lives in Cali,” he says. Onward, Brooklyn soldier!
Drew starts crying the moment Astro is tapped, perhaps out of a combination of temporary relief and surprise. She’s still crying when Steve awkwardly checks in with her, again, about how she’s feeling. If anyone ever asked me how I was feeling while terror-tears streamed out of my face, I’d probably blow my nose on their impeccably stylish suit jacket. Just sayin’.
“I want them to take this and hijack it,” Paula says, disconcertingly, about the upcoming showdown between Drew and Marcus Canty. Will the pair make up for the previous night’s squandered Michael Jackson potential? No, they won’t: the save-me song, by mandate, must always involve saying goodbye, in order to achieve maximum gravitas. That’s why Drew does “Listen to Your Heart,” which she pulls herself together to sing beautifully. Afterward, the crowd is chanting her name, and it seems like curtains for Canty. On “Neither of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye),” Marcus’ voice breaks and hits a higher register than usual, so imbued is it with the passion and fear of being sent home. Drew’s face is scrunched into a mask of horror when they cut to her afterward.
Now it’s time for the voting. “I don’t want anyone to think this was an easy decision just because he’s on Team LA,” LA says, before choosing Marcus. Next is Simon, who does something rare and touching: he acts contrite, for once, and admits he made a mistake with Drew’s predictably stripped down “Billie Jean” the night before. “The reason that Drew is in this position tonight is my fault,” he says. “I shouldn’t have chosen that song, it was too slow. I’m begging the other judges to give her a second chance.”
In a legitimately shocking twist, Nicole and Paula cannot be persuaded. Does Nicole have a rational explanation for sending Drew home? Of course not: “I know that you’re going to have a long career ahead of you, a good recording career, but you’re so young, already, still.” What? This is the only comment she can muster about Drew that approaches negativity. Paula doesn’t explain her choice any better either. “You ask me what I’m looking for in a save me song, and it has to move, move, move, move me,” she says, willing that word to seem significant. Then she delivers Drew the death blow.
Marcus’ mic is too close to Drew’s mouth when they embrace and we can hear her wailing. It’s painful to endure. She’s crying hard and Steve goes in to ask her how she’s feeling again, because that’s his job. “I’m gonna keep going and I’m gonna keep singing,” Drew says, in between sobs. “I have a lot more to show you guys, and it’s a lot more upbeat and it’s a lot more… different.” It’s like watching Bambi getting put down, apologizing for her supposed mistakes all the while.
Simon waives off Steve when he approaches. The host persists in trying to hand him the microphone, asking for “just one word.” In perhaps the classiest moment of the entire series, Simon, with a paternal arm wrapped around Drew declines to say anymore.
Poor Drew. At least she’s so young, already, still, so she’s got that going for her.
Next week: The final five duke it out and there’s some kind of Pepsi Challenge!