It seems obvious to say that as The X Factor progresses its eliminations get more and more intense, but it’s not always the case on competition shows. By the time the pool has been whittled down to the single digits, it’s often pretty easy to predict who will go home and in what order—both for the audience and for the contestants, who see their time is up long before their ushered home. But on X Factor the talent is so neck-and-neck—and so many of the competitors are quite young—that emotions are starting to run very, very hot among the finalists and judges. As the credits rolled, the Fremantle logo popped up and Bones started, I was left with the impression that war had officially started on The X Factor, and hopefully that that can only make these final weeks even more entertaining.
We start the night with the news that 16 million votes were cast after last night’s show. That may sound like a lot, but when you consider that Idol’s votes have been hovering around 100 million for the past couple years—that’s around four votes per viewer as opposed to 1.5—it puts things in a bit more perspective. The opening number is “Man In The Mirror,” a song receiving its second spin this season, and it’s the most assured group performance since the decision was made to drop the pre-recorded tracks after the first live show. So far, so good. We recap last night’s show—the people who should be stoked are stoked, the people who should be nervous say they did their best. “That’s the show I signed up for!” Steve says as the package draws to a close, which made me imagine a freshly manufactured Mr. Jones in the guidance counselor’s office at the cloning facility, checking off what kind of reality program he thought would be the best fit for his skill set.
And just like that, we’re ready for our first results. Before the second performance, no less! The producers are really quick studies with these elimination shows, I must admit—each week has been tighter and tighter. Chris Rene, Melanie Amaro, and Rachel Crow are all saved, prompting me to officially give up any serious predictions about this show (I had Chris, Rachel and Marcus in the bottom.)
After the break, Steve chats with the remaining four backstage via megatron to confirm that they are all nervous. Wouldn’t you know it, they are! But there’s no time to talk about feelings right now, when it’s time for Tinie Tempah to take the stage. I like Tinie Tempah, which is to say I like his debut single “Pass Out,” the song performed tonight. I don’t listen to too much pop radio these days, so I don’t know if this song is a thing in the US, but it’s got an 8-bit-tinged backing track and a Hills reference, which means it’s basically covered all requirements for what a song should be, in my book.
After another break, we’re back to eliminations. Josh is the final safe act, and he is so overjoyed that he picks up Nicole. I feel like Nicole must be either unnaturally light on account of the lack of soul, or unnaturally heavy on account of all the darkness that lurks in the place her heart should be. We’ve got Marcus, Astro, and Drew left. It suddenly seems like it was ages ago that we bid farewell to Lakoda Rayne—these are serious frontrunners up there now.
Steve lowers the hammer, and Astro is out. In a marked, admirable 180-degree tyrb from the last time he found himself in the bottom, Astro is all smiles, gracious,effusive, and humble. “I loved my time here,” he tells Steve. (Steve, for his part, demanded that he “get the hugs out of the way” so that he could be sent on his way.) It is a bummer to see the kid go; he was one of the main elements that made this show feel just different enough from Idol. While his performances were starting to get predictable, his persona was not, and I really felt like we had seen him honestly start to grow up in the past couple weeks, if not as an artist than as a person in the public eye. But X Factor is not exactly the ideal stage to hash out your coming-of-age narrative.
Speaking of, Drew is still crying. Now I’m getting nervous—she doesn’t have much time to collect herself for her save-me song, and I’m imagining the girl doesn’t have a whole lot of experience singing under emotional duress. Predictably, Drew delivers her shakiest performance yet with “Listen To Your Heart,” but still pulls through admirably. After her performance, Steve pulls her aside and the two have a moment. The mystery of what Steve Jones whispered in Drew Ryniewicz’s ear is the new mystery of what Bill Murray whispered in Scarlett Johansson’s ear, just sayin’.
Marcus is up next. Before he begins, he takes a moment to say that “I’m here, I’m humble, I’m trying to give y’all my heart and soul.” Aw. Marcus is much more assured with his performance, though he does run into the same problem Drew does when he gets caught up in the emotional reaches for notes he perhaps wasn’t very well prepared for. He’s got his mentor doing the L.A. Reid Robot Head Dance Of Approval, which is good, because I’ve really started to feel like L.A. has given up on Marcus in the past couple weeks. He finishes, and Steve brings out Drew again, and I swear to god, Drew actually shoves him aside as she takes her place. This is a mere taste of the hostility to come.
The judges vote for who to send home, and the whole time I’m thinking how great and shocking it would be if someone (preferably Paula) just said a name the way Steve asks them to instead of saying the same bullshit about how everyone’s talented and it’s a hard decision, because those words mean less and less the more they’re repeated. LA sends home Drew, Simon sends home Marcus. Interestingly, Simon accepts full responsibility for Drew’s position in the bottom, and admits that the slow arrangement of “Billie Jean” last night was a bad decision, a rare show of humility from the boss. Nicole sends home Drew, and Paula sends home… Drew.
And just like that, it is on. Drew bursts into tears, Simon stands up in outrage. Even Steve looks like he has the glimmer of recognition that something crazy has just happened. He asks Drew for comment, even though it looks like the poor dear is barely able to speak, but she collects herself just long to blurt out that she wishes she would have gotten to sing what she really wanted to, which is “a lot more upbeat and a lot more different.” I don’t think there’s really a way to throw Simon Cowell under the bus on this show, but that was certainly an admirable—if not futile—attempt. Simon declines to even talk to Steve. Steve throws up his hands and cues the memory reel, Drew gets in that all-important Jesus shout-out, and is then show the door.
So those of you who were anticipating Simon’s inevitable tantrum when his first act was eliminated should be more than satisfied. I’m willing to bet that the hard feelings from tonight’s elimination drama will roll over to next week, and hopefully this means Simon is forced to roll up his sleeves and start playing more offensively when it comes to his critiques of the remaining acts. We’re on a fast track to the finale at this point, and tonight has proved more than any night thus far that nothing is guaranteed on this show. I’m definitely having more fun than I thought I would back in September.