I gotta admit, kids, an hour into tonight’s The X Factor: Thanksgiving Edition ( Now with more grainy family photos and tears!) I thought I wasn’t going to make it. We soulless Internet grumps can only withstand so many piano-backed montages before we eventually crack and pen all-caps late-night emails to our editors saying we relinquish our reviewing posts and are heading off on an ice fishing expedition as far away from humanity and television as possible. But I have two men to thank for bringing me back from the edge, and they are Brian Bradley and Josh Krajcik, who both for completely different reasons, reminded me that this show can be pretty fun when it wants to be.
But we’ll get to that in a moment! We open with our Xtestants previewing their songs and dedications for tonight’s thankfulness-themed show. “It’s going to be a whole ’nother level of performance,” says Nicole, which I should have known right then and there just meant more extensive use of the X Factor house gospel choir. “Now we get to see them for who they really are,” says Simon, implying that up until now the show and the portrayal of its contestants have been built upon a pack of cheap lies. I was scandalized. This is The X Factor! We came here for truth, goddammit!
After a brief revisit of last week’s results drama, including a freeze frame of Astro just as that single tear was glimmering on his cheek, we’re also reminded that this week two people will be going home. I find it awesomely manipulative and cruel that the double elimination week is the same week the finalists are asked to get as emotionally naked as they can on stage; it’s the silver lining of many of tonight’s eye-rolling performances. I had been settling into the live shows’ single-elimination rhythm for the past few weeks, but fuck it, it’s been a while, bring on the bloodshed.
Rachel is up with the first of several gospel-inflected songs tonight that failed to leave any impression on me. Rachel was adopted, which we knew, but she was also a crack baby, which sounded familiar, but I couldn’t remember if we had heard before. You’d think I’d remember something like a reality show contestant being addicted to crack cocaine before the age of 2, right? You’d think. Anyway, Rachel’s dedicating her song to her adopted family. It was without a doubt the weakest performance we’ve seen from her yet, but as soon as the judges started talking about how much she made them believe in angels, I realized that this show wasn’t going to be about performance. It was going to be about how much you make Nicole Scherzinger cry. And it’s hard to top crack babies, but the night was young. Let’s find out what other depressing presents are under our pity tree!
Marcus, who I believe on a previous episode was quoted as saying he “didn’t grow up in too rough an environment,” dedicates his performance of Boyz II Men’s “Mama” to his uncle. Just kidding! He dedicates it to his mother, and again, it’s a midtempo gospel-y number that is only memorable for the giant break in his voice halfway through. It’s a fine vocal performance otherwise, but so far I feel like I’m a music clearance supervisor sorting through suitably vanilla tracks to use as background on Winter Olympics color stories. The judges all love it, but L.A. Reid, please stop being such a cheapskate and using tracks you own and don’t need to get the rights to.
Melanie’s intro feels extra long because she’s thanking God and so there’s not as many people to interview for the backstory. Apparently Melanie has felt let down by everyone in her life at some time or another except God. Her mom says she does feel a little guilty for shipping her off at an early age to the Virgin Islands, which doesn’t sound like the worst fate ever, but hey, you made your mom feel bad, Melanie. Mission accomplished. We’re three for three with gospel choirs so far, this time for R. Kelly’s “The World’s Greatest.” It’s an odd song choice for something dedicated to God, just because the line “I’m the world’s greatest” is in the first person. Who is the world’s greatest? God? Melanie? Is Melanie singing from the point of view of God? So confusing. But the real performance doesn’t start until after the overall favorable critiques come in, when a tiny tropical bird hatches inside Melanie’s brain and she decides now is a good time to FLIP THE FUCK OUT. Suddenly she’s shouting and crying in a Rihanna accent about how grateful she was to be here and how proud she was of herself and how happy she was. All pretty unsurprising sentiments, but the manner of delivery was enough for me to sit up and rub my eyes and try to figure out if Melanie was about to start speaking in tongues. Her freaky enthusiasm wins the judges over even more, earning her a coveted ScherzyHug, the oiliest and boniest of all X Factor hugs.
Friends, I feel as though Chris Rene’s X Factor star may be falling. Tonight’s reprise of “Young Homie” (mashed up somewhat superfluously with “Let It Be”) was fine, but just further proof that the guy hasn’t done anything as impressive since that first audition performance. Paula says “It’s so nice to have you back where we met you,” which just sounds like another way to say “Please, stop trying to sing other things.” Chris may very well be a one-hit wonder that the judges are just scared to criticize lest they send him tailspinning into a relapse. Which is totally patronizing, sure, but also understandable.
Lakoda Rayne make the interesting choice of dedicating Taylor Swift’s “You Belong To Me,” a song about unrequited teenage love, to their fathers and grandmothers (and Paige’s boyfriend.) Apparently Cari is very upset that her grandma is spending more time with her short skirt-wearing cheer captain girlfriend when she knows her granddaughter understands her best. L.A. says the performance “disarmed him,” which I guess I’d essentially agree with. Simon has his reservations but still says it’s their best performance to date. I mean, yes, they should probably just sing Taylor Swift songs from here on out, but I still get creeped out by Lakoda Rayne’s insistence on hunching over and scrunching up their faces every time they want to convey how much fun they’re having.
As much as I like seeing Leroy’s childhood photos (which, next to the other contestants’ look like they were taken in a Wild West photo studio at a state fair), and as much as he seems like a perfectly nice guy who super duper loves his mom, I really can’t forgive him for singing “Angel”, a.k.a. the Sarah MacLachlan Sad Puppy song. Once again we found Leroy back in deathbed mode, and the final burst of energy came way too late in the arrangement to wake me up. Leroy gets the first bit of negative criticism tonight from L.A., but it is quickly swept away by all the other judges’ effusive praise, including longtime holdout Simon. Steve Jones comes back out onstage and expresses his approval as well. “It felt like a song you were singing for your mum,” he says, nodding thoughtfully. “It was… for my mom,” Leroy replies. Steve Jones smiles, unblinking, then excuses himself to the men’s room during the commercial break, after which there are reports from several PAs of repeated bashing sounds and strangled sobs of “Stupid, stupid, stupid” coming from down the hall.
So, after the wave of controversy (at least in the X Factor-saturated bubble in which I currently live) after last week’s meltdown, including several questions over the legitimacy of the bottom two results, I bet you guys are all dying to know what I think about Astrogate. While I will totally acknowledge that Brian Bradley wasn’t on his best behavior last week, I also think that on shows like this there is far too much emphasis placed on the continuous expression of gratitude; the submission to the all-powerful Show as your lord and master. The goal of just doing a kick-ass job of entertaining can get overshadowed by this, as if it is somehow a baser or less noble pursuit. I think Astro did a fine job of apologizing tonight—and L.A. Reid did a good job of cleaning up after his handful of a protégé—but more importantly, Astro delivered the most fun, energized performance of the night, dedicated to his fans who he says supported him after the big blowup. If the non-Astronaut voters want to punish him for being petulant and rebellious last week, then I guess that’s the way it goes, but he sure makes the show a hell of a lot more fun, and it would be a bummer to lose him this early. The judges are all reserved with their praise, which is probably for the best; if the viewers think he’s being let off the hook too easily, they would probably be even less compelled to vote for him.
Drew is up next, singing for her BFF Shelby, who she says helps her be less self-conscious. “The dorkier you are, the more people like you,” says Shelby in the intro package, which makes me wonder what kind of bizarre, utopian junior-high experience these girls have had. Drew sings “Skyscraper” by Demi Lovato, which feels more constrained and timid than anything she’s done so far, even once the drums kick in for the last 20 seconds. When was the last time we heard Drew actually sing a note with a full breath? And why is Samara from The Ring hovering on those hilltops on the background screens? L.A. doesn’t like the song, oddly choosing to rag on the song choice as being “too old” for Drew, of all things. This spurs a big fight between him and Simon, which Steve is luckily able to diffuse simply by uttering the word “Thanksgiving.” Simon and L.A. have the same safe word: coincidence or not?
Filling in the pimp spot, and rightfully so, is Josh, who dedicates his song to his 13(!)-year-old daughter. Apparently our Josh knocked some girl up in high school and then got mega-depressed for several years after she dumped him. I’d be interested to know why he ended up with the kid instead of the mom; I’d also like to hear any one of the hundreds of acoustic four-track recordings that were likely made during this dark period. Josh sings “Wild Horses,” and manages to be one of the only performers tonight who is able to be fully emotionally connected while still keeping control of his vocals. It’s my favorite Josh performance by far, never veering into over-indulgence, and I think the first perfect song choice for him in the live shows. I’ve heard it through the grapevine that Simon has his eye on Josh as being a male Adele-type performer, and if so, this is a great move in that direction.
Tomorrow: The X Factor sends two lucky contestants home in time to spend Thanksgiving with their families! And I return to the X Factory because I have an extremely complicated and unhealthy relationship with this show! See y’all at the slaughter.
- The audience was pretty trigger-happy with the booing tonight, weren’t they? I loved when they accidentally booed Simon when he said, quite earnestly, that he was thankful for all the talent on the X Factor stage.
- In an extended discussion in the opening about Astro’s behavior last week, L.A. says that Astro grew up in a “tough environment” and he handled the situation the way he’d been raised to. I’m sorry, but has Astro ever talked about growing up in a tough environment? He says he grew up in Brooklyn, obviously, but for all we know he could be talking about Park Slope.
- Tonight inspired a lot of the finalists to steamroll Steve Jones and express their personal messages of gratitude post-judging. Vagueness Award goes to Rachel Crow, for telling “all the kids out there… you can do it. Because I did it.” Did what? And do you really mean all the kids?