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Thursday night was judgment night for "The X Factor's" top 16 contestants, the night that determined which 12 of them would advance to next week's public voting rounds. And this night, the votes would be in the private hands of the judges. Each judge would automatically put through two contestants from his or her team, and then the remaining two contestants would be forced to "sing for survival," to snag the one last spot on each team.
So, did the judges make the right decisions? Well, yes and no. But overall, the show had a pretty strong dozen by the night's end. Here's what went down, and who went down, on Thursday night's results show:
YOUNG ADULTS (mentored by Demi Lovato)
As one might expect and hope, Demi first advanced Jennel Garcia, her far-and-away best contestant of Wednesday night, and really her only contestant who didn't struggle in some way. Demi's second choice, Paige Thomas, was a little more of a surprise, since over the course of this season, Paige has morphed into nothing more than a Rihanna clone, complete with a thin, RiRi-like voice in need of some serious Auto-Tuneage. So that left CeCe Frey and Willie Jones to sing for that final slot on Demi's team--and if Demi ended up basing her decision on likability, then obviously Willie already had it in the bag.
CeCe sang first, eschewing the warpainted gimmickry of her over-the-top Wednesday night performance, instead choosing to belt the Fame ballad "Out Here On My Own" in a little red cocktail frock--just her, a microphone, and nothing else. This was probably a wise move--after all the criticism she received Wednesday for her vocals, which were clearly compromised by all her dancing and floor-rolling, she needed to prove that she can actually sing. Well, she didn't exactly live up to the greatness of circa-1980 Irene Cara, and this time, her vocals sounded compromised by her choked sobs. At times she kind of sounded like a dying dolphin. (Except America loves dolphins.) But she worked it all out at the end and finished strong, and an impressed L.A. Reid told her, "My opinion is, you just saved yourself." Britney Spears told CeCe, "Last night I thought you were having an identity crisis, like you were trying to be like Keesha [apparently Britney doesn't know how to pronounce Ke$ha's name], but this was a powerful performance." Said Simon Cowell, "I don't understand why you didn't do that last night," before griping that she'd seemed like a "clown" the night before. I understood their comments, but I do want to point out that both Britney and Simon had praised CeCe's wannabe-Ke$ha performance on Wednesday. Sooooo contradictory. But I suppose it's all part of the redemption-of-CeCe story arc on this show, right?
Willie Jones went next with Ray Charles's "You Don't Know Me," and while the song was a much better showcase for his deep country-soul voice that the terrible Gretchen Wilson cover he butchered the night before, his performance was still flat. What the heck happened to the cool kid we first saw audition in Greensboro? L.A. shruggingly called Willie's performance "good," but Britney said, "You definitely stand out and there is a unique quality about you, but I am not definitely sure where you fit in." Grumbled Simon, "I wish I was mentoring you, because if we could capture what you brought to that first audition, I think you could have a real future in this competition."
But, as it turned out, there would be no future for Willie on "The X Factor." Likability, schmikability--superior vocals won in the end, and Demi kept CeCe. I cannot imagine how CeCe will survive even ONE week of voting rounds once it's America's turn to decide her fate, but based on CeCe and Willie's two performances this week, Demi did make the right call here.
OVER-25's (mentored by L.A. Reid)
I had my Jason Brock prayer circle organized before this segment even started, but once L.A. actually FORGOT JASON'S NAME on the air, I knew it was going to take more than prayers to save him. L.A. admitted that he'd "failed" Jason when he'd given him a J.Lo song to sing Wednesday, but he conveniently failed to mention that the Nickelback bar-band song he'd picked for Vino Alan this week was even worse--and then he put Vino through first. Country crooner Tate Stevens scored the second spot. And then it was time for Jason to sing for survival against David Correy. Considering that the ageist L.A. hadn't even wanted the Over-25's category in the first place, it seemed pretty preordained that he would save his youngest contestant, 26-year-old David. Plus, L.A. had never forgotten David's name.
Jason seemed even more doomed when David went first and sang a haunting, slowed-to-a-crawl, near-a cappella version of Kelly Clarkson's "Since U Been Gone" that was FANTASTIC. He left his heart, and practically his lungs and his vocal cords, out there on that stage. And he proved he deserved to stay in this game. "I wasn't really sure about you last night, but tonight you blew us away," said Britney. But not everyone was loving David. "I really didn't like that rendition of that song. I felt like it was way too forced. It just felt like you were screaming the whole time," said Demi. Said Simon, "It was a little melodramatic, a little theatrical, but I can see how much this means to you."
David's mixed reviews left an opening for "Mr. Entertainment" to come out and wow the crowd, but the way for Jason to wow L.A., and make sure his actual name would never be forgotten again, would be to get a little more serious (and stay away from Mario Lopez's posterior, probably). So Jason came out in a non-animal-printed suit, kept his hands to himself, and took on the almighty Whitney Houston's "One Moment In Time"--and proved he really can sing. This was also great. But was it enough?
"Today you turned me into a fan, a real fan," Britney told Jason. "There's something really genuine about you behind your eyes; when you perform, I believe you," said Demi. Simon just sputtered a bunch of rudeness, saying, "You're asking me to judge two horses who are coming last in a race, because I can't believe either of these guys can win!" However, he did admit, "Compared to what [Jason] did yesterday, that was a million times better."
And then, shockingly, L.A. kept....JASON! And he sent David home. "Not a popular decision," Mario noted, as the audience booed, which I am sure made Jason feel just fabulous. But it wasn't a popular decision with me, either. If I'd been making the decision, I would have cut Tate--who is a solid singer, but is kind of dull, definitely not right for this show, and not really any different from/better than all the hat acts who were performing on the Country Music Association Awards at the same time on ABC. David had real potential, was interesting, and was peaking at the right time, and he should have stayed on the show alongside Jason.
TEENS (mentored by Britney Spears)
Okay, now it was crunch time. Britney was actually going to have to veer away from her script of telling everyone they're "amazing" and make a tough decision. ("Like, the hardest decision ever," sighed Britney.) First she saved my favorite Teen, Beatrice Miller, followed by this year's obvious golden child, Carly Rose Sonenclar, which was a given. That meant Arin Ray and Diamond White would have to vie for that final spot on Brit Brit's team.
Arin must've felt pretty crappy having to sing for survival this soon, considering that the group he was in last season, InTENsity, was the first to be voted off last year. Arin, age 17, seemed to have the edge over 13-year-old Diamond, but the song choice he went with, Whitney Houston's "I Look To You," was just way too big for him to take on, and he really struggled. The massive, gospel-tinged ballad unfortunately emphasized his vocal shortcomings (which had been masked by amped-up backup singers and noisily hissing smoke cannons on Wednesday), and I started to worry for him. But apparently the judges heard something I didn't, because they all thought Arin was phenomenal. "I don't even understand why you would have to sing to stay. You have what it takes," said L.A. "I think the girls in this audience are screaming for a reason," said Demi. "That was a different league to last night," said Simon. Okay, then.
Next was Diamond doing Elton John's "Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word," pleadingly singing, "What do I gotta do to make you love me?" Um, to answer that musical question, just keeping singing like this, I thought. Diamond was great. And she was better than Arin. Much better. "You give me chillbumps. You're really a sensational vocalist," raved L.A. "I saw the soul and fire behind your eyes, and it really impressed me. You should be proud of this performance," said Demi. "At first, I thought Arin had to go through, but in the last 20 seconds I thought you've got to go through. I don't think it's right that one of you should go," said Simon.
But then Britney sent home Diamond. I think she planned to do that no matter what--there was no way she was going to cut her token male heartthrob, even if he was the inferior singer, and frankly, she probably was not equipped to be spontaneous and make any sort of last-minute decision. Sigh. Sometimes these sing-offs just mean nothing.
GROUPS (mentored by Simon Cowell)
It was no shock that Simon's chosen ones, Emblem3, were the first to get good news--followed by Lyric 145, who in my opinion gave THE best performance of Wednesday night and truly should land a $5 million record deal whether they win this show or not. The only slight surprise here was that Simon was willing to put his ego aside and admit that his prefab girl group, The Artists Formerly Known As LYLAS (they changed their name to 1432, stupidly), was not his strongest act. (I am convinced these girls lost all their mojo when they lost their old band name.) But that's where the surprises ended. We all knew that country trio Sister C would never survive a sing-off against 1432. Seriously, I considered getting up and making myself a sandwich during this sing-off.
Sister C gave it good try with Miley Cyrus's "When I Look At You"--they sang it better than Miley, not that that's saying much--but the song was dreary and didn't get me too excited. Simon didn't look too excited himself, simply squinting and sipping his Pepsi. L.A. bizarrely liked the Miley song, telling them, "Overall, we've struggled with song choices, and I think it's hurt some of the contestants. This time, you got it right." Then he called the sister in the center "Middle C." (L.A. is not good with names.) The easily surprised Britney said she was "pleasantly surprised." Demi was most effusive, saying, "Every time you step onstage, your voices sound phenomenal. If I saw you guys go, it would be a mistake."
1432 attempted to suck up to Demi by singing "Skyscraper," although of course this was not Demi's decision to make. At first they started shakily, but when Demi's favorite former LYLA, Camila Cabello, got her turn at the mic, things picked up. (I still wonder why Camila didn't get through as a solo act in the first place.) By the time their skyscraping vocals blended, it was obvious that these girls had won this contest. "You did it! I'm proud!" howled L.A. "You made me a believer," said Britney. And Demi even claimed, "You did it better than the original singer!" (But, did they do it better than Season 1's Drew Ryniewicz? That's the burning question here.)
Well, you all can guess how this one panned out. I might as well have just gotten that sandwich. 1432 prevailed, of course. For a minute, it seemed like there was going to be an upset, when Simon announced, "This decision may not make me popular, and this may not make sense, but..." But then Simon cut Sister C anyway. Duh. Even one of the C-girls admitted, "I saw it coming. It's a no-brainer. [1432 are] amazing." Then Khloe Kardashian snatched the mic away from the C's before they could finish their goodbye speech! So see ya, Sister C.
And also see ya, 1432--in a way. You see, Simon admitted, thankfully, that "1432" was the worst band name choice ever, and he announced that it would be changed again. The girls actually seemed to be much more excited about this news than they were about the news that they'd won their sing-off. Apparently Simon is going to let the public rename the group, via a contest on "The X Factor's" website. That seems to give them an unfair advantage--having a whole sub-contest just about them--but hey, whatever it takes to get them a new name, I'll all for it. These talented girls deserve a better moniker than something that sounds like a Microsoft Outlook password.
So now we have our official top 12: Jennel Garcia, Paige Thomas, CeCe Frey, Vino Alan, Tate Stevens, Jason Brock, Beatrice Miller, Carly Rose Sonenclar, Arin Ray, Emblem3, Lyric 145, and, as Mario Lopez put it, "1432 Soon To Be Named Something Else." Come back next week, when they compete for the public's votes for the first time!