Tuesday night's very special episode of "The X Factor" was the season's most crucial yet. It was time to face the music, as the Fox slogan goes, as the final contestants who will perform for the public's vote were told their fate. And, more importantly/dramatically/soul-crushingly, the "X Factor" contestants who got X'd-out received their terrible news as well. And as is the case with any show orchestrated by Simon Cowell, there were more than few eyebrow-raising eliminations, cliffhangers, and twists. Remember when Josiah Leming didn't make it through on "American Idol" Season 7 and everyone in America freaked out? Yeah, it was kind of like that.
Melanie Amaro had seemed like a frontrunner from the beginning--literally, since she was heavily featured in pre-season Fox promos before the season even started. At her first audition, Simon had said contestants like Melanie are the very reason he started "The X Factor" in the first place. So Simon's decision to ELIMINATE Melanie, one of the best singers on the show, and instead keep not-quite-ready-for-prime-time tween Rachel Crow, was utterly baffling. I was also curious why the show had given so much early screentime to someone we'd soon be bidding farewell. Was this all just for ratings and good old-fashioned TV drama?
Um, yes. Because even before the next commercial break, flip-floppy Simon was already saying, "I feel it in my gut that I've made a mistake with someone, and I've made a BIG mistake." I didn't disagree with him...but seriously now, was all this obvious story-arc manipulation really necessary? Did we really have to see Simon board a plane to Florida to "surprise" Melanie with the news that she'd made it after all? Oh, whatever. The good news was, Melanie was in.
None of the other rejects were quite so lucky. None of them got a surprise second chance from Simon. Take Tora Woloshin, for instance. She was one of my personal favorite contestants this season, and honestly, I thought she was one of Simon's favorites after her stunning and crowd-rousing "I Want You Back" live audition. Though she struggled with both her lyrics and her nerves during her Judges' House performance of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction," I still thought she was one of the coolest, most interesting girls on the show, and I still thought she had a real shot. Instead, Simon picked the much less likable Simone Battle. I can't get no satisfaction, indeed. What made Tora's premature elimination even more depressing was the fact that this WASN'T the first time that she'd been rejected by Simon: She actually successfully auditioned for "American Idol" in Season 5, but was mysteriously disqualified only days before she was scheduled to head to Hollywood Week. At least Tora made it further this time, but this had to have been a bittersweet day for her.
Jazzlyn Little was hardly a shoo-in for this show, given her ongoing struggles with stagefright, whether she was performing in front of a live audience or just next to Simon's pool. But her first "I'm Going Down" performance had been such a revelation, I was convinced she could coast on that momentum all the way through to the live rounds. Simon said he cut Jazzlyn because she'd lost all the grit he'd enjoyed during her first audition and had become too polished, but I think he secretly worried that if she'd continued in the competition, she wouldn't have been able to handle the pressure. I just hope Jazzlyn's nerves aren't even more frayed after this very public rejection, because I think she could be a real star if she one day gets it together. (Jazzlyn, if you're reading this, go audition for "The Voice" Season 2! Cee Lo would love you.)
Simon obviously had the strongest group of hopefuls, so he had some of the toughest decisions to make. No wonder he flip-flopped! It must have pained him to let Tora and Jazzlyn go, but rugby coach Caitlin Koch might have been the cut that went the deepest for him. "I didn't like that," he muttered forlornly, after poor Caitlin sadly walked away from him and into hunky host Steve Jones's consoling arms. I didn't like it either, and her unjust elimination made me want to angrily rugby-kick my TV screen. This made NO sense. Did Simon just feel like his team's sensitive-young-blonde quota had already been filled by Drew Ryniewicz or something? Caitlin had been consistently amazing all season, and her Judges' House performance of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?" was genuinely goosebump-raising. Sadly, though, it seems the answer to Caitlin's musical question was...no. But I still love her, and I think Simon made a really, really bad call here.
Nicole Scherzinger's decision to "follow my heart, not my head" and keep wildman funkster Dexter Haygood surely sent Twitter servers into meltdown mode the moment it was controversially announced. I personally really dig cool-cat Dexter, and it's hard for me not to root for such a hard-luck case...but it's even harder for me to argue that he should have stayed over my favorite over-30's girl on the show, Christa Collins, whose "No Surprises" Judges' House performance was truly stunning. (Guess there WAS a surprise after all--that Christa didn't get through.) And then another over-30-and-fabulous hopeful (who, like Christa, never received enough screentime), brooding rocker James Kenney, didn't make it either. This bad news, delivered in the same breathy Scherzinger breath as the news of Dexter's unexpected inclusion, was a little tough to take.
Considering how popular country music is in America--as evidenced by "Idol's" Scotty/Lauren finale earlier this year--I was also a little surprised that L.A. Reid chose to send home country singers Tim Cifers and Skyelor Anderson, as well as Nashville singer-songwriter Brennin Hunt. Skyelor was a little too rough and raw, and Brennin had a certain unlikability to him...but Tim really seemed primed to be America's new sweetheart. I know country isn't L.A.'s thing, but I seriously think some Music Row label should considering picking Tim up.
Oh well. At least a few of my favorites made the top 17, among them gifted-beyond-her-years tween Drew Ryniewicz, kiddy-rap phenom Brian Bradley, recovering-addict trashman Chris Rene, ageless soulman LeRoy Bell, R&B dynamo Marcus Canty, and my beloved burrito boy, Josh Krajcik. I just wish Paula had been shipped back from Santa Barbara to CBS's "Live To Dance" set, so that the spots in the top 17 that were squandered on her four groups could have been given to more deserving solo acts. Come on, now. The Brewer Boys over Caitlin Koch? InTENsity over Christa Collins? Puh-leeze. That ain't right.
And why does Simon get a bonus fifth contestant on his team? I know it's his show and all, but that doesn't seem fair, considering the worthy talent the other judges, especially L.A. and Nicole, had to let go. I'm just hoping there's a future Wild Card episode on which the other mentors will get to save one more contestant each--and on this topsy-turvy show, I bet that could actually happen.
Listed below are "X Factor's" final 17, as polarizingly selected by the four judges. Do you agree with their decisions?
GIRLS (mentored by Simon Cowell)
BOYS (mentored by L.A. Reid)
Brian "Astro" Bradley
OVER-30's (mentored by Nicole Scherzinger)
GROUPS (mentored by Paula Abdul)
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