On Wednesday, the top 13 "X Factor" Season 3 contestants all performed Motown songs that they'd been dedicatedly and excitedly rehearsing for a week, in hopes of capturing America's votes. But then, none of the votes tallied that night ended up counting. Due to a snafu when some incorrect voting numbers were shown onscreen, the show's powers-that-be decided to wipe the slate clean and have all 13 contestants sing again — doing different songs — on what was originally supposed to be Thursday's results show.
Hey, these things happen. This situation isn't unprecedented; a similar error was made in Season 4 of "American Idol." But "Idol's" solution back then was just to rerun the original performance episode, this time with corrected phone numbers. So why did these poor "X Factor" contestants have to sing again, and do new songs? It didn't seem fair.
Actually, there were some contestants, the ones who had faltered on Wednesday, who were probably secretly thrilled to get a do-over. But those who'd actually done well that night, and had felt confident about their chances, must have been annoyed, to say the least.
Well, at least this time the top 13 performed mostly modern songs of their own choosing, not hokey Motown karaoke. Here's how the top 13 did this week…again:
Josh Levi – Bonus 13th contestant Josh, this week's surprise wild card, was one singer who really benefited from this redux show. While his Jackson 5 cover the night before was good, his performance of Rihanna's "Stay" on Thursday was great. This was the kid I remembered from his "Come and Get It" first audition: Strong vocal, cool and modern vibe, actual relevance to the pop marketplace, etc. "That was more than a survival song, that was a winning performance," said Simon Cowell. This was a promising start to an episode that turned out to be much, much better than Wednesday's.
Rachel Potter – With every performance, Rachel continues to put her infamous Four-Chair Challenge debacle further behind her. Her cover of Martina McBride's "Anyway" was another near-flawless vocal. Yes, it was a little safe, a little bland, a little AC…but at least no one can ever accuse her again of not being able to sing. Simon thought this was a massive improvement over Rachel's "Hee Haw"-style hoedown version of "This Old Heart of Mine" from the night before. Maybe he should have just realized that Wednesday's Motown theme was a horrible idea in the first place.
Carlos Guevara – Again, this was so much better than Carlos's Motown performance. (Simon. Pay attention. Don't make the contestants on any of your shows do Motown songs, ever again. It doesn't work.) I thought Carlos's breathy, raspy vocal style sounded really interesting here and worked well with his smart song choice, Damien Rice's "Cannonball." I just wish that Carlos would work more on his near-nonexistent stage presence. Is Paulina Rubio even coaching him on that at all?
Restless Road – This was the first instance of the night when a contestant suffered from having to do a redux performance. Simply put, Restless Road were better dong the Commodores' "Easy" on Wednesday than they were doing "Don't You Wanna Stay" this evening. This song was meant to be a duet, preferably by Jason Aldean and the amazing Kelly Clarkson — not a group number by three dudes who just met two months ago. This felt awkward and draggy. Not even the group's coach, Simon, was impressed. "This is the first time I've actually seen you look nervous," he told them. He even thought there was something wrong with the track. (There wasn't.) I don't think Restless Road are in any danger of going home just yet, but if they "wanna stay" on the show in the long run, they better not give more performances as dull and stilted as this one.
Ellona Santiago – This started off really shaky. It was in way too low a key for her. But thankfully, once Ellona finally got a chance to really belt it out, she totally impressed. What a little diva! That huge power note in the middle of the song alone was enough to earn her a spot next week. "I couldn't be more proud of you than I am right now," said Ellona's coach, Demi Lovato. "That was your best performance you've ever done," said Simon. Ellona wasn't bad on Wednesday, either. Her overall consistency is going to keep her in the game for a while.
Jeff Gutt – Well, Jeff knows who he is. He's not a modern pop star. He's a dyed-in-the-leather classic rocker. And that will actually take him far. After all, older viewers, usually female ones, tend to vote for these shows. And just ask Phillip Phillips, James Durbin, Chris Daughtry, Josh Krajcik, Terry McDermott, or even Adam Lambert: Classic rock makes those viewers pick up their phones. Jeff will certainly bring in votes for his cover of Phil Collins's "In the Air Tonight." His vocal was on point (though Demi and Simon didn't like his phrasing), and his performance had just the right touch of menace. I am not sure if Jeff's style will work in the real world if he gets signed after this — what he does isn't exactly igniting the charts or radio airwaves right now — but I think as the only rocker on "The X Factor," he has a real advantage in this competition.
Alex & Sierra – I've decided that Alex & Sierra are my favorite contestants of Season 3. It's official. Their cover of Ed Sheeran's "Give Me Love" was, as Simon put it, "immaculate." It was exquisite. They had tons of raw emotion, oodles of chemistry, and they sounded gorgeous, both solo and together. And I've never seen anyone like them on any singing competition, ever. "In the future, you are choosing every single one of your songs," Simon told then. I hope they hold him to that. These two know what they're doing.
Khaya Cohen – Khaya stuck to what she does best by singing Duffy's "Distant Dreamer." Like Alex & Sierra and Jeff Gutt, she knows who she is, and she's building a brand for herself. And it's working. This was another strong, soulful performance from the girl Demi called a "little Aretha." I didn't like Khaya at first, but now I think she's one of this competition's top singers.
Carlito Olivero – Oh, poor Carlito. He had a good night on Wednesday, good enough to keep in him high in the votes. Then he had to go and do Daniel Bedingfield's "If You're Not the One" on Thursday, and, well, he showed that he's probably not the one who's going to win this show. This was really weak. When he tried to go for the falsetto, he missed it — twice. I didn't believe his mentor Paulina when she claimed, "I…think…he's sick." I don't think Carlito was ill. I just think he chose the utterly the wrong song. Right now, he's probably really, really angry with whichever production lackey messed up those voting numbers on Wednesday. He wasn't in jeopardy until this happened.
Lillie McCloud – I'm not sure what was going on here. Maybe Lillie was the one who was sick? There's no doubt that she's a great singer, but her "Who Wants to Live Forever" sounded really nasal and just plain strange. Her camera-staredown and flamingo-legged seated position were awkward as well. This actually wasn't very good (while the night before, she was fantastic), and it could hurt her chances. "That's what you're supposed to do when you perform," said Lillie's mentor, Kelly Rowland. But Kelly was wrong. Lillie should never do something like this again.
Sweet Suspense – Sweet Suspense are starting to be a sweet surprise. I absolutely did not like them at first. I argued that they should have been cut in the Four-Chair Challenge, even. But they're growing on me, because they are rapidly improving and gelling as a group. I thought their performance of Justin Bieber's "That Should Be Me" was very strong. That's why I was so confused by their coach Simon's critique: He pointed out how difficult the song is to sing, begged voters to take the girls' entire body of work into account, and shook his head, saying, "I wish we weren't in this position." Why did he seem so displeased with their performance? He should have been saying that stuff to Restless Road, not Sweet Suspense. The girls were good tonight.
Rion Paige – Wow. This was really incredible. Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" took on special new meaning sung by Rion, who was born with a rare condition called arthrogryposis multiplex congenita. When she defiantly declared, "I'm beautiful in my way, 'cause God makes no mistakes"…well, that was a moment. That was deep. The audience was cheering her on. I was cheering her on. America was cheering her on. This was a brilliant song choice. Simon told Rion's mentor, Demi, to let Rion pick her own songs from now on. So, basically, this episode proved that the mentors have no idea what they're doing and the contestants should just choose their own material in whatever genre they want. Ha.
Tim Olstad – Actually, one contestant who needs a little professional help with his song choices is Tim. He delivered another solid vocal Thursday, but…really? "I Believe I Can Fly"? Of all the songs he could have gone with? This song has been covered countless times on countless singing shows, and every single time, it has been reach-for-the-remote unbearable. There was nothing wrong with Tim's vocal on his version, but if he really wants to seem light-hearted and fun, as he claims, he'll need to do more than just insert a random "woo!" into his performance.
So next Wednesday, at the start of the regular top 12 show, we will find out who got eliminated based on this Thursday's performances. I imagine the producers won't reveal the entire leaderboard right before the surviving 12 perform (or maybe they will, since Simon loves drama). But I am going to guess that the bottom three will be Carlos, Sweet Suspense (mostly due to Simon's odd remarks), and Carlito — with Carlito going home.
Tune in Wednesday to see if I'm right…and to see the top 12 sing songs of the '80s! I bet Jeff Gutt is going to love that theme.