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The X Factor Recap: Rickrolling in the Deep

We interrupt your regularly scheduled recap with a warning to the quintet of lovely brunettes who make up The X Factor Season 2 girl group Fifth Harmony: Do not stand too close to Khloé Kardashian Odom. She can sense your youth. She is beginning to feed off your effervescence. She has been instructed to assimilate you into the Kardashian collective.

With that housekeeping detail out of the way, we can now focus on the important business of Top 8 performance night: A world premiere “video” from “will.i.ann” (hey, that’s what Mario Lopez called him!) and a robot rendering of Britney Spears 2.0 (airbrushed into submission, and equipped with ice-cold British accent) performing a “song” called “Scream and Shout.” (Now we know what producers use to activate the audiencebots to incessantly shriek for the duration of the telecast.) The fact that this series of blips and bleeps and found voice-mail messages from the “Toxic” singer will probably move more units than the collected singles of Fantasia Barrino, Juliet Simms, and Josh Krajcik combined should be filed under the Don McLean approved heading “The Day the Music Died,” and is probably enough to make you want to hide in a cave and listen only to the sound of dripping stalactities.

But fret not! The X Factor has eight acts left who are vying to make new music — or something like it — while collecting a $5 million payday. And a few of ‘em aren’t half bad, at least when their mentors aren’t getting in the way!

Let’s dole out grades for the Top 8 performances…

Diamond White: Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” | If X Factor has taught us anything the last few weeks, it’s that sometimes you get more votes for a God-awful vocal than for one that’s kinda sorta okay. That might be a problem for Diamond, who showed off a sweet upper register on the acoustic, slowed-down intro, but occasionally struggled with pitch once she rose to her feet and started “having fun” while being wheeled around on a weird rolling platform. It didn’t help that the kid had to perform against an aggressively lit backdrop that was reminiscent of nuclear bubble tea or that her backup dancers were clad in hideous combinations of tuxedo shirts, shorts and neon bowties. (How come the show’s wardrobe department hates fashion so much?) And while Britney* had the right idea that it was time for Diamond to go uptempo, why for the love of all that’s holy did she stick her with a Whitney Houston ditty that’s been repeatedly attempted — without ever once resulting in anything resembling a memorable moment — on a variety of reality singing competitions? Combined with the Leadoff Spot of Doom, Diamond will be lucky if she gets to sing for her life come Thursday. (Okay, if we’re keeping it real, some associate producer who’s been assigned to the “Teens” category) Grade: B-

Vino Alan: The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” | And the “Lyric145 Last Minute Song-Change/Sabotage Prize” goes to… one of the two remaining members of the undesirable “Over 25s” caste. (L.A.: “Stop acknowledging that people over 25 are allowed to live! Except for me!”) Yep, since L.A. didn’t get any goosebumps during Vino’s rehearsal of “If You Don’t Know Me By Now,” he determined it was time to switch to another classic R&B ballad that wouldn’t work, either. Mind you, Vino’s sudden downward momentum wasn’t solely the fault of his mentor: The tattooed dude delivered “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” with a dearth of enthusiasm and an excess of vibrato, skulking around the stage with a slumped posture that only accentuated the wretched fit of his boxy sportscoat. And holy hell, that reggae-infused breakdown had me praying Mario and Khloe to return to their marks and spout something inane like “Tonight was fun!” “Tonight was so much fun: It was a blast!” That said, it’d be a shame if Vino’s X Factor dreams are “gone, gone, gone” come Thursday night: Lest we forget, he hasn’t had a major misfire since that Nickleback catastrophe from Top 20 week. Shouldn’t consistency count some? Grade: C

Paige Thomas: Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” | Wait just a second…when did I start rooting for Paige Freakin’ Thomas to make it to Top 6 week…or perhaps even further? Oh, wait, I remember: When she put one hand up (can you repeat that?) and essentially told Demi Lovato, “This week, we’re doing it my way.” Granted, if I were in Demi’s shoes, I’d have been reluctant to let Paige take the reins after she started tossing around phrases like “a signature performance” and “stripped back just isn’t gonna cut it for me.” But lo and behold, the gorgeous single mom’s reimagining of “Never Gonna Give You Up” as a sultry, midtempo jam turned out to be the first time she actually began to live up to the “potential pop star” title that’s been bandied about by the judges since her first audition. I could’ve lived without the “iron fence under a street light” vignette, and to be fair, there were definitely some moments where Paige’s pitch was as unsteady as Khloe’s teleprompter readings. But at least she got creative with the arrangement and took command of the stage — while being diplomatic enough to share credit with her mentor, who was under heavy (often uncomfortable) siege all night by Simon. Grade: A-

Fifth Harmony: Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” | In theory, I adore Fifth Harmony, because as someone who still grooves out to En Vogue, SWV, Destiny’s Child, and Jade — yes, I said Jade — I long for a new wave of relevant girl groups. And individually, these five young women have some serious pipes on ‘em: Lauren’s solos on the verse were borderline breathtaking, and Dinah Jane’s ad-libs, while not quite as precise, have an early Mary J. Blige quality about ‘em. Alas, though, I had to agree with L.A. and Demi that five weeks into the live performance rounds, the ladies are so content with simply singing the melody in unison, that they might require yet another name change to avoid a lawsuit for fraudulent use of the word “harmony.” And while it was great to see ‘em tackle a righteous uptempo number, I couldn’t understand why Simon was content to just let the gals stand on a raised platform while backed by gigantic backdrops of their faces superimposed over a raging fire. (Fifth Harmony…brought to you by Duraflame!) I guess I should just be happy they weren’t singing “Girl on Fire,” rendering the scene unbearably literal. Grade: B-

Carly Rose Sonenclar: Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” | Is 13-year-old Carly Rose waaaayyy too young and innocent to convincingly deliver a lyric like “the scars of your love, they leave me breathless”? Of course she is! Does that mean that, from a purely vocal standpoint, the scars of her notes don’t leave me breathless? Absolutely not! Whether rolling in the stripped-down opening verse and chorus, or amping up the vocal fireworks on the final refrain, Carly Rose was able to make subtle tweaks to Adele’s ubiquitous melody while never being anything less than pitch perfect. And yet when Simon told her she’d have to be disqualified from Season 2 for being an alien, a little kernel of truth lingered in the aftermath of his joke. Until she’s old enough to have experienced love, or at least deep like, and certainly love lost, Carly Rose won’t ever be able to offer more than a facsimile of emotions behind a song as stirring and emotionally potent as “Rolling in the Deep.” That doesn’t mean she might not make a worthy Season 2 champ. But if Simon is serious about her becoming the show’s first multiplatinum graduate, Carly Rose needs to be paired with age-appropriate material that allows us to bask in her voice — without nagging questions about her emotional intent. Grade: A-

Tate Stevens: Keith Urban’s “Somebody Like You” | I could’ve lived without L.A.’s excruciating exclamation that Tate needed to “HAVE FUN!” — what could be less fun, really, than L.A. Reid trying to influence your emotional state? — but his mentoring noggin was in the right place. You see, if Tate wants to succeed as one of the real ‘ole boys of country music — and not return to laying asphalt (a job I doubt he’d be able to get back after trash-talking it for the last month on national television) — then he has to be more than an interpreter of serious/sad/lovey-dovey ballads. “Somebody Like You” was the perfect opportunity for Tate to grab his guitar, put on his v-neck t-shirt, and offer a lighthearted treat to the future fans who’ll sing along and have a couple of $10 beers during intermission when (if?) (okay, probably when) he makes it to the big show. He barely missed a note in the process, and while it wasn’t exactly memorable, dude did serve notice to Blondie from Emblem3 that he’s not the only set of biceps in the competition. Grade: B

CeCe Frey: LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade” | “Focus, focus, focus on your pitch,” said Demi, to the girl who “wants this more than anybody in the competition.” But that’d be like my mom telling me to focus, focus, focus on imagining this week’s winning Powerball numbers because I want 100 ponies more than anybody in the competition of life. It’s a nice idea, but it’s not in any way a realistic one. CeCe’s vocal on “Lady Marmalade” was a major upgrade from last week’s Bette Midler catastrophe, in much the same way an expired jar of Prego would be an upgrade from a fetid tomato at the back of your vegetable drawer. She hit groupings of notes in the opening verse, but as the production devolved into “Madonna’s MTV Awards rendition of ‘Vogue’: Now with upsetting upskirt shots and a fast-forward option,” CeCe’s voice began to fall to the stage like so many pieces of confetti. As Simon pointed out, the gal is a classic trier. And it’s hard not to root for a classic trier. I just wish CeCe was trying to be on Big Brother or Survivor or even Project Face-Paint, because honestly, I’d rather be rooting for her on one of those shows and listening to Beatrice Miller here. Grade: C- (for vocals)/A- (for insane spectacle that amused me plenty)

Before I get to the final act of the night, let’s embed a quick video showing how “Lady Marmalade” really ought to be sung:

Rated A…for Amen!

Emblem3: The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” | This week’s X Factor life lesson: People will run toward anything surrounded by a camera crew. Too mean? Okay, yeah, but please Simon, don’t try to convince me that 85 percent of women under 25 (L.A. and most of Los Angeles, for that matter: “Because life ends after 25.”) who happen to be hanging out at an urban shopping center actually recognize the members of your bro-rific boy band and care enough to mob them for autographs. Then again, that’s more believable than L.A. saying he’d sign Emblem3 after their listless, nasally rendition of a song that the Monkees made much, much cooler. (Side note to the Emblem3 lead singer: Nothing good can happen while wearing horizontally striped pants anyhow.) To be fair, at least these kids always look like they’re having a blast — and they’re not quite as obnoxious as they were a month ago (no small accomplishment considering Blondie took his critiques while stripping down to a tank top and flexing his biceps) — but Demi and Britney hit it on the head that the song choice was all wrong. Knowing the guys write their own music and play instruments, it’s baffling that Simon persists in forcing them to play the role of pre-fab pop pinups. Then again, what does it matter? As Demi noted, “people are gonna vote for you ’cause you’re good looking and young.” L.A. can already hear the ka-ching. Grade: C

Should be Bottom 3: CeCe, Vino, Emblem3

Will be Bottom 3: Diamond, Vino, Fifth Harmony

And with that, let me turn things over to you:

Who were your favorites from The X Factor‘s Top 8 performance telecast? Who’s most likely to get booted come Thursday night? Hit the comments with your thoughts!

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