It's nearly voting time on FOX's "The X Factor," which means it's also time to fill out your bracket for HitFix's "X Factor" Prediction Game. It's too late to get the bonus points for this week, but it's not too late to enter to possibly win an iPad2.
But enough plugging, y'all... Let's get down to the live-blog/recap/review of Wednesday's (November 2) "X Factor"...
8:00 p.m. ET. Congrats, BTW, to "The X Factor" for earning a second season.
8:01 p.m. "It's not about the judges anymore," Simon tells us before opening the show. We'll see how true that actually ends up being, because last week was sure all about the judges, even when they weren't making their decisions.
8:03 p.m. Our host is "Psycho" Steve Jones. He's got a two-hour show to mastermind tonight. How many time will he have to tell Paula to shut up?
8:04 p.m. Steve, you can promise that the winner will star in a Pepsi commercial. You cannot guarantee that it'll be iconic. Anyway, we've got a Group up first. Our first performance will come from...
The Stereo Hogzz: You never want to go first in a 12-performance show. It's too easy to be forgotten. And what the heck is up with the arrangement here? They're competing with a canned symphony at the start of "Rhythm Nation." If you have a five-person group capable of singing and dance, do you really need to upstage them with a whole militaristic dance troop? Because the stage show is definitely upstaging The Stereo Hogzz, though the overall effect is fun and the group is absolutely playing a solid featured role. I just feel like this was a triumph of Paula Abdul's stagecraft, rather than a triumph of a musical quintet and the G.I. Joe action figures they were dancing will. Seriously, all credit to Paula. L.A. Reid says that the performance proved that they have what it takes to be stars. Or starzz? "The Stereo Hogzz have landed," Nicole Scherzinger says, also quoting the plot of an obscure 1950s sci-fi movie. Simon tells The Stereo Hogzz that there isn't a band *in the world* that's a good as they are right now. IN THE WORLD. "I just wish I was mentoring you," Simon glowers. "I am so proud," Paula gushes.
8:14 p.m. The first of L.A. Reid's Guys to hit the stage is...
Chris Rene: It's good to hear Chris Rene admit that his performance last week wasn't what he wanted it to be. Chris looking weirdly cleaned up and preppy is tackling a slightly hip-hopified version of The Carpenter''s "Superstar." Why is he surrounded by a ring of fire? What's the thesis that L.A. Reid is working with here? Hmmm. No dancers. Minimal movement. He's less wobbly than he was last week, but there's still uncertainty on the choruses. He's much better with the rapped bridge. I'm still not sure there's much "performance" here, but that's L.A. Reid's fault, isn't it? "I have so much mad love for you my friend," Nicole says. Paula is so proud of him. Simon doesn't understand the staging, but he thought it was a big improvement. L.A. Reid thinks Chris was hot.
8:23 p.m. The first of our Over-30s is...
LeRoy Bell: This week's goal for LeRoy? Connecting with the song and connecting with America. It's a stripped down version of Lonestar's "I'm Already There." Tonight I'm definitely hearing the Michael Bolton-y tone to LeRoy's voice that one of the judges mentioned a week or two ago. That's a total compliment, because as cheesy as Michael Bolton is, the dude's got pipes. LeRoy does as well, but there's still just a little chilliness to him. The song pushes him a little, but not far enough. I fear that he's gonna be in trouble this week, that younger viewers are going to find more to relate to in a less talented, but younger singer. L.A. Reid didn't love the song choice, but he loved LeRoy's voice. "You wrap your life experiences around every song," Paula says. "I think you've got a confidence issue," Simon says, blaming Nicole's choice of song. "Sometimes less is more," Nicole says, prompting an eye-roll from Simon.
8:30 p.m. The first of our Girls (but only after Simon thanks us all for the "X Factor" renewal)...
Rachel Crow: Simon's struggling to find a way to use Rachel's youth. Last week, he mostly failed. Will he do better tonight? Sure. Give the kid "Walkin' on Sunshine." That's what her peers all love. It's also a song that starts way too low. She's also taking advantage of a couple dozen dancers to hide that she's just standing on a platform swinging back forth. I wish she'd been given something more playful to do, because when she actually starts smiling and enjoying herself at the end of the performance, she's utterly winning. "You must be one of the most charismatic people I've ever met," says L.A. Reid, who also calls her "lovable." Nicole dubs her "America's Sunshine" and compares her to Michael Jackson, ridiculously. Paula also thinks of sunshine when it comes to Rachel, but she wants to hear more of Rachel's range. Nicole and Simon have a little fight about a lyric change. Yawn. Simon predicts Rachel's going to be around for a long time, which indeed she is.
Lakoda Rayne: Really? Must they be divided up by seasons? Oh, Paula. This is beyond corny. I mean, if you're singing a
Dixie Chicks Fleetwood Mac song -- "Landslide" -- why do some sort of bizarro "Charlie's Angels" character roll-playing. The colors are very pretty on the stage, as are the ladies of Lakoda Rayne, though I'm not sure that I'm going to learn more than one or two of their names. I've got Dani and that's about all I need, I think. Red Season and Yellow season are really boring. Dani, Blue season, is gorgeous, and Purple Season isn't bad either. They're VASTLY better than in any of their previous group outings. There are harmonies and some very nice vocal twists. L.A. Reid thinks they look incredible and he felt the blend, but he wants them to choose between being pop and country. "The four voices, you sound like one voices tonight," Nicole says. Simon absolutely hates what they're wearing, but he liked the performance. "You are four young girls and she's dressed you like you're going to a prom," Simon says.
Burrito Josh: You know what? I could totally go for a Burrito. This is a long show and recapping it requires extra energy. Nicole hates Josh. This is very sad. She has absolutely no clue what to do with him, so she bathes him in ugly orange light and excessive fog and gives him a song ("Jar of Hearts") that is ill-suited to both his voice and his stage presence. And yet... Josh can sing. As Randy Jackson might say, Josh could sing the phone book. And while he seems to be struggling to connect early, he's totally locked in by the end. I still can't imagine this song doing him any favors with the voters, but Josh forced it to work. L.A. Reid likes Josh. "You can sing anything and I'm a believer, because you just nail everything," Paula says. Simon calls it "incredible" and "absolutely stunning."
Melanie Amaro: Interesting that two of my favorite singers in the competition are stuck in the middle. It's getting a bit tired that Simon and "X Factor" are going to keep harming on the "big mistake" that got her sent home for 15 minutes. We're told that Melanie's going to be out of her comfort zone this week and that seems to mean... "Desperado." Oh, she has such a good voice. And I don't care that Simon thinks this is "out of her comfort zone," because it's right and perfectly in her comfort zone. Simon has a little smirk going almost immediately, because he knows that Melanie's the most "American Idol"-suited of this season's contestant. She tears into this arrangement without hesitation and sounds gorgeous and looks nicely polished and styled. It's a complete success. L.A. Reid is glad Simon brought Melanie back. "There is no limit to what you and your voice can do," Nicole says. "It's like fine china," Paula says of Melanie's voice. Simon's happy that "Desperado" cleared. "You are seriously, seriously good," Simon says, telling Melanie that she's the one to beat.
9:05 p.m. This is a looooong show, isn't it? Not helping? The Alison Haislip wannabe telling me how to use some ap to vote. Oh, this is hurting me. Go away... Oh Gosh. Now Simon's plugging for Verizon, complete with a Paula Abdul spit take. Time for one of the Boys, it's...
Astro: Wow. They've got Astro doing his own lyrics, because he refuses to do other lyrics? Why does Chris Rene have to sing songs he can't connect to, but Astro gets free rein? How weird. He's also got his name on stage in big letters, which is a little awesome. Even if he weren't doing his verses wedged between choruses from "Hip Hop Hooray," this would feel like something that would be huge in 1993. That's just where Astro's flow seems to come from. No criticism there. Astro should absolutely be the first musical guest on FOX's reboot of "In Living Color." I could have done without the closing confetti, but otherwise, it's totally acceptable Disney-fied rap. "You know how to get the party started right," Nicole says. Paula calls Astro unique. Simon asks L.A. Reid to take back his earlier comments about Astro being too young. "I think you are a total little star," Simon says. Reid is proud.
InTENsity: Lakoda Rayne's fellow FrankenBand is so young that wee Ellona doesn't even know where babies come from. But Arin doesn't want them to be thought of as just a bunch of Disney Kids. Can I just suggest that Simon overrated Ellona? In general, InTENsity hasn't gelled in the way that Lakoda Rayne did this week. They start with a largely out-of-tune "Kids in America" shout-fest. Several of the members of the group are practically wedged in the back and don't even get a single second's screentime. They could probably be InSIXity? But if anybody ever wants to do a 21st Century "Bugsy Malone," I've just just the cast. "That was fun, fun, fun," says L.A. Reid. "That was fun-tastic. Fun-omenal," Nicole says. Even Simon thought it was terrific. Yikes. What was anybody listening to? "I shouldn't like you, but I actually really do like you," Simon says. Sorry. That wasn't good. I don't much care what the judges say.
9:27 p.m. Wow. I made a reference to liking the Purple season in Lakoda Rayne and I didn't even make a "Purple Rayne" joke. I must be really tired... Anyway, it's time for...
Drew: I hope Drew hasn't been reading reports of that Justin Bieber paternity suit, because that's the kinda thing that could really shake her up. Simon wants us to see a different side of Drew, a cooler and younger side. Hmmm... It's a nicely Drewish arrangement of Nelly's "Just a Dream," which rather inexplicably begins with Drew prone on the stage in a pile of petals. I think it's a bit ridiculous as a starting point, but I like the song choice and I like the side of Drew's personality we're getting to see here. She still sounds terrific, but she's also smiling and not looking like she's in deep psychic pain. Kudos, Simon for recognizing Drew could do this. "You have the spirit of a superstar," L.A. Reid says. Nicole loves that Drew is relevant. "I totally live for the last note that you sing," Paula says. "I'm seeing a star emerge in front of me right now," Simon tells the giggling, nose-wrinkling Drew, who was already my pick to win this thing on HitFix's Prediction Game.
Marcus Canty: That means that Stacy Francis gets the pimp slot for the first voting episode. Interesting. Marcus is singing a Bobby Brown song and he's determined to do choreography as well. That's an interesting challenge and maybe a bad idea. Indeed, Marcus is at his best on "Every Little Step You Take" the fewer steps he takes. When he's dancing, he loses breath and melody both and by the end, his voice is completely drowned out by the backing track. In certain moments, I really like what he's attempting, but it's more of an attempt than a success. I sense that if Marcus spent a whole season doing this and really getting in shape, he could be fantastic by December, but will he last that long? "I felt like I was watching a concert," Nicole says, giving a shout-out to L.A. Reid, who wrote an awesome song for Mr. Brown. "You are a total package," Paula says. There's a little Simon-L.A. Reid bitchfight about authorship. "You have come alive," Simon tells Marcus. "You keep getting better and better," L.A. Reid says.
9:49 p.m. And last, but not least...
Stacy Francis: Last week. Simon told Stacy that she's "a church singer." Stacy was offended. Nicole was offended. So naturally? Stacy's doing what Simon wanted this week. She's up on a platform surrounded by fake candles and bellowing her way through "Up to the Mountain." It's a mixed back of fantastic notes and over-singing. She's absolutely emotionally connected throughout, even when she does three or four runs when one or two would suffice. "You've stirred our souls," L.A. Reid says. "The way you interpret songs is magical," Paula says, raving at "the bottom-end" of Stacy's voice. Simon takes full credit and goes on-stage to give Stacy a kiss. "We took your advice, Simon. Good job. But we're not gonna make it about you," Nicole says.
But enough about me... What'd you think of tonight's "X Factor" performances? Will you vote?
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