We're down to the Top 7 on "The X Factor" and this season has taken a very predictable shape.
Paula Abdul's three Groups are all gone.
Nicole Scherzinger's Over-30s have been trimmed down to only Burrito Josh.
Both Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid have their full complement of Girls and Boys remaining, so expect the frenemies to continue their not-so-passive-aggressive bickering from across the Pepsi-laden judges' table.
On the bright side, "The X Factor" won't attempt to stretch the seven contestants out across two hours.
On the dark side, that newly freely 30 minutes will be used for the premiere of the dismal sitcom "I Hate My Teenage Daughter." My recommendation? Enjoy "X Factor" and then head over to ABC for a "Happy Endings" repeat that features a really hilarious Penny storyline.
Click through for the full recap of Michael Jackson Night...
8:00 p.m. ET. No. Really. *Do* miss the series premiere of "I Hate My Teenage Daughter."
8:01 p.m. Yup. Michael Jackson Night. This is going to be very strange for Drew.
8:02 p.m. Paula is describing herself as "the only impartial judge in this competition." The sad thing is that she's at least somewhat right, especially with Simon and L.A. Reid yapping back and forth like two 17-year-old girls gunning for prom queen.
8:03 p.m. "That you very much, sexy dancing people," Steve Jones says, cringing awkwardly between the hoofers packing the stage.
8:05 p.m. Michael Jackson is, beyond a doubt, a tremendous entertainer. But the greatest? Of all time? I just don't want to rule out the possibility that there were some VERY entertaining cavemen back in the day.
8:05 p.m. We're joined by The Jackson Brothers. It's a good thing LaToya isn't in the house, because as we learned on "America's Next Top Model," she can't bring herself to eliminate people who respect her brother. And yes, I'd like to hear Steve Jones say "Tee-to" again.
8:07 p.m. ZOMG. Michael Jackson's mother is in the crowd. And his kids. BLANKET in the house, y'all.
8:11 p.m. Yikes. I was so excited about the presence of Blanket that I didn't even mock "X Factor" for a performance-free first act.
8:12 p.m. Our first performance tonight is...
Burrito Josh: Interesting. He's the odd man out and he's in the opening slot. Josh is worried, because Michael Jackson isn't in his comfort zone, but he's still excited to be whipping out his guitar. He's rocking out to "Dirty Diana," Almost immediately the director is distracted by the cage dancers in his glass cube. Is Josh also distracted? Is that why for all of the excitement about his guitar, he doesn't begin playing it until the end of the performance? For the most part, it's there like a pacifier or Linus' blanket. Predictably, Josh doesn't fully come to life until the guitar is out, by which time he isn't even singing anymore. Most of the performance was too low and mumbly and too dominated by the women in red bathing suits and white shirts. "You landed on your feet, my man," L.A. Reid says. "You learned how to be comfortable in the uncomfortable," Paula says. Simon praises the performance as a spectacle, but he says that Josh was over-produced and he got lost in the choreography. I agree with Simon! "Unlike how you mentor some of your contestants, we like to take risks on this show," Nicole gloats.
8:21 p.m. Is there a better holiday advertising one-liner than "T-Mobile girl... NAUGHTY"? I think not.
8:22 p.m. It's time for the first of our Boys, but only after Steve Jones reminded us that Michael Jackson was a pretty successful Pepsi spokesperson. Except for when things got problematic. Anyway, bring on...
Astro: Like Little MJ, Astro is a child prodigy, but we all know that once Astro gets his hands on a Michael Jackson song, it won't be a Michael Jackson song anymore. Astro is celebrating the New World Order with tiny, tiny snippets of "Black or White" cut into the background. Jackson's kids don't know what to make of the tribute, but they do a good job of pretending that this has any relationship to their dad's song. "I got love for anybody who got love for me," raps Astro, who "looks at the world like a Crayola box." The international dancing crew, in red masks and kilts, behind him are rather hilarious, as are the flashing flags. It's a solid Astro performance, as usual having nothing to do with the theme. This performance may have been even less dedicated to the original song than any of Astro's previous pieces of sampling. "Astro, that was bad," Nicole says, before explaining that in her parlance, "bad" means "good." Paula says that Astro could win this competition and that he's also our past and present, in addition to being our future. Simon disagrees with Nicole's contention that this wasn't one of Astro's best performances. "I like to think that that Jackson family is as proud of you as I am," L.A. Reid says.
8:33 p.m. Michael Jackson's mother doesn't miss an episode of "X Factor." Prince Jackson is chewing gum on live national TV. Paris Jackson can't understand Steve Jones' accent. And nobody mentions Blanket. Simon's first Girl is...
Drew: Simon has taken one of Michael Jackson's most iconic songs, but with a twist. The twist? He's going to make it sound like every other Drew performance. Yay! It's "Billie Jean," Drew-style. Is anybody else going to point out that the lyrics to this song make absolutely no sense anymore? No? I mean, I get that the kid probably isn't your son, Drew. I do, however, like the way she's punching out the nonsensical lyrics. When the lies become the truth, it's a little bit haunting the way Drew does it. And a lot strange. Really, Drew is an incredibly talented kid. She's become a little boring, but this was in the upper-tier of her predictable performances. "You took 'Billie Jean,' you made it your own and it pains me to say this... it pains me... but I liked it," L.A. Reid. Nicole is caught napping. Nicole didn't like the chair choreography. Does she not understand that Drew's momma always told her to be care what she do, and not to go around breaking young girls' hearts? "This was your best vocal performance," Paula says, before adding the "however" that Simon decided not to pay any visual homage to Michael Jackson. "Let me remind you, because of too much dancing is why your acts are out of the competition," Simon shoots back at Paula. Simon tells Drew that she sang the song beautifully.
8:47 p.m. Come on, Steve Jones. Go ask Blanket a question! Nope. It's time for our second of the Girls. Simon promises dancing and it's...
Rachel Crow: Lots of Rachel's backstory. She's definitely being positioned to win this thing. "Michael, we love you. Can you feel it?" Rachel says, before singing her first word. Rachel's dipping into the Jackson Five catalogue for "Can You Feel It." If I'm being honest, I kinda can't. There are sparkly, black-clad Rhythm Nation-style dancers in the background adding nothing to Rachel's energy. And Rachel can't really move herself, so she's in a slightly awkward position. She's doing more cheerleading than singing. This was NOT a good song choice by Simon. Why not a little "ABC" or something to make Rachel seem playful and young? L.A. Reid didn't believe that Rachel was really having a good time. He's correct. The dancers weren't *fun* and Rachel wasn't having fun with them. "Pumpkin, I thought you did a really good job," Nicole says, pointing out the lack of connection with the stagecraft. "I absolutely adore you," Paula says, before getting to the "but." Paula doesn't think the song let Rachel "transcend generations." Faced with three judges mocking his choices, Simon stutters something meaningless and shuts up quickly.
8:58 p.m. Once again, Steve Jones refuses to read my tweets. Anyway, it's time for...
Marcus Canty: This is Marcus' week. It has to be. He was in danger last week and he deserved to be, but this should be a dream theme for him. He admits that he's been pretending to be Michael Jackson since he was a kid. Can he work it? He's doing "P.Y.T.," which is certainly one of my favorite Michael Jackson songs and with its call-and-response backbone, it's perfectly suited for a reality TV audience performance. But Marcus? He's struggling through the early verses, picking up slightly on the chorus. It's too low and he's too nasally. He also isn't dancing at all. People are dancing around him, but before a backflip, he's barely shuffling. Everybody will remember the flip. Nobody will remember how little he was doing before that. With the dancers working well around him, it's entertaining overall, but I don't know that Marcus added anything. Other than the flip. That was athletic. No question. This is "The X Factor" and not "Make It or Break It," though, so backflips aren't part of the scoring. [Words cannot express how bored the Jackson Kids look.] "I love you, PYT," Nicole gushes, calling Marcus "the whole package." Paula praises Marcus' perspiration, and echoes that Marcus is "the entertainer of this show." Simon liked the entertaining, but he didn't love the vocals. Thank you, Simon. But Nicole and Paula aren't hearing Simon's criticisms.
9:09 p.m. "Remember last week's Pepsi Choice performance?" Yes, Steve. I've been desperately trying to repress it for a week. Time for...
Chris Rene: Wait. I came in late. Did Chris Rene's grandfather write "Rockin' Robin"? That's kinda awesome. This is really dangerous for Chris, what with his difficulties actually singing. Did he make the right choice? He's doing "I'll Be There," complete with gratuitous grunting. Uh. Come on. Uh. Come on. Yeah, this is pretty bad. Uh. Uh. And then he starts rapping. That's what's great about Chris' singing, that it makes his rapping sound far more acceptable than it might otherwise. Uh. Uh. Come on. Uh. Uh. He'll be there. Uh. Uh. Uh. Pretty much affected dreck. Uh. Uh. Yeah. Yeah. Prince Jackson looks like he's on the verge of storming out. Uh. Uh. The last note? Well, it's just not good. But I do want to congratulate Chris on getting his letterman's jacket. Nicole, however, felt Chris' spirit. "You sounded the best you ever sang," Nicole raves. "You manifest with abundance in the heart department," Paula cheers. Simon says "the vocal was a little bit shaky at the top," prompting boos. Simon adds that Chris is gonna need a lot of support. L.A. Reid says that Chris' performance speaks for itself. I agree. However, I don't mean it as a compliment.
9:19 p.m. Dunno about y'all, but I'm spending this commercial break manifesting with abundance from my heart. I hope I finish in time for the night's last performance...
Melanie Amaro: Simon's given Melanie, now speaking with her accent all the time, one of Michael Jackson's biggest hits. This is funny, because Melanie's already done one of Michael Jackson's biggest hits. And she did well. This week?
"What About Us" "Earth Song." It's a little bit more up-tempo than usual for Melanie, though only barely. She's got images of disaster and poverty flashing behind her and fog rolling all around her. Her background singers are very very passionate, but Melanie's a bit more contained. Regardless, she and Drew are the show's top pure vocalists and this is yet along solid winner. I'd say "Even the Jackson Kids are impressed," but they're desperately ready to go home. L.A. Reid felt like he was at a Melanie Amaro concert. Nicole called it the night's best and one of the best ever on the show. Paula calls it flawless. Simon couldn't be prouder of Melanie.
9:26 p.m. OK. NOW CHANGE THE CHANNEL!
9:27 p.m. You've been warned...
BOTTOM LINE: I think that Melanie and Drew were probably my favorites of the night. Chris Rene and Marcus were probably my least favorites and I'd guarantee that *one* of them will be going home, but I don't expect both of them to...
Who'd you like tonight? Who do you expect we'll be sending home?
Everything: The X Factor
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