I was out of the continent last week and, thus, missed both Wednesday and Thursday installments of "The X Factor." 

Somehow, the roar of buzz failed to inform me that Beatrice Miller and Arin Ray were sent home until now. I'm not shocked. Beatrice was incredibly talented, but her insecurities were worsening as the glare of the spotlight grew brighter. This show wasn't helpful to her. I think we'll see her again in a few years, but it's not an insult to say some people shouldn't be forced to become stars at 13. And as for Arin, he was only an OK version of an archetype that doesn't do all that well on FOX singing competition shows. 

So it goes.

We've got performances from the Top 8 coming up tonight. I have no clue how the time will be filled beyond that. Lots of Khloe Kardashian-Odom reading cue-cards?

Let's find out!

8:02 p.m. ET. Oh. Right. That's how we're killing time tonight: We're premiering Will.i.Am's music video with Britney Spears. Well that won't leave the two hours feeling padded, will it?

8:02 p.m. Hi, Khloe. Whatever, Mario.

8:03 p.m. L.A. Reid gets a double introduction, because even though we're into our fourth week of live shows, this telecast is beset by embarrassing technical problems. Neither host seems to have a clue how to handle a live telecast and neither is improving.

8:05 p.m. Simon Cowell predicts we're going to see a change at the top this week, especially with his groups. Mario says that Britney's video is hot. Good to know.

Singer: DIAMOND WHITE
Song: "I Wanna Dance With Somebody"
My Take: Whitney? Again? Apparently she was really good last week, but only managed to finish fifth in the voting. Now she's worried about stepping away from ballads, but Britney tells her that she should let the audience know that she can have fun. The beginning of the song has been slowed down to give Diamond a couple ballad-y seconds before things go up-tempo. It also lets her differentiate her cover from Whitney's original. It's a smart move and it benefits Diamond tremendously, especially because she's yet another "X Factor" artist who's better when she isn't asked to sing and dance at the same time. Once the beat kicks in, the singing is basically done and we're asked to pretend that Diamond is still worthy of attention amidst the avalanche of confetti and the camera-distracting dancers flipping across the stage. At the very end, Diamond gets in synch, but the director has no awareness that she's there, cutting from one full-stage shot to another, going from dancer-based close-ups to wide shots in which Diamond is lost. I can only blame Britney for putting on a show that would play better in the audience than on TV.
The Judges Say: L.A. Reid gives Diamond an A for effort and a B for execution. Demi really liked Diamond showcasing her youth, but she wants to see Diamond bring more to her performances. "I don't know what else this girl could have just brought," Simon says, praising Diamond's stage awareness. "You are gunning for No. 1," Simon adds. "I'd dance with you any day," Britney says.

 

8:14 p.m. Diamond White was born in 1999. Now you feel old. You're welcome.

8:20 p.m. Oh gracious. That programming block was only the Vino Alan clip package. No performance at all. That's embarrassing.

8:22 p.m. Recruit guest performers. Toss together a few duets. Or shorten the show to 90 minutes and give "Ben and Kate" a one-night boost. Or something. But this amount of filler and wheel-spinning is dreadful.

 

Singer: VINO ALAN
Song: "You've Lost That Loving Feeling"
My Take: Oy. I missed Vino pandering with "God Bless the USA" last week? Oy. And that only got him to No. 3? That's dangerous. Because Vino switched songs, "X Factor" built a whole segment and then skipped to commercial before letting him sing. There's a little extra bass beat to make this chestnut seem a little more current, but the song choice is mostly just another reminder of Vino's vintage vocal tone. Actually, the arrangement reduces the amount of singing Vino has to do, which isn't a great idea. He's not a singer who should be overwhelmed by background singers or jeopardizing texture for rhythm, especially since Vino isn't confident on the changes in the arrangement. The chest-thumping and twitching that make up the heart of this "performance" aren't necessary. I'd have preferred he just straight-up sang this, Anthony Edwards-style.
The Judges Say: Britney feels like it's the same thing every week from Vino. Demi acknowledges the soul in Vino's voice, but she wasn't entertained. Simon does the same, but he didn't like the song choice. "You know, L.A., you took a risk and it didn't work," Simon says. L.A. Reid disagrees with Simon, though he notes the "timing issues." "That was not a $5 million performance," Simon protests.

 

8:32 p.m. Every second of this episode is making me appreciate the producing smoothness Nigel Lythgoe brings to "Idol." Even in its weakest, flabbiest moments, "Idol" isn't this ragged.

8:35 p.m. Khloe's down in the mosh pit having awful interviews with audience members. 

 

Singer: PAIGE THOMAS
Song: "Never Gonna Give You Up"
My Take: Demi wants Paige more stripped down, while Paige sees herself as more of a dancer. Whose cuisine will reign supreme? Heh. Paige wins and Demi has pretty much washed her hands of Paige. Who will get the last laugh? Paige! Because she's Rick-Rolling us. I don't get the urban-street-in-fog setting. I also don't get why Paige is convinced that she should be dancing. She can't shake her hips and sing at the same time. When she spins in circles, she practically stops singing entirely. It should be said that she looks terrific doing whatever she's doing. With backing vocals, she could probably be a reasonably successful artist. But this performance? It's all surface and no substance. She's neither fully singing nor fully dancing. Something should be taken off her plate. I suspect that after this performance, America will take "reality contestant" off her plate.
The Judges Say: "That was, by far, you best performance yet," L.A. Reid says. Huh? Britney thinks Paige took a risk and it paid off. Simon thinks Paige looked and sounded like a legitimate pop star. I agree only with the former. Simon urges Paige to make more decisions on her own. Demi wants to insist that she contributed to the performance.

 

8:49 p.m. Two more singers are going home tomorrow. Plus... BURRITO JOSH. Actually, they don't mention Burrito Josh. They only mention Alicia Keys. Boo. I mean, "Yay" for Alicia Keys, but "Boo" for ignoring Burrito Josh.

8:51 p.m. Awww. Sniffle. Ally's grandfather died. Sniffle. [I'm not being sarcastic. It's such a genuine moment after the awful pre-packaged nonsense about the girl who was dating Arin Ray. Naturally, "X Factor" screws with the moment by using Coldplay. Not every emotional sting requires Coldplay, you editing hacks.]

 

Singer: FIFTH HARMONY
Song: "What Doesn't Kill You"
My Take: The sad backstory involving Ally's grandfather adds a little extra punch to this Kelly Clarkson track, or at least it adds more punch than the cheesy flames in the background. This is more up-tempo than we've seen Fifth Harmony attempt previously and they're not quite ready to be Destiny's Child. Their movements are basically unsynchronized and the over-orchestration loses any impact from the attempted harmonies and whatnot. And seriously? The "Charlie's Angels"-style imagery in the background? Ick. But there's some good singing here and the group hug at the end is surprisingly touching. Sniffle.
The Judges Say: L.A. Reid offers his condolences to Ally. Sniffle. Regarding the performance, L.A. Reid thought it was "good," but wanted better. Like me, he wanted harmony, rather than everybody shouting together. He's correct. Britney mutters something about "girl power." Demi offers condolences and calls this "one of the best performances you guys have given," but she wanted more movement. Simon thought the performance doubly "fantastic." He's wrong.

 

9:04 p.m. Maggie Jones in the audience. Nobody watches "Ben and Kate" so they don't know who she is. That's sad.

9:04 p.m. Yet another timing screw up. Sigh... At least we're about to get some real singing...

 

Singer: CARLY ROSE SONENCLAR
Song: "Rolling in the Deep"
My Take: The other judges' claws are already out for Carly Rose, who finished first in last week's voting. Will covering Adele give them the ammunition they've been waiting for? There are minor changes to the rhythm and phrasing that keeps this from sounding like straight-up karaoke. The changes are meant to make the song a tiny bit jazzier than the original version. I don't think that's particularly Carly Rose's wheelhouse, but she delivers the new grace notes with technical aplomb before just tearing into the challenging vocal. Again, attempting to cut off criticisms at the pass, there's a little more stagecraft here. Carly walks down the stage. There's a vicious wind machine. There are overbearing backing vocals. It's all window-dressing. What eventually stands out in the end is exactly what stands out every week with Carly: This girl is preternaturally gifted, no matter what Britney does with her. She's 13. That's nuts. And she's not a robotic 13, either. So I can't hate her.
The Judges Say: L.A. Reid goes with "insanely talented" and calls her "really lovable," but he also says it "wasn't her best." "Carly, I'm not even your mentor and I feel proud of you," Demi says. Simon thought the first half of the song was "good" and the second half was "sensational." Simon suggests, however, that she may need to be disqualified as an alien.
 

Singer: TATE STEVENS
Song: "Somebody Like You"
My Take: Tate was dethroned as No. 1 last week, but he's aware that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. So tonight... He's having fun. Or that's what he says. He's also playing a guitar. I'm glad to see he has that in his arsenal. I don't know what he did last week, but I'd felt like Tate was coming off a couple down weeks and this is a comeback performance. Tate doesn't quite carry himself like a a star, but there are plenty of country stars who don't like like Blake Shelton and Keith Urban. His twang and tone are convincing and semi-entertaining enough for this non-country fan. I don't know if this will push him back ahead of Carly, but it ought to keep him in the Top 2 with ease.
The Judges Say: "I'm sure we'll be seeing you accept a Country Music Award one day," Britney says. Demi hopes that when she gets married, her husband will love her as much as Tate loves his wife. Awww. Or something. "I think that might be a bit of a tall order," Simon tells Demi. "At least i might get married one day," Demi flails back. Simon praises the singing and passion, if not Tate's dancing. L.A. Reid is proud of Tate.

Singer: CECE FREY
Song: "Lady Marmalade"
My Take: Cece can't figure out why she keeps landing at the bottom. It's because we don't especially like you, Cece. And this is just pretty much Cece Frey mocking America, doing a low-rent Christina Aguilera impression, shouting her way through "Lady Marmalade." I take back what I said about sending Paige home. This is just dumb. I get it. Cece can scream and she can strut a tiny bit. But other than that? Whatever. It's like a burlesque circus exploded everywhere.
The Judges Say: "You're going down, but you're going down fighting," L.A. Reid says, before admitting that he "enjoyed that circus." Britney felt like Cece stepped it up a notch. "No one can say that you're not a trier," Simon says, comparing it to "eating 62 portions of chocolate cake." He advises her to pack a suitcase. Demi says that Simon and I didn't get the performance because we're old.

 

9:41 p.m. How has Britney Spears *only* had eight No. 1 hits? Why do you hire Britney Spears to do background vocals on a track where you're looking for somebody with a posh British accent? Was All of England not available? And that wasn't a whole video. That was... nothing. "We had a lot of fun," Britney says of filming the video. Khloe and Mario agree it was great?

9:49 p.m. All of this week's corny filmed bits have been dreadful. But we *have* learned that Emblem 3 can't go shopping without staging a parody of "Hard Day's Night," while nobody notices Fifth Harmony when they're folding shirts.

 

Singer: EMBLEM 3
Song: "I'm a Believer"
My Take: Tee-hee. Emblem 3 is doing The Monkees. Kinda. I'm not sure if they're mocking their own pre-fab silliness. I guess they deserve a little credit for being meta? The performance? Totally lackluster and energy free. I'm distracted by the attractive background dancers when they appear. There are a couple decent moments of harmony and staged goofiness. But the director is also distracted by the dancers by the end. No amount of fake fireworks in the background will convince me that this was any good at all. Sorry, Emblem 3 fans. That wasn't even effectively douche-y.
The Judges Say: L.A. Reid says that he'd sign Emblem 3, because they have the X Factor. Britney didn't like the song. Demi doesn't know what Simon is doing with Emblem 3, but they all promise that they play instruments and they're looking forward to bringing using them, along with original songs, in the future. Simon whips out the "I've sold 300 million records" shtick with Demi, just like in the awful commercial. How spontaneous. Demi protests that as a 20-year-old girl, she's entitled to think they've lost their spark. She's correct. Simon should be worried that Emblem 3 is no longer making Demi giggle, blush and bat her eyelashes.

 

9:58 p.m. If America doesn't put Cece Frey in position to be sent home, I'll be shocked and disappointed. I reckon that either Paige Thomas or Fifth Harmony will also be in jeopardy, unless Fifth Harmony gets a totally reasonable sympathy bounce...

 

Who'd you like? Who'd you hate? Who's going home?