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The X Factor Recap: Rihanna, Pharell, and Enrique Iglesias Swing By for a Cup of Sugar

Rihanna guest coaches on The X Factor.

And we’re back! The X Factor was preempted on Wednesday by a rain-delayed baseball game in Detroit, and I’ll be damned if it didn’t feel like a snow day.

Also, this week, American Idol Scotty McCreery’s album hit the charts at No. 1, and became the biggest-selling debut country album by a teenager in chart history! That’s a real, actual thing that was in press releases this week! The album contains songs called “Water Tower Town,” “Dirty Dishes,” and “That Old King James.” Country music is written by a robot that became sentient and then became lazy.

Oh, but I’m not here to write about that. I’m here to write about THE X FACTOR, which takes us ALL OVER THE WORLD this week as the 32 remaining contestants go to the homes of their superstar judges and mentors (who are introduced again). The boys are sent to L.A. Reid’s Hamptons house, the girls to Simon’s vacation home in the south of France (Steve Jones does his host wraps in front of the Eiffel Tower, which I think is in a different part of France). All 4,000 young singers in the groups category descend upon Paula’s house in Santa Barbara, and the over-30s head to the rec center of the Burbank Oakwoods where Nicole is staying through pilot season.

One note about the judges’ houses: Both Paula and Nicole have pools with fountain-style water jets spraying out into the middle. You know how when you’re in a pool, you’re always wishing you could be sprayed in the face with water all the time? Paula and Nicole have you covered.

Here we meet the two new groups who were formed from fourteen of the rejected solo performers. The group of ten children is called Intensity, and the four girls I could never tell apart are now collectively known as Lakoda Rayne. I can’t decide whether these names make them sound more like African-American porn actresses or racehorses.

The boys and the girls have a clear edge here, as L.A. and Simon are well-respected industry moguls. But Paula reassures the groups that they’re in good hands: “I specialize in groups,” she says, “I worked with the Jacksons and Duran Duran.” Two groups who I think we’d all agree did their best work after 1986. Nicole senses the over-30s’ trepidation, and tells them she will work harder than anyone they’ve ever seen. She then hands them each a head shot and résumé, just to have on file because you never know.

But the surprises don’t stop there! Each judge (do you know who the judges are?) will be assisted by a SPECIAL GUEST SUPERSTAR. Nicole will be aided by Enrique Iglesias, Paula gets an assist from Pharell, L.A.’s backup is Rihanna, and Simon will be all alone because Mariah Carey’s stuck in America due to Hurricane Irene, which is probably for the best. Quickly:

• Why, in all the promotion for this underperforming show, have they kept this quiet? These are big names! Fox does want people to watch this show, right?

• I interviewed Enrique Iglesias many years ago, and I have never been in the presence of a hotter human being. He did nothing for me on video, but in person, it was like: Can you hold on for a second so I can drive into town, buy panties, put them on, take them off and throw them at you? And this was in the mole days.

• Rihanna is apparently trying to lose her Barbados accent, and now her speaking voice sounds like a child doing an impression of a leprechaun.

All 32 will have to perform one song for the judges and celebrity bailiffs, and they’ll have to do it ... outside! So they’ve gone from singing in a good-sized venue to playing the backyard wedding of someone who’s just come into money.

First up: Brian Bradley! Who has made it to the final eight in his category in a singing competition, despite to this point showing no actual interest in singing! His rapping is just fine, but ... won’t he eventually have to sing? Should I audition next year and just, like, shoot skeet? Also, he has decided to call himself Astro, which, sure, fine.

And then we’re off to France to hear Simone Battle! In her initial audition, Simone identified her style as “a cheerleader, a hipster, and a drag queen having a three-way.” Which I initially thought was clever, then I thought about it, and .. .doesn’t that kind of describe everything right now? Isn’t that Glee? Isn’t that LMFAO and Lady Gaga? Isn’t that Sleigh Bells and The Wendy Williams Show and Drive? Phooey. Anyway, she sings a slowed-down version of “Help,” which is super-shaky. Simon loves it, thereby confirming that you don’t need to be a very good singer anymore, even in singing competitions.

Because you cannot write about this show without writing about American Idol, I have a question: Do you guys remember Angela Martin? The woman who auditioned for Idol a million times but never made it to the finals? The one who introduced us to her adorable, disabled daughter the first time, then the following year revealed that her mother had just gone missing, then had a court date which forced her to miss her callback, then — if memory serves — did her final audition while trapped inside a burning car? Where did she go? Wouldn’t she have been perfect on The X Factor? I thought for sure they’d bring her back. Anyway.

We’re back in Paula’s house, which has 47,000 guests and eleven mini-cupcakes. The Anser are up next, and the question apparently was: How effeminate can you guys be? They cross their legs all lady-style and don’t change the “I’m Miss [Whatever]” parts of Pink’s “Fuckin’ Perfect!” I kind of love it! I also love that they are forced to do the radio edit of this song, whose chorus goes: “Don’t you ever ever feel like you’re less than less than perfect.” So ... your optimal state is less than perfect? Awesome. I like these guys. I like the cut of their gay jib.

Dexter Haygood has the most compelling story in X Factor history: from major-label almost-stardom to skid row to airbrushed denim. The question is, can he sing? The answer is: You still can’t tell. He does what we will call his own version of “Crazy in Love,” which goes: “Doff bee boom likes to fixie. Jew vexa foxa fever. Hot to be foo makes the same. Oh!” He then collapses sobbing into Steve Jones’s arms. Dexter Haygood may still be on crack.

A flashback reminds us that Skyelor Anderson got this far because he kept singing at the audition when his track went out. Which is what you’re supposed to do, Ashlee Simpson notwithstanding. He’s fine. He’s a black teenager singing country sort of semi-well, which is enough to get him this far. Goodness, but the boys category is weak.

Tora Woloshin reminds us that she likes to put her hands into cars. But she’s worried about remembering the words to her song, which turns out to be the chorus of “Satisfaction” and nothing else. Even people who have never heard “Satisfaction” know all the words to “Satisfaction.” It comes to you through cultural osmosis. She does well and is charming and has tattoos on her face.

Lakoda Rayne chose to be a country group, because of course they did. They do a version of “Born This Way” that sounds like an ad for Born This Way Feminine Hygiene Spray. They will go far.

Stacy Francis does her thing of telling you how bad she wants it and how this is her last chance and then oversinging and yelling and then reminding you how bad she wants it and then crying. Nicole does her thing of making faces that indicate that she’s appreciating the fuck out of it. Well, to be fair, I’m actually guessing that that’s what those two did, because I can’t take my eyes off of Enrique Iglesias.

The Brewer Boys, who somehow do not yet have a Disney Channel sitcom, do a perfectly fine job. The younger Brewer says of the older: “He’s a social butterfly, always saying hello to people.” The bar for social-butterflydom is set low in the house of Brewer.

Philip Lomax. He’s a crooner! He wears his fedora cocked to the side! He reminds me of when, at the height of the nineties swing revival, I tried to take my parents to see some swing dancers by the fountain in Central Park and they declined by saying, “In our day, only the really corny people did swing dancing.” Which is true to this day! He does “Don’t Stop the Music,” which is brave not only because Rihanna is right there, but because we all know Charo did the definitive version. It’s his least irritating performance to date.

For sure, the best voice in this competition belongs to Elaine Gibbs. But she doesn’t constantly weepily remind you that she wants to win, so I fear we’ll be losing her soon. Play the game, Elaine!

Caitlin Koch is performing right now, and I’m already forgetting it. She’s one of those Feist types who always make me think I have the volume too low. Top five, minimum.

Nick Voss is still carving lines in his temples and eyebrows, and trying so hard to be vocally tricky that he just sounds like he’s having a fit. I’m sure he’s nice.

4 Shore does Brownstone’s “If You Love Me,” and it’s my favorite performance of the night! This comes with a cash prize of $25. Congratulations, 4 Shore.

I have just decided that I’m rooting for James Kenney. Lovely voice! Is tired of waiting tables! Reminds me so much of the Arby’s Good Mood Food guy that I am actually smelling roast beef! Team James!

And finally, Drew Ryniewicz does her specialty, which is slightly spooky versions of pop songs. I kind of wish she’d have waited to audition until she outgrew this phase, but we don’t always get what we want. Like another rain delay in Detroit, for example.

Sunday night, the other sixteen perform! And then we will eventually get to the thing where it’s live shows on a stage, which sounds like absolute heaven! See you then.

Photo: Jeffrey Niera/FOX