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The X Factor Recap: Fantastic or Train Wreck

THE X FACTOR: Marcus Canty performs on THE X FACTOR Wednesday, Nov. 16 (8:00-10:00PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Ray Mickshaw / FOX.

Remember last week, and every week before that, when all the judges on The X Factor told all the contestants that they were the best all the time? Well, the gravy train of empty, overwritten praise done broke down tonight. This episode seethes with a brutality that befits its theme. It’s ROCK NIGHT, which means everyone says “It’s rock night” a million times and the contestants pretty much just do what they were already going to do. I hear “rock night” and my mind starts counting down to when I’ll hear that Celine Dion song that Meat Loaf also did. This is what it’s come to, Little Richard — can you live with yourself?

The episode begins with yet another voice-over guy, this one doing a vocal trick I will call “yelling at you.” (It’s rock night!) Simon reveals that tonight (rock night!) “will either be fantastic or a train wreck, and I’m going with train wreck.” Oh, thanks, Executive Producer Simon Cowell. I wonder why your show is underperforming.

Steve Jones can’t start the show until all of the judges are in their seats with their tray tables in the upright and locked position, and Nicole is busy Eva Peron-ing it up. I will say this: It seems like Steve Jones and the judges simply do not like each other one bit, and it’s my favorite thing about this show. Finally he verbally wrestles Nicole to her seat so she can introduce Leroy, who is of course singing a Bob Seger song, which is of course the one that Kenny Rogers and Sheena Easton also did. This is rock-on-a-technicality night. Rock-with-an-asterisk night. Not not rock night.

Leroy reveals that his sleeve tattoo is just a couple of years old; he got it when he decided to pursue singing full-time. “Can’t wear short sleeves and get a normal job with this tattoo!” Leroy’s face is that of a 20-year-old and so are his decision-making processes. His version of “We’ve Got Tonight” is just fine, though it doesn’t really contradict LA’s prediction that he’ll be boring. The judges actually judge his performance, which is a refreshing change, but the audience savagely boos every critical remark. Paula says, “There needs to be more of a connection,” and the crowd cries for her head. “THAT IS UNFAIR, BECAUSE WE TOTALLY FEEL THE CONNECTION,” they say (in Boo-ish). Simon asks Nicole point-blank whether she thinks Leroy can win, and she says: “Of course I would hold that possibility.” What they are taking forever to say is that it’s great that he looks so young, but his days are numbered. Steve Jones asks Leroy what he thinks of “those horrible, horrible comments,” which is artless and hilarious. Also I think Simon calls Leroy “Lori.”

Rachel Crow does a version of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” that is straight Sonny & Cher Show. It’s fine, but you have to wonder how much of this a 13-year-old can relate to; even the “driving in my car” part won’t be legal for her until sometime in 2014. LA says “The question is, can you sell records?” Rachel answers “Yes,” and LA interrupts, “No. Wait. Listen to me: the answer is YES.” Can you imagine meetings with this guy? Nicole offers this: “Rock originated from rhythm and blues music, so that was a perfect song for you.” Put another way: “I’ve noticed you’re black.” Steve approves of the praise the only way he knows how: “Wonderful, wonderful comments.”

Chris Rene is up next, and Steve wonders aloud whether “the trash hauler can adapt to rock week,” which (a) with his Welsh accent, sounds like “can the trash whore adapt to rock week?” and (b) who cares, because there’s nothing to adapt to. To wit: LA announces that Chris’s song is “by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Bob Marley,” in such a way that you know he knows it’s a stretch. Anyway. It’s “No Woman No Cry” and it’s partially rapped and he used to do meth and you know the whole drill by now. The only surprise is that he’s wearing one of those Jay-Z “Occupy All Streets” T-shirts, the proceeds of which someone in the wardrobe department must know benefit only Jay-Z. The judges don’t love it. Also, as a point of order here: Does the song mean “Hey, Woman, don’t cry”? Or is it more “Where there is no woman, there is no crying”? I’ve literally wondered that my whole life. It’s an “Eats Shoots and Leaves” kind of situation.

Stacy Francis is the answer to the question “How long will I have to wait before I hear that Celine Dion song that Meat Loaf also did?” It is ABSOLUTELY the wrong song for her; she can’t hit the high notes, and in the lower parts she sounds like some kind of evil magician. The judges do not like it one bit, and the dejected look on Stacy’s face kind of illustrates why she hasn’t been able to capitalize on her past opportunities. I mean, look at this:

Simon gives my favorite criticism of the night: “This sounds like something you would hear at the Hilton hotel with a crowd of people with their backs turned to you, eating peanuts.” I could hear about this hypothetical bad gig forever. Where in Albany are we in this scenario? Is there a whirring blender making a mai-tai? Is the most popular girl from Stacy’s high school class accepting a Woman of the Year award in the nearby ballroom? Keep going, Simon! It’s your show.

Melanie Amaro does R.E.M.’s “Everybody Hurts,” which I guess somebody had to. Her version is one that you would hear at a fancy benefit for the Trevor Project. I literally looked around my living room for the silent auction. Nicole says, “Every time I hear that song, I cry,” which sounds like a huge problem, because I have never listened to that song on purpose and I still hear it three times a week. Also, no you don’t, Nicole, and you know it. Paula says the phrase she is legally required to say once per episode: “You took us to church!” And maybe that was the problem; it went on too long and I couldn’t stop thinking of other things I could be doing.

Josh Krajcik has washed his hair. I can’t tell you what a relief it is. He does Foo Fighters’ “The Pretender,” which, though it gives him an opportunity to rock out (on rock night — now I get it!), is still not quite the right choice. His range is limited, and it’s somehow exactly the same tone as the guitars, to the point where you can barely hear him. This, plus Courtney Love’s recent idiot outburst, makes me want to hug Dave Grohl forever. The judges love it.

BUT.

Nicole, bringing it back to herself as she always must, reveals that she was in Days of the New. WHAT? Do you guys remember Days of the New? Days of the New was (a) the worst, (b) basically just filthy Kentucky teenager Travis Meeks and whatever session musicians he managed to assemble. I interviewed Travis upon the release of Days of the New’s second album, and he said things like this: “This album is more in a confessional realm.” “I played most of the instruments, but it’s not an ego realm.” “Whoever’s ordering lunch, could you get me something in the vegan realm?” We spoke for twenty minutes and he said the word “realm” 4,000 times. And sure enough, there she is on their Wikipedia realm: backing vocalist, 1999-2000. (The only other time I ever saw Travis was on Intervention. What did you do to him, Nicole?)

Here comes Astro. The shock of the night is that he doesn’t do “Walk This Way,” opting instead for the second-least-inspired choice: “Every Breath You Take/I’ll Be Missing You.” If I follow his lyrics, he has cast hip-hop itself as a 40-year-old woman whom he loves, who ... is dead? The name of every rapper who has ever died is on the screen behind him. It’s super confusing, but if the judges aren’t going to overthink it, then neither am I. They love it, it’s fine, it’s ASTRO. What do you want at this point?

Lakoda Rayne continue their streak of not paying much attention to their own lyrics, with  a medley of The Outfield’s “Your Love” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way,” which goes like this: “I don’t want to lose your love tonight, so you can go your own way!” Which does not make sense at all, but is peppy as hell. Paula compares them to the Dixie Chicks. I find it more SHeDAISY, but what do I know? Also, Simon indicates that if Lakoda Rayne gets kicked off, “Paula is out.” Is that how it works? Does she get ejected from the show? Can they sweep her off, like they do on Showtime at the Apollo?

In Drew’s interview, we learn that the school-age contestants have to go to school on set. “Nobody gets a free ride,” says their teacher. “They all have to be in school for three hours a day.” Which does not sound like a particularly expensive ride, honestly. LA wonders whether she’ll do the same old thing, Simon swears that her performance will be shocking, and they’re both right: Her version of “With Or Without You” is so much the same as everything she’s ever done that it’s shocking.

Marcus Canty does a version of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” which has him scooching across the floor on his back underneath the spread legs of some miniskirted backup dancers, and I think we get to the root of Marcus Canty’s problem when I tell you that it is not the tiniest bit naughty. The arrangement is such a weird hybrid of rock and R&B that it somehow sounds like something you’d hear at the CMA Awards. Also he winks a thousand times. The judges love it!

So that was rock night. I think Chris, Leroy, and Stacy are in a trouble realm, and I am certain that Alan Freed is turning over in his grave like a rotisserie chicken.

Photo: Ray Mickshaw / FOX