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The X Factor: Every Second Is a Highlight

THE X FACTOR: Stereo Hogzz performs in hopes they will convince the judges to let them stay on THE X FACTOR airing onThursday, Nov. 10 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Ray Mickshaw / FOX.

Folks, we are off to the races. Tonight’s X Factor clipped along at a brisk pace, got its business done efficiently, and gave us a sample of some high-quality crazy. I am back onboard.

In a reaction to last week’s obvious lip-synching, this week’s show begins with a group number so stuffed full of bum notes and shaky harmonies it couldn’t possibly not be live. Everyone’s mike is in front of their lips at all times as they sing Swedish House Mafia’s “Save the World”; again, this show is unabashedly Euro, and I celebrate it. As does Steve Jones: The performance rates an as-yet-unheard three wonderfuls.

L.A. says that in last night’s show, some people were great and some didn’t step up, which is interesting because last night every judge said every performance was flawless. In fact, the only remotely judgey thing any of the judges said all night was L.A. telling Melanie she’s been singing the same song every week. Which is totally true! Of course, he makes a big deal out of taking that comment back tonight. So: Some people were great and some people weren’t but everyone was the best. Thanks, L.A., here’s a billion dollars.

Our recap package is pretty boilerplate: The contestants are nervous before singing! The contestants are exhilarated after, which, why wouldn’t they be, since nobody has encountered even the kindest constructive criticism? Oh, but we do revisit DressGate, in which Paula criticized the day-glo garbage dress that Drew herself turned out to have designed. Paula stands by her comments, saying Simon should have vetoed it, and I agree. Drew looked like the punk episode of Kate & Allie.

It occurs to me now that I might have been excessively harsh on Nicole Scherzinger. Here’s the deal about Nicole: She can sing. She is very pretty. She has a control of the English language that Paula can only dream about. I want to like her! But everything she says seems designed to draw attention to herself, as opposed to guiding the show’s contestants. But you know what? It’s probably nerve-racking up there, and she’s still probably getting comfortable, and she deserves a chance just like anybody else, so I’m thinking maybe I should just lay off, and then she runs up to Josh after his performance and the first thing she says is “Did you hear what I said? I said, ‘Don’t hate, just congratulate!’” Back to the basement with you, Nicole!

The first of tonight’s performances comes from superstar-by-birthright Willow Smith. What is the leather-catsuit age of consent in the state of California? It is higher than 10 probably, right? Listen: Will and Jada obviously know what they’re doing, but if it were me, I would put my prepubescent daughter in something a tiny bit less ... crotchy. Whatever: It’s a fun song, the staging is like some sequel to Rent where a gang of plucky kids cures AIDS, and Willow puts on a brave face even though I suspect she does not want to be doing this at all. She’ll be fine; at age 10, she has a cooler haircut than you or I ever will, and that can take you a long way toward a fulfilling life in today’s world.

Up next: Jessie J! Very tight clothing is the order of the day! As always, she strikes me as someone who’s trying too hard to appear relevant. Jessie J is the Nicole Scherzinger of music. But her song “Domino” contains one of the best lines I’ve heard in a very long time: “Every second is a highlight!” Hoo boy, is that a howler. And doesn’t it sum up The X Factor kind of nicely? Every second is a highlight! All of you are the best! Everybody is No. 1! Jessie J and Steve Jones flirt for a few seconds (every one of which is a highlight), and I have to say it’s refreshing to see some believable adult sexuality on a show such as this. He’s a spooky little eunuch, that Ryan Seacrest, isn’t he?

And now we’re at the actual results part of the results show, which The X Factor does much more effectively than Idol ever has. It’s so simple! We don’t need to be here all day with endless pauses, just list off the people who are safe, until we’re down to the bottom two. Which Steve Jones does:

Stacy Francis is safe! She pumps her fists for about four and a half minutes. Stacy wants this a little bit more than is tasteful.

Astro is safe! And also kind of over it all!

Melanie is safe! Then Steve Jones tells her she has something on her shirt, and she looks down, and he hits her on the nose. (Not really. But not implausible, right?)

Marcus is safe! Have you noticed how much this guy winks at us? It has whizzed right past “flirty” into “possible facial nerve damage.”

Leroy is safe! They cut to a shot of Simon, who is clearly saying: “That’s not what I thought.” Which, again, last night he told Leroy it was his best performance ever. What is going on here?

Rachel is safe, as is Josh, as is Drew, as is Chris, which means all of Nicole’s, Simon’s and L.A.’s acts are safe and once again Paula is IN A NIGHTMARE SITUATION. Steve Jones says it again and everything! “You are again in a nightmare situation, Paula!” “I am, Steve, I have no other words.”

It is a tense moment, and if we know one thing about Paula Abdul, it is that she handles stress gracefully.

So the Stereo Hogzz and Lakoda Rayne (seriously, it took four minutes to type that. These are the least-intuitively-spelled acts in music history) must each SING FOR THEIR LIVES. Paula introduces Lakoda Rayne with the loony gravitas of a headmistress in some whimsical young-adult-novel girls’ school: “I am very proud of these girls.” They sing a lightly countrified version of Jordin Sparks’s “No Air,” in which they look terrified, barely move, and straight-up botch their grand-finale harmonies. They appear to be doomed, but since each of them could then go right down the hall and become Fox News anchors, I am not concerned.

The Stereo Hogzz absolutely sing the shit out of Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone.” Here’s how good a job they do: It isn’t until just before the end that I remember that “You Are Not Alone” is a terrible song. So this should be quick.

Oh but it is not.

L.A. Reid votes to send The Hogzz home. What? Nicole does the same, explaining that she’s all about female empowerment, which is probably also what motivated her to be the lead singer in a stripper band.

And then Paula Abdul freaks the fuck out. She can’t do it! “I won’t! I won’t do this,” she says. She is having a Pia Zadora–in–The Lonely Lady–style nervous breakdown. She wants to abstain! Even though that would mean that the Stereo Hogzz would automatically go home, since they already have two votes against them. Fine, then, she will have to send Lakoda ... Rayne ... ho ... m ... NO I CAN’T DO IT. Steve Jones and Simon spend about thirteen minutes coaxing an answer out of her, and every second really is a highlight. When she finally, with every bit of strength she has left, votes against Lakoda Rayne, Steve says, “FINALLY.” He is seriously exasperated with her and not bothering to pretend he isn’t, and it’s great.

So of course Simon will vote Lakoda Rayne, too, so that it goes into deadlock and the viewers’ vote will break the tie, and those of us who are watching will feel like we are in some small way a part of this process. Except no he doesn’t; figuring correctly that four Carrie Underwoods have more commercial potential than one B2K, he casts his vote against the Stereo Hogzz. Yes, the greatest group in the world right now (Simon’s words! Eight days ago!) is cast aside for four people who have known each other for less than a month, who work in a genre none of them chose. Awesome.

The show ends with a slow camera pan back from Paula, who is on the ground in a rain-soaked alley, shouting her own name at a God who has turned His back.

At least it wasn’t boring. See you next week!

Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FOX