WELL. There were only about four minutes of show in tonight’s show, but oh my goodness were they tense. But let’s start from the very beginning, a very clunky place to start. The group number is Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” during which Leroy completely forgets to sing his part, Astro does the rap breakdown (which is already getting a little tiresome), and the Jumbotrons flash “WWRY” because the kids can’t relate if it’s not in text speak. It is total filler, and Steve Jones reacts to it thusly: “Yes, yes, yes! Rock us, didn’t they just!?” ‘Ello, guv’nah! Some mothers do ‘ave ‘em! Loo!
Through the entire number, and in fact the whole rest of the show, Chris Rene does not take off his sunglasses. Chris Rene is new to sobriety and perhaps has not learned that recovering drug addicts who don’t take off their sunglasses are immediately suspect.
The recap package is pretty standard. Everyone thinks they did great, even though the judges’ comments were harsh. The culture of self-esteem has totally infected the finalists. The only contestant who has taken her criticism hard is of course Stacy Francis. Nicole talks Stacy up in the Nicolest way she can: “Stacy’s a fighter, and that’s rock and roll enough for me.” What does that even mean, Nicole? Which genre of music is associated with giving up?
Steve dives immediately into results, and tells the judges, “Judges, you should be nervous!” And here we run right into one of this show’s biggest flaws: Why? Why should the judges be nervous? What is on the line, beyond bragging rights, which — when you are paid one gazillion dollars to think of new ways to say “You shine” for two hours a week — are written explicitly into your contract anyway? I think they think we’re more invested in their success than we are. But anyway: Leroy is safe! Lakoda Rayne is safe! Paula is spared from a third week in the NIGHTMARE SITUATION.
We are then taken to a photo shoot with some big-shot rock photographer. That’s right: We are treated to video images of some guy taking still images. It is exactly as exciting as it sounds.
Tonight’s superstar performer is Rihanna, who gives a pretty drowsy performance of “We Found Love.” The backup dancers all have flannel shirts tied about the waist; did the early nineties revival start without me? Steve Jones asks her to give the kids some advice, and she says, “You have to love what you do; when you love your job, it doesn’t feel like work.” Which is funny given how bored she looks.
Back to the results! Chris Rene is safe! The producers keep cutting to Stacy, whose face looks like she’s being shown the Penn State Grand Jury report just out of frame. Melanie Amaro is safe! Josh Krajcik is safe! He takes it in stride, which is good news, because his big smile is super unsettling. Marcus Canty is also safe! Yes, he reacts by winking!
So the remaining four — IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER — are Stacy, Astro, Drew, and Rachel. So no matter what, the bottom two will contain at least one minor. This is going to be weird. I’m predicting Drew vs. Stacy in the bottom two, and I am ... WRONG. Drew is safe!
Through this whole thing, there is a heartbeat sound effect that slowly gets faster. It is the corniest, P.T. Barnum–est, least-artful way to build tension, and you know what? That shit works.
Our last three are Stacy, Astro, and Rachel, and Rachel is not handling the pressure well. Which makes sense, because she is a SMALL CHILD. But after an excruciating, pulse-sound-effect-quickening fifteen seconds, they let her off the hook — she is safe. And this show’s value system is revealed right away: an adorable, impoverished child who is literally singing for her own bathroom has been given a reprieve, and Steve Jones’s first comment is: “Way to go, Simon! All your acts are through!” Wonderful, wonderful stuff.
So the bottom two are Stacy and Astro. And listen: If I know one thing about Stacy and Astro, it’s that they know how to hold it together in a crisis.
Stacy sings “Amazing Grace,” which is a form of begging. How are you going to criticize someone’s “Amazing Grace”? Like this: It’s not that great. Also, she does that Christina Aguilera thing where she’s all up and down the scales for no reason. I don’t want to say that style of singing is old, but I just saw it out shopping for a nice ranch-style house so that it won’t have to deal with stairs now that the kids are grown and gone.
Astro comes out onstage and says this for some reason: “Yo, yo, yo: On the real, I don’t really wanna perform, I don’t think it’s necessary, but I’m-a leave it up to my mentor whether I should perform.” He is just barely in the top ten on a singing competition, but he is ALREADY pulling a Kanye. OMG. LOL. WWRY.
He stomps across the stage like a petulant teenager, rapping resentfully, like he’s been forced to perform as some kind of punishment. And then it hits me: He is a petulant teenager, and he has been forced to perform as a kind of punishment. Here is your argument for age minimums, Simon.
Now the judges must vote. L.A. says it all comes down to attitude, which is a pretty clear dig at sulky li’l Astro. Although he seems torn, he votes to send Stacy home. Nicole does an audition monologue and then votes to send ... Astro home. So far, they are voting along party lines. No surprises here.
Paula votes against Stacy. And then something wonderful happens. Astro tells Simon, “If you’re going to put me in the bottom two, then I don’t wanna sing for people who don’t want me.” Simon straight-up lays into Astro for his bad attitude ... and the crowd goes wild! Remember Rocky 4, when the Russian crowd is initially on Drago’s side, but then they see Rocky’s heart and fighting spirit and they come around to his side and start chanting his name? This is the exact opposite of that. Simon really rakes him over the coals, and Astro takes it like a teenager: He’s pouting and saying he doesn’t care, but he’s also crying, and I kind of want Cliff and Clair Huxtable to come in and teach him a lesson about perseverance, but ... Simon votes to send Stacy home.
You know, I’ve been spending so much energy on the actual teenager, I’ve overlooked the emotionally stunted 42-year-old. Stacy manages to hold it together, but we really get a sense of how many of her eggs she has put in this sloppily constructed glitterbasket. She gives a tearful speech to the judges, laments some of her song choices (take that, Nicole), reminds us all that she used to have an abusive boyfriend, and then flies up into the stratosphere, powered by the force of her thick mascara tears. WWMY, Stacy. (We will miss you.)
So there it is. I wish The X Factor could sustain the tension of the last four minutes through the entire hour. If only they could afford to employ some kind of television producer.