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The X Factor Recap: Witness the Most Excruciating Moment on Reality TV

All agony, no ecstasy as Rachel Crow is voted out on The X Factor.

Here’s the deal: I do not watch slasher movies. And it’s not because they scare me, it’s that they leave me feeling bad. Even when I was a child, I didn’t fear Jason or Freddy or the Halloween Guy, I just said, “Oh, those poor parents. They had such high hopes for young Heather, and here’s what it’s come to.” At a young age, I turned my back on such things and snuggled into the warm embrace of pop music, where nothing unpleasant can happen. Ever.

And tonight Nicole Scherzinger went and fucked that up.

Lenny Kravitz opens the show with a medley of what I assume is his new song (but who can tell with that guy) and “Are You Gonna Go My Way,” which is the worst. Steve Jones gives it two “wonderful”s, his lowest rating.

Then we take a look behind the scenes at the styling rituals that each contestant must endure before every performance. This follows the template of all styling montages, by which I mean every female stylist is gorgeous and turned out, and every male stylist looks ridiculous. How do male stylists get work? It’s like: “Hello, this is my face, that I am in charge of, and I have gone to great lengths to make it resemble something from The Dark Crystal. Please pay me money to tell you how to look.” I don’t understand anything.

On to the results! The first act sent through to the semifinals is ... Josh Krajcik! Why do I even bother trying to predict things? Chris Rene is next, which I kind of called.

We go to a commercial break, and I need to ask you a question: Have you ever seen anything more upsetting than the Chipmunks’ version of “Bad Romance”?

Here’s something you never think you’re going to type: Mary J. Blige gives a subdued performance of her new single. This is maybe not the nicest thing to say, but I think I like her better when she’s losing and regaining her self-esteem over and over again.

So the remaining three — who ARE NOT NECESSARILY THE BOTTOM THREE, as Steve Jones reminds us 37 times — are Melanie, Rachel, and Marcus. There is unmistakable dread in the air. Oh my dear Lord; is it going to end up being Marcus who’s safe, leaving Rachel and Melanie in the bottom two? NO. Melanie is safe. The bottom two is Rachel and Marcus. So now the question becomes: How can we wring 22 minutes of tension out of what is surely a foregone conclusion?

For those who haven’t watched the show, Marcus Canty is the confident man whose mother has given him two years to make it as a singer. He has been in the bottom two the last two weeks in a row, and he has very little chance of winning, but every shot at an actual singing career in real life. He is also a grown man. Rachel Crow is the delightful 13-year-old former crack baby who is singing for her own bathroom. She is reliably, consistently great, and the whole live audience was unquestionably on her side when I was there last night.

The situation is doubly tense, as the bottom two already burned through their Save Me songs last night owing to whatever glitch prevented the Pepsi Challenge. So they’ll have to sing songs they’ve already sung. Marcus chooses “I’m Goin’ Down,” which he almost definitely is. He crushes it, as he so often does in these situations, but how many lives can this guy have left? 

Rachel counters with “I’d Rather Be Blind,” in the kind of riffy, no-note-left-unsung style that will win you one of these things. She really kills it. It’s obvious how badly she wants to win this, and there’s a rawness of emotion we haven’t seen from her. It’s in the bag, right?

Right?

There is so much time left over, and such an easy decision to make, that there is no way each judge won’t take his or her sweet-ass time with it. L.A. votes to send Rachel home, as he must, but not before much hemming and hawing. Paula praises both of them in her highly imitable way, but votes against Marcus. Simon does the same, with haste. So that’s two votes against Marcus, one against Rachel.

We then cut to Nicole, who is auditioning for a telenovela. She shows us her shocked face, which is unconvincing, and then she pretends to cry. Oh Jesus Christ. Nicole. Rachel grabs the mike away from Steve and says, “Nicole, please don’t cry!” And a child shall lead them.

Nicole talks forever about how she doesn’t want to make a decision. But the entire point of this show is that the judges have the ultimate say, saving the truly talented contestants from the whims of the voters. To keep people like Rachel, whose voters might have gotten the tiniest bit complacent, in place over people like Marcus, whose two weeks in the bottom two might have mobilized his base. Surely she will do the job she is paid millions for, right? RIGHT?

No. She doesn’t. She sends it into deadlock. I get up out of my goddamn chair. Really.

Steve Jones gets the envelope containing the name of the eliminated contestant, opens it, stares deeply into its contents, and ...

Nice job, Nicole. Way to punch a Muppet in the face.

Rachel hears her name and literally falls to the ground in sobs that put Drew’s to shame. Her mother runs out to embrace her, and Rachel screams: “Mommy, you promised! You promised me!”

It is, no exaggeration, the most excruciating thing I have ever seen on television.

If you haven’t seen this show, and you’re wondering what this moment is like, imagine taking a precocious, impoverished child, dangling $5 million in front of her face, and then yanking it away from her on live television because a Pussycat Doll doesn’t want to damage her brand by making a decision. It’s almost exactly like that.

Steve Jones is clearly getting instructions in his earpiece to ask Rachel what she’s feeling, because he says loudly and clearly right into his microphone: NO.

Rachel composes herself enough to assure America that she won’t stop, and she’s right; if she doesn’t have a Disney Channel sitcom by close of business Friday, Hollywood is broken.

Nicole grimaces and fake cries through this whole thing, trying desperately to bring the focus back to herself. After grunge backup singer, reality show contestant, girl group lead singer, stripper group lead singer, Star Who Is Danced With, and reality-show judge, I feel confident that Nicole Scherzinger’s next job will be procured through the Federal Witness Protection program.

And I walk away from The X FactorTHE X FACTOR — feeling like I’ve just watched the entire Friday the 13th series.

Photo: FOX