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The X Factor Recap: The One Without Rachel

THE X FACTOR: Top 4 Performance: Chris Rene performs before the judges on THE X FACTOR airing on Wednesday, Dec. 14 (8:00-9:30 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Ray Mickshaw / FOX.

And do you know what else, Nicole Scherzinger? One does not “loosen up” one’s buttons. Buttons are either done or undone. Unless you Pussycat Dolls are trying to get your man to cut your buttons off and then sew them back on a half-inch over, that is a bullshit lyric to build a song around. You are the worst. I’ve got more items on my list here, but I’ve been yelling at you for six straight days, and now The X Factor is back on and I have to go.

Tonight’s show opens, as it must, with a recap of the moment I’ve spent the last week trying not to rewatch. You know what it is. People who have never heard of The X Factor know what it is. It is no less brutal for my having seen it already, though it does lend credibility to the theory that Rachel said “You promise?” to her reassuring mother, rather than “You promised,” which had been bothering me. So we can feel slightly less bad about an adorable and talented little girl being mugged on live television.

The judges are still given their long, slow, self-indulgent introduction. Nicole points to a person in the audience, puts her hand over her heart, and bows faux-humbly; I imagine she has spotted a pro-Nicole sign in the crowd, which I have decided says “YOU ARE NOT HISTORY’S GREATEST MONSTER, NICOLE! THERE ARE PROBABLY TEN OR ELEVEN WHO ARE WORSE.” Or there’s nothing out there at all and she just made it up.

Tonight it’s the PEPSI CHALLENGE, in which the final four must sing a song chosen by AMERICA (from a very short list of songs that are kind of in these people’s wheelhouse anyway; it’s not like you can just make them all sing Eiffel 65’s “Blue (Da Ba Dee).”) Marcus Canty is up first with Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You,” which I can’t believe he hasn’t sung yet. He gives one single white rose to a not-at-all-planted audience member, he’s backed up by dancers in nighties, and the whole thing is very Harvey Sid Fisher. But he sounds good! Simon says as much and is immediately booed by an audience who now reacts to anticipated criticism. We can maybe go easier on the crowd-goosing next season, guys.

The audience has chosen Sugar Ray’s “Fly” for Chris Rene, which is a terrible thing to do to a person. Sure, it’s a fun song, but do Mark McGraths win singing competitions? No, they do not. Simon tells him he needs to kill it on his next song, and Chris assures us “I’m-a come out and handle this next song real nice.” It sounds vaguely threatening. I like it.

Melanie Amaro has been given Mariah Carey’s “Hero” by the hugely imaginative Pepsi Challenge voters. It’s very good, and it’s exactly like every other very good performance on shows like these. My mind wanders. You want me to pay attention? Have the Pepsi Challenge voters choose her accent.

One of the great mysteries of our time is the enduring popularity of the Beatles’ “Come Together” on singing competition shows. Every contestant who wants to burnish his rock credentials must sing “juju eyeball” on a glittering stage, and I can’t figure out why. The Beatles have other songs, don’t they? The Pepsi Challenge voters picked this one for Josh Krajcik, but it is still emotionally satisfying to blame Nicole. He does as well as he can, and I’m glad he’s still in this thing.

In all the mishegoss surrounding the Rachel Crow Incident, you know who we never heard from, because he didn’t shove his face into a camera and try to make the moment all about himself? Marcus Canty, that’s who. There’s a quick package about how that moment affected him, and he carries himself with grace and humility. He’s a class act, this guy. And you know what else? His will.i.am-ed-up version of “Careless Whisper” should not work but absolutely does. Simon says it’s as bad a performance as he’s ever seen, and he’s wrong, but it’s nice to see some actual criticism.

Chris Rene gives us a one-two punch of dead-father interview package and live piano playing in his version of Alicia Keys’s “No One.” The judges agree that he doesn’t have a particularly good voice, but he does have tons of charisma, and they’re right, and oh my God he could actually win this thing. Allow me to recycle a joke I made after the 2010 midterm elections: America handles self-rule about as well as it handles self-checkout.

Simon promises something different for Melanie, which I take to mean a Mariah Carey album track. No! Even deeper inside the box: the Michael Buble version of “Feeling Good,” with which we are more familiar than ever thanks to that video your mom just sent you. She has a lovely voice, but my God this is so boring. I hate you, Nicole.

Josh Krajcik’s interview package introduces us to his brother, who is the answer to the question: What if Seth Rogen and Alan Dershowitz had a baby? Josh has had to lean on him financially during the tight last few years, so tonight’s second performance is just for him. And with Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” Josh Krajcik hits the exacta of predictable song choices. L.A. doesn’t like it, Paula loves it and cries, Simon does one of his classic head-fakes and agrees ... with ... Paula. Where has this Simon been all season?

So now it’s up to you, America! No Save Me Songs tomorrow night, no bottom two, the act with the lowest number of votes goes home. I’m a little worried about Josh’s chances, but I’ve given you ample proof that I don’t know what the fuck is going on, ever. Now if you’ll excuse me, I was in the middle of something.

And another thing, Nicole ...

Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FOX