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The X Factor Recap: So Grateful

Contestants on stage with Khloe Kardashian Odom and Mario Lopez

Now, I understand that people in the UK gather around their televisions on holidays to watch shows like this, or the Doctor Who Christmas Special or whatever, but that’s not how we roll in the States. Us Yanks all go back to our local bars in our hometowns and marvel at how old our high school friends got. This is Thanksgiving week. You would think we could get some time off. You’d think the weary contestants deserved a break to have a meal with their families. You would be wrong. Not only are there two full shows this week, tonight — THANKSGIVING NIGHT! — will be another double elimination. It’s just not fair, I tell you.

Tonight’s theme is “Songs Sung To People We Are Thankful For,” or, in X Factor-ese, “dreary ballads.” God forbid someone express gratitude through joy.

Tate Stevens starts us off with a package about his relationship with his father, who looks distressingly like Slim Whitman. See, Tate’s dad wanted to be a musician, but once he started having kids, he put all that behind him and got a real job. And now Tate is at the same stage in his life, and his dream is already half put away, except now he’s inexplicably at the top of the leaderboard on The X Factor. I wonder if Tate’s dad is as incapacitated with jealousy as I would be. Anyway, Tate does Lonestar’s “Already There,” as one must, and it’s fine if you’re into that kind of thing, which apparently you are. Not my cup of tea, but dude is genuine. The judges love it, though they agree that it’s not his best. “Does that mean you’re going home,” Simon wonders aloud, “Not a cat’s chance in Hell.” I’m familiar with a snowball’s chance in Hell, and my understanding is that a snowball’s chances are slim, on account of the heat, but I have no idea what kind of chances a cat would have in Hell. Simon does. Simon knows what happens to cats in Hell. This worries me.

Diamond White dedicates her song to her mother, who raised her all by herself. Diamond’s father was never around, and her mother says Diamond used to ask her: “Could you call him on the phone and tell him I’ve been a good girl,” until she gave up at around age 7. It’s pretty fucking heartbreaking when you think about it, which I am using all of my might not to. Diamond goes on to do the impossible, by which I mean she makes Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me” listenable. It is passionate, it is innovative, it is probably in the top 5 of things I’ve heard on any singing show ever. The judges love it. Khloe tells Diamond, very seriously, that Diamond’s mother “is hysterically crying.” Have you ever said that to someone very seriously? It kind of makes things weird. And for the record, Ms. White is just regular crying. Give the woman a break.

Emblem3 are singing for their spiritual leaders, who are not TJ Lavin as you might expect. Turns out the E3 boys went to some kind of camp growing up, and learned how to be men or whatever, and I wish their youth group leaders didn’t look molesty but they do. It’s an uncharacteristically dull performance from the boys, and as the judges give them some faint praise, Drew struggles to say something, but his mic has been turned off, which is probably wise.

Arin Ray’s parents got divorced, aaand that’s about it when it comes to hardship. Arin Ray is probably a little upset that he doesn’t have a better sob story. But then he goes and invents one by singing “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias to his brother, which...you know what? You’re at home with your family now. Go find your brother and sing that song to him. I’ll wait.

Hey, how did that go? Poorly, right? But at least you’ll have something to talk about around the table today. Arin’s performance provides no big moments for me. The judges agree. If he manages to survive to next week, Arin says “I want to be me,” and Khloe retorts with some truly expert-level ad-libbing: “So what is you?” I think this might be the end of the line for Arin, but at least he told America that he wants to make out with his brother.

CeCe tells a truly heartbreaking story about her big sister who died young of cerebral palsy, and it’s too grim to go into here, but the gist is that CeCe feels that the dead sister is her guardian angel. Okay, show, you are emotionally affecting me, and I’m going to need you to stop. She does “Wind Beneath My Wings,” and it’s strong in the big moments, but shaky and off-key in the quieter ones. Indeed, she is so overcome with emotion that she cannot finish the song! She conks out about two words from the finish, the way that a person would do if they were trying to convince you that they are too overcome with emotion to finish the song. Khloe asks: “How do you feel, do you think your sister is with you tonight?” Yes. Yes, we have established about a million times that the sister is the guardian angel. We’ve got it. Loud and clear.

The thing about this is that it’s all very sweet and touching, but on some level, CeCe Frey has to be thrilled that she has this awful story to tell you, and that makes me feel dirty dirty dirty.

Fifth Harmony are thankful for GOD, which they show by singing “I’ll Stand By You,” which is hilarious because of the “won’t let nobody hurt you” line. This small group of teenage girls won’t let nobody hurt you, God, so don’t You even trip. It’s actually kind of nice. The judges love it. I should learn these girls’ names.

Beatrice Miller sings to her twin sisters, who were adopted from Vietnam and who have had a host of health problems, and the whole thing is very sweet in spite of itself. Beatrice is working a look I will call “Sophie B. Hawkins in Lilith Fair Babies.” She does Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars,” which is kind of a weird choice when Coldplay’s “Fix You” is just sitting right there, but she does a wonderful job and is adorable and wonderful and I don’t think she’ll win, but oh I just like her so much. She is in tears as the judges praise her, prompting Khloe to ask “Why are you crying? Why are you crying?” Khloe is straight up off the rails tonight.

Vino Alan is serenading the US military tonight. He had tried to enlist, but was denied because his face looks like a 1970s New York City subway car. He does Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless The USA,” aka That Song You Could Not Escape From September Through November Of 2001. You know how Vino has a little bit of a sexy thing happening with his voice sometimes? He unleashes that sexy thing fully on this song. He sounds like he wants to fuck America. It’s weird. The judges love it.

Paige Thomas is grateful to the woman who adopted her after her mother died. It’s another very emotional story, but I am dead inside because I have been at this for nearly two hours. She does Britney’s “Everytime,” and it is appropriately quavery and emotional. In fact, it is a little too emotional; again, she can’t quite finish it, and for that trick to work, you pretty much have to be the first person to try it, otherwise it’s like: oh, pull it together. Plus, tonight is our first long look at Paige’s breastplate, which is tattooed with...baby footprints? Front wings? Kidneys? Grossness. Let’s all stop having tattoos, America.

Britney brings us home like this: “Get ready to be amazed all over again THIS IS ARIN RAY. Wait, no, it’s not Arin Ray, it’s Carly Rose Sonenclar.” Well, she’s not wrong; I am amazed all over again at Britney’s level of commitment. Carly does a mostly a capella version of Somewhere Over The Rainbow for her big brother, who is a freshman in college, and who will now have some work to do convincing his friends that he’s not gay. It is of course flawless, and if you want to see someone give their all in a singing contest that they absolutely do not need to be in, you can probably find it online somewhere.

So that’s that. I think Paige and Arin are in big trouble tomorrow. Have the safest and happiest holiday, and I’ll see you tomorrow when we take a break from giving thanks just long enough to permanently destroy two people’s dreams.