[If you’re looking for a “Survivor: Blood vs. Water” recap, it will be up after the show’s airing on Pacific time, a pattern I’ll be following for the rest of the Wednesdays this fall. It’s not that I prefer “X Factor” to “Survivor.” It’s just that if one show is live and the other show is canned, it makes more sense to live-blog the live show. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s my thought process.]
It’s Motown Night for the “X Factor” Top 12.
This is a theme that was inevitable, but a theme that’s not especially well-tailored for most of this season’s Finalists. Will that mean some disastrous performances? Will Simon Cowell’s promised twist have to save the show?
Click through for the performances and chime in below!
8:00 p.m. ET. We’re beginning with a Motown Medley Group Sing. Did we do this last season? Did I repress it? I must have. This is gonna be a rough night for Restless Road and possibly for Alex & Sierra. But it may be a great night for Sweet Suspense. That’s my instant reaction.
8:03 p.m. Kelly Rowland thinks of “classic, magical music” when she thinks of Motown.
8:04 p.m. After last week’s show, the judges had doubts about a single eliminated singer. So we’ve actually got a Top 13 tonight. Inexplicably, the Wild Card the judges have added is Josh Levi. Yeah. That’s not logical, given some of the people who were eliminated. It’s also not logical the way Mario Lopez “surprised” Josh at Mel’s Diner.
Singer: JOSH LEVI
Song: “Who’s Loving You”
My Take: Josh was pretty bad last week. I’d have brought James Kenney back if I gave anybody a reprieve. However, part of why we brought Josh back in particular is that he provides musical variation for the competition in a way that James wouldn’t have. For Motown Night, having an African-American male vocalist was important for “X Factor.” Actually, for any theme, it was probably important. It turns out that Josh is actually a fine singer when he isn’t distracted by trying to be Chris Brown. He deserves credit for not doing a Michael Jackson song that might have forced him to try to dance. Instead he just sings and while it isn’t revolutionary, it’s very pure and pleasant.
The Judges Say: “What a way to make a comeback,” Demi Lovato says, predicting a long career. “You actually come to life when you’re on stage,” Kelly says. Why didn’t he come to life last week? Simon whips out his favorite “from zero to hero” line. “You’re the youngest of this competition,” Paulina says, forgetting the existence of Rion Paige. “You’re born to be a star,” Paulina says.
Singer: RACHEL POTTER
Song: “This Old Heart Of Mine”
My Take: I didn’t love Rachel when she was the pretty-but-neurotic Country Girl complaining about being over-the-hill at 29, but chatting with her at the red carpet premiere, I found her much more appealing. Will that warmth extend to tonight’s performance? Rachel has made this song straight-up-Country and she’s decided this performance is going to be about her legs and that it will be brought to you by the letter “R.” The flashing dive-bar neon signs with her name are a bit silly and the background singers don’t seem to be doing anything at all, but this isn’t a bad arrangement of the song at all. She’s got high energy and I like that well enough. The thing I like is that the lyrics actually come across very organically as honky-tonk lyrics and Rachel seems chirpy and organic singing those lyrics.
The Judges Say: “You’re so energetic and you bring so much to the stage,” Demi says. Simon thought it started off great, but become horrible. “When one speaks like that, that’s just them shaking in their boots a little,” Kelly reassures Rachel. Paulina doesn’t say anything.
Singer: CARLOS GUEVARA
Song: “What’s Going On”
My Take: I’m not sure how I feel about Paulina telling Carlos to “enjoy” this heart-wrenching Marvin Gaye joint. He’s got an inane assortment of ’60s iconography glashing behind him, protestors and peace signs and yet Carlos is inexplicably smiling his way through the performance. Stop singing “Don’t punish me with brutality” with a smile. He’s got such a raw voice. He’s had such a personal struggle to get here. I wish he could have tapped into actual emotion for this promotion. To his credit, Carlos is trying hard to enunciate here. That’s how I know that he knows the words, but doesn’t understand the song. He should turn around and look at the imagery and realize that this is an intense, soul-searching song that he’s gliding through.
The Judges Say: Kelly thought it was a “cool” choice for his voice, but he could have done better with the song. “I don’t think you gave us a moment there,” Simon says, telling Carlos that he was “quite good,” but not incredible. Paulina says nothing of value.
Singer: RESTLESS ROAD
My Take: The squealing for Restless Road is absolutely hilarious and nearly deafening. But I can’t say that I don’t get it. This Lionel Richie song has been arranged just enough to put it in their country wheelhouse, but it’s entirely recognizable. The video screens showing each of their heads are absolutely hilarious, like a ’70s music video, but the harmonies are nice and the early solo moments aren’t bad either, though the dude with the neckbeard was a bit rough in one spot towards the end. Sorry. I haven’t learned all of their names. There’s Deep-Voiced Zach, Smiling Jason Street and Neckbeard. They haven’t been asked to move on the stage at all and that’s probably for the best. This was a week they just had to get through and they coasted through with ease.
The Judges Say: “You kinda killed it,” Demi tells Simon, joking about his smart song choice. “Together you add special magic into this stage,” Paulina says. Kelly and Paulina agree, though, that the lead vocal had to be better. “I think you’re getting better and better and better,” Simon says, predicting they’ll have a place in the Finals.
Singer: ELLONA SANTIAGO
Song: “Baby Love”
My Take: Ellona talked about her SATs in my interview with her! This should be a good theme for her, even if she’s singing one of my least favorite Supremes songs and she’s been rather horribly costumed in purple, sparkly fringe. Yeah. Horrible costuming. Horrible background dancing. And a really uninspired and bland arrangement. I think there were songs on which Ellona could have absolutely shined tonight. Instead, she was pure karoke until a big note at the end. The big note at the end will probably get Ellona some good reviews. This wasn’t bad at all, but it feels like a wasted opportunity to me.
The Judges Say: “You are a little powerhouse,” Kelly says. Simon says that she “absolutely nailed that song.” “You’ve got, and don’t take this the wrong way, killer eyes,” Simon adds. Demi couldn’t be prouder. Ellona felt like she did pretty well on her SATs.
Singer: JEFF GUTT
Song: “Say You Say Me”
My Take: Jeff Gutt is from Detroit. I didn’t remember that about him. I did remember that he has a cute son who likes being on-camera. I credit Jeff with not cheating the theme entirely by doing Kid Rock or something. He does, indeed, do our second Lionel Richie song of the night as an ’80s rock ballad. It’s dated and corny, but it also has more shadings than Jeff’s previous performances this season. There’s more control and less visible effort. No bulging veins at all! I’ll keep saying this: “Rock of Ages,” Jeff. It’s not a disgrace. Constantin Maroulis got a Tony nomination! You could do “Rock of Ages” well!
The Judges Say: “That was unpredictable. I didn’t expect it,” Paulina says. “That was outstanding,” Simon says, calling it the best vocal of the night. “I’m literally in tears over hear,” says the very proud Kelly.
Singer: ALEX & SIERRA
Song: “Heard It Through The Grapevine”
My Take: Alex & Sierra have decided to change the song and that’s freaking Sierra out. Poor Sierra! Alex cheered her up by taking her up to the pool and they jump in fully dressed. Awww. They’re so adorable. I feel like there were more obvious songs they could have done here, but I’m a strong advocate for this slinky cover and for the little growl that Sierra adds to the end of their first verse. And midway through, they’re even accompanied by some additional instrumentation for the first time this season. The orchestration is a bit much at the end and runs the risk of taking away their essential Alex & Sierra-ness, but I still like it. I continue not to be annoyed by Alex & Sierra and therefore I remain a big fan. Eventually they’ll annoy me. Maybe. I hope not. Because for now, they’re totally my favorites.
The Judges Say: The crowd likes it. Demi seems not to. “It feels organic. It feels natural,” Paulina says, begging them to kiss. Oh. No. Demi loved it! She calls it “sexy and hot.” Simon praises Alex & Sierra for playing a big part in the arrangement.
Singer: KHAYA COHEN
Song: “I’ve Got Sunshine”
My Take: Khaya definitely could have made more obvious choices than doing a smokey torch-y version of a Temptations song. And yet she’s made the song sound like exactly the sort of Duffy-y, Adele-y, Winehouse-y sing you’d expect her to. I’m gonna politely object to the schoolgirl uniform and the stockings, which continue not to match with the image I think Khaya wants to be conveying to the world. But maybe I’m wrong? Last week, she looked excruciatingly uncomfortable trying to be sexy, but whatever she’s being asked to do tonight, she seems at ease. The staging is a bit overblown. Tthe break dancer? Ummm? You only do that if you’re terrified that the performer isn’t compelling enough on her own and vocally, Khaya’s really compelling. That may be my favorite vocal so far. I just like what she did here. I didn’t buy Khaya’s original audition at all, but I’ve bought her last couple performances.
The Judges Say: “I almost threw my pen at you because you just killed that performance,” Kelly says, praising her with growth in just a week. “Shutting my eyes there, it was like listening to Amy Winehouse,” Simon says. “Yay!” says a giddy Demi. “Your voice could be the best voice in this competition,” Demi adds.
Singer: CARLITO OLIVERO
Song: “Stop in the Name of Love”
My Take: The song has been rearranged as a ballad, with Carlito playing a jukebox idol on a platform with a sea of women dancing below him in which is almost a Busby Berkeley-style routine. The performance is so low-energy that I’m mostly concentrating on the dancers and Carlito’s presence is basically unnecessary. Last week, Carlito was pretty much the opposite, practically bouncing off the walls. I don’t think this was the right time to show that he could be diverse. That’s the kind of sleepy performance that’s almost certain to put Carlito in jeopardy tomorrow.
The Judges Say: Kelly says that Carlito has pitch and key problems. “That reminded me of a dream I had last night,” Simon says, but he also calls it “a little bit girlie” and “a little bit over-theatrical.” Paulina acknowledges that Carlito was better last week, but calls him “good.”
Singer: LILLIE MCCLOUD
Song: “All In Love Is Fair”
My Take: Lillie simultaneously knows that this should be a perfect week for her, but she also knows it’s a tough week for her to prove to Simon that she isn’t dated. She wants to zig where Simon expects her to zag, but Kelly’s having none of it. Wearing a form-fitting, sparkly dress with a clam-shell backdrop, Lillie does what she wants to do, screw Simon. And the result is a thoughtful, mature and powerful vocal. She can do things with the singing that the other kids can’t. I just wonder if that was dynamic enough as a total performance. Stevie Wonder gives the original a certain emotional urgency that maybe I didn’t fully get from Lillie? Dunno. With Lillie on a performance like that, it’s mostly just quibbling.
The Judges Say: “Your voice is incredible,” Demi says, but she adds that it was still “a little outdated.” With Kelly looming over him, Simon says that it was “absolutely fantastic.” Simon earns a kiss from Kelly. “I still think there’s more to come,” Simon predicts, while Paulina calls Lillie “a goddess.”
Singer: SWEET SUSPENSE
Song: “You Keep Me Hanging On”
My Take: Sweet Suspense is like the Mini-Spice Girls. They begin in a bird cage, surrounded by male cabaret dancers. They were really unified and together last week, both with the singing and the stage movements. Tonight, it feels like their inexperience as a group is showing. If you tackle The Supremes, you have to pull off the group dynamic. Tonight, it was Summer & The Suspensettes. That may be how Sweet Suspense works best, but it’s not what they seemed like that last week. They’re having fun and that sense of fun is contagious. I expect that they’ll be relatable and successful. I just have some vision of them being better musically.
The Judges Say: “I LOVE YOU GUYS!” Paula screams. Demi wants to make it clear that the other judges worked with Simon to put them together. Kelly feels like there’s a gap in the marketplace for these three. Simon points out that Fifth Harmony is doing very well and he asks Demi if she wants to sing on Fifth Harmony’s next sing.
Singer: RION PAIGE
Song: “Ain’t No Mountain High”
My Take: They’re keeping it simple with with the stagecraft for Rion, which is good. Even the fake trees and simply dressed backing quartet are probably too much. Rion has taken most of the “Motown” from this arrangement, but it’s a poppy and slightly twangy cover and it is, as we’ve come to expect from Rion, an earnest, emotional and honest vocal. It’s always slightly unexpected to hear Rion’s voice coming from Rion, who alternatingly seems so tiny and unassuming or so bubbly and youthful. She’s just easy to root for, both for who she is, which sounds condescending, but also how she sings.
The Judges Say: Kelly didn’t like the arrangement, but she still loves Rion. Simon was glad that Rion went back to her Country roots. Demi felt it was genuine.
Singer: TIM OLSTAD
Song: “I’ll Be There”
My Take: Tim continues to be in a weird position. He has a better voice than any of the other solo males remaining in any of the categories. His voice is bigger and rangier than what anybody else can offer, so he does a smooth, occasionally soaring version of “I’ll Be There.” But no matter how big the backing choir, no matter how many lights in the crowd, no matter how many spotlights on the stage, you just can’t make Tim exciting. So either people are going to find him blandly likable and embrace his gifts, or they’re going to go with one of the many more dynamic performers on the show. I suspect Tim is going to give exactly this performance every week and the first time Paulina tries to get him to stretch, he’ll go home.
The Judges Say: Demi says it was karaoke performance and that she doesn’t see him on Top 40 radio. I think that’s probably a correct response. Kelly is going to agree. “I’m expecting way more from you,” Kelly says. “I really liked it,” Simon says. “I know who you are now. You’re Donny Osmond,” Simon says. Simon also praises Tim for taking criticism like a man. “You are a work in process,” Paulina says.
8:58 p.m. That could have been worse. If we’re sending two people home, I’d send boot two of Paulina’s boys, probably Carlito and Carlos, or maybe Carlos and Josh, whose performance didn’t wear particularly well in my memory. I think Carlito, Carlos and Ellona gave the night’s worst performances, with Rachel as a real dark horse to go home if Restless Road gets 100 percent of the country vote. My favorites were Alex & Sierra, Khaya and Lillie, personally.
9:00 p.m. Now? Time to get ready for “Survivor.”
Who’d you like? Who’s in trouble tomorrow?