The top 9 give thanks to moms, BFFs and gospel choirs in a Thanksgiving-themed episode

By Hillary Busis
Updated November 23, 2011 at 09:59 AM EST
Fox

The X Factor

S1 E17
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Howdy, folks! Annie’s a little busy with the liiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive season finale of Dancing With the Stars, so I’ll be filling in for her tonight. During last week’s results show, the XBox was shaken to its very core when Lil’ Astro acted like an ungrateful snot. The X Factor’s logical next step? An episode themed around graciousness, of course. As Simon says, each contestant will “dedicate the song to somebody who’s made a difference in their lives and who they want to thank. BUT” — and here’s the twist — “it’s still a competition.” Devious!

The X Factor Alien X bursts through Earth’s atmosphere, destroying everything in its wake, as we open on a jolly Steve Jones. (Or, as my roommate insists on calling him every single week, “Who?”) Seems that the stakes are higher than ever this week — on tonight’s results show, two acts will get the boot. Maybe the season will end by Christmas after all. Also, as the episode progresses, we’re encouraged to tweet snarky things while using the hashtag #ohsnap. Guess #talktothehand and #doiiiii were otherwise occupied.

Rachel Crow, who somehow is not starring in The Muppets, is up first. Did you know she was born to a crack-addicted mother who abused her? Yeah, Rachel might just win tonight’s implicit sob-story-off. Her pre-song video package also includes some footage of adorable baby Rachel that may have been taped all of two years ago. She wears a ridiculous, floor-length, open-fronted plaid skirt while singing “I Believe” by Yolanda Adams. Wikipedia tells me the song is featured on the soundtrack of Simon’s second-favorite movie, Honey. As I watch Rachel belt, I believe that confetti will eventually rain from the ceiling; soon, I’m proved right. When she’s done, Nicole says Rachel has made a believer out of everyone in America. Not to be outdone, Paula lets loose this stream of nonsense: “If anyone ever questions that there are angels on the earth, living, it is you.” Does Paula know how angels work? Or how living works?

NEXT: Marcus is good to Mama

Marcus Canty wants you to start looking at his mom, because she is perfect and beautiful and the source of all that is holy. His “A Song for Mama” could easily be a song about Marcus’ girlfriend if one replaced all the “Mama”s with “baby”s, but maybe it’s best if we don’t go there. The lyrics also sound like they were written by Paula: Mama, you’re the queen of my heart / Your love is like tears from the stars. Mama, you’re like an angel on the earth, living. Nicole predictably adores his take on Boyz II Men, while Paula also thinks Marcus has done it again. (New drinking game: Take a sip every time a judge says this to a contestant.) And then we see the problem with Fox’s singing competitions in a nutshell: Simon says, “I’m going to be honest with you,” and the crowd immediately starts demanding his head. Those fickle spectators are back on the judges’ side after L.A. tells Marcus that he’s as great as any great singer L.A. has worked with. (How does that taste, Avril Lavigne?)

Melanie Amaro dedicates her song to the man upstairs, and I’m not talking about Rupert Murdoch. “Why’d you pick…the Lord?” that be-hatted vocal coach asks her, using the same inflection one might use to say, “Drew, why’d you pick… that dress made of colorful garbage?” Melanie sings “The World’s Greatest,” which seems a teensy bit hubristic considering the context — is she saying God has made her the world’s greatest? Or is she singing from God’s own perspective? Or does she just really love Muhammad Ali? As she ad-libs, the white-clad choir that backed Rachel reappears to surround Melanie like she’s doing the solo in “Seasons of Love.” (Which, for the record, she would kill.)

It’s all well and good, but Melanie doesn’t really come alive until her critique — and once she starts talking, she just will not stop. When she chokes out that she’s dreamed of this moment all her life, the judges all stand and applaud themselves for being benevolent enough to put her on the show. Then Nicole asks if she can come up and give Melanie a hug, and I roll my eyes so far into the back of my head that I briefly black out.

NEXT: The triumphant return of “Young Homie”

When I come to, it’s time for Chris Rene, who also has a pretty great sob story. Unfortunately, it’d have a lot more impact if we didn’t already know it. Chris shows his love for Tim Fry, the counselor who helped him get clean, with a hip-hoppified version of “Let It Be” performed before a screen depicting pearly gates — subtle. There’s so much fog onstage that he does not appear to have legs below the knee. Just when his Beatles song is getting a little too excruciating, Chris abruptly switches gears and serenades us with another rendition of “Young Homie.” The CGI pearly gates then swing open to reveal a profound message: “Love Life.” Here come the eye rolls again. The judges like the performance, since Chris is pretty good at that one song. But unfortunately for everyone, the show’s not called “Young Homie Factor.”

There are four members of Lakoda Rayne and they’re all thankful for different people. I’d be thankful if the blondes would dye their hair different colors so I could finally tell them apart. Lakoda’s version of Taylor Swift’s “You Belong to Me” is thematically iffy and harmonically wonky, but it’s also bouncy and fun. And the gals aren’t dressed as seasons or horsewomen of the apocalypse or whatever, so there’s one less thing for Simon to nitpick. When Lakoda’s done, Nicole excitedly says that she felt like she was watching them in concert, perhaps because she was. Paula weeps. “Fabulous, fabulous stuff,” says Steve, who is thisclose to pulling out a stopwatch.

Nicole tells us that Leroy Bell’s song goes out to his late mother, who is “probably part of the reason he’s here today.” Ah, so she has an elementary grasp of human reproduction. We learn that during the Panic of 1819, when Leroy was a teenager, his mom bought him his first guitar. But it’s tough to think about guitars when Leroy goes into Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel,” a song that will never not make you think about despondent puppies.

When Leroy and our old pals the gospel choir — at least Simon’s getting his money’s worth — are through, L.A. cautiously says that he liked the song but it wasn’t Leroy’s very best. Audience members immediately start foaming at the mouth and tossing their feces at L.A. Everything is everyone’s very best! How dare a judge judge something! Stop looking at Leroy’s mom!!!

NEXT: Astro tries to win back the crowd

“Absolutely amazing,” Steve tells Leroy after the pitchforks are put away. “It felt like a song you were singing for your mum.” Let’s just call the race for the Outstanding Reality Show Host Emmy now.

Wondering whether Astro would apologize for his temper tantrum? The answer is “sort of” — in his pre-performance video, he mentions last week’s “thingie” and says he didn’t meant to disappoint his fans. This week’s rap is set to Jay-Z’s “Show Me What You Got,” and it begins with a truly half-assed explanation for Astro’s behavior: “What you want me to do? I’m sorry, I’m from Brooklyn!” You’re still not totally getting the “humility” thing, Brian.

The rap contains a lot of pandering to the Astronauts, and a nifty listing of different states, and a line about fans in “places I can’t pronounce, like Nova Scotia.” (From where I’m sitting, Astro manages to pronounce that one just fine.) It’s polished and professional, like Astro performances of those bygone, pre-November 17 days. Before the judges can do their thang, Astro preempts them by saying he could have handled himself better last week — note how he still hasn’t said the words “I’m sorry” — and promises his sweet lady Hip Hopera he’ll never let her down again. Paula asks Astro if she can be an Astronaut, which prompts some cringingly awkward banter between her and Simon. All is now right with the world.

Who is the most important person in the world to Drew? IDK, her BFF Shelby? Shelbs has had Drew’s back since second grade, and she’s always telling Drew she’s beautiful just the way she is. Shelby may or may not actually be Mark Darcy. These two are so close that they even have their own theme song — “Skyscraper,” a Demi Lovato tune about a plucky lady architect. As Drew croons, I’m distracted by the ghastly apparition on the screen behind her, who seems steps away from plummeting to a second death. This is inspirational?

Actual criticism alert! L.A. doesn’t like the song because he thinks it sounded like a tune written for a 40-year-old. Somewhere, Demi Lovao pulls out a hand mirror and starts desperately examining her pores. Drew then gets kind of worked up, shooting back that everybody needs a friend like Shelby. Which wasn’t really his point, but okay! Paula agrees that everybody needs a friend. Real controversial stuff on the show tonight, guys.

Ugh, then Simon picks a stupid fight about L.A. “trying to make people feel that Drew is worthless.” It’s idiotic and totally out of left field, but at least it prompts this brilliant rejoinder from Steve: “This has to stop right now, please. [Pause] Thanksgiving.”Josh Krajcik closes the night with a tune for his 13-year-old daughter, Rowan, who will probably be starring on The X Factor Juniors next season. The grand piano and fog-filled stage give his performance of “Wild Horses” a Phantom of the Opera vibe, which is somehow a good thing. When Josh emerges from his custom spotlight cage, a teary Nicole tells him his music could change the world. Next season, I want the show to introduce a Hyperbole Jar — it’d double as a fun bit and a way to temper ballooning production costs.

Tonight we say goodbye to two acts after special performances by Kelly Clarkson, Bruno Mars, and, as I understand it, a sentient Pepsi can. Who do you think will end up unexpectedly having Thanksgiving dinner at home?

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Simon Cowell, Demi Lovato, Kelly Rowland, and Paulina Rubio judge Season 3.
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