The top 10 acts and their traumatic backstories would love nothing more than to make you cry. Happy Thanksgiving!
X Factor
Credit: Fox
Simon Cowell, American Idol

“AREN’T YOU GUYS EXCITED ABOUT THANKSGIVING?” Khloe Kardashian bleated. Yes, of course, Khloe! Jeez. I love Thanksgiving! I’d love it even more if The X Factor wasn’t about to brutally launch two homeless children from the red planet into the dark and desperate night moments before I”m supposed to attend Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, but sure, whatever. This show is much more important.

“These performances could get very emotional,” Britney Spears smugged. That’s a verb now. And it was true! The top 10 acts dedicated their performances to loved ones or military members — dead or alive — and I cried FOUR TIMES because unlike coach Demi Lovato, I did look at CeCe Frey while she sang to her late purple-loving sister that she was the wind beneath her leopard wings.

Tissues handy? Here we go!

Tate Stevens has followed in his father’s footsteps, having previously sacrificed a potential music career to raise a family instead. I thought this segment was cute and touching — of course I had no idea of the sob sessions to come. Longest-lasting impression: Tate’s dad was wearing a freaking sweet blue beaded necklace in one of those old family photos. The country man remained solid on his cover of “I’m Already There,” though nothing about it really stood out and I wonder if he’ll lose his top spot in the rankings without a memorable Thanksgiving sob story or better placement in the show. No worries, though. According to Simon, “there’s a not a cat in hell’s chance” Tate will go home.

Mario Lopez showed some stunning range on his series of “AAAAAND!” high notes. But does he have the X factor? I would ask Simon but he just fell asleep during Mario’s explanation of whatever The Pepsi Challenge is!

HERE we go with the tears. Apparently you can die from scoliosis and that’s what happened to Diamond White‘s mom — but just briefly! Deborah is still alive and on hand to talk about Diamond’s absent father. I got really confused when Britney suggested to Diamond that tonight Diamond could help her mom “just through your song — yore like a little angel, probably.” Was she still on the operating table? NO! She was in the audience, covering her mouth and shaking with pride as Diamond legitimately killed it on “Because You Love Me.” I couldn’t believe what a genuine X Factor moment this was!

This was when I sobbed the first time, by the way — watching the cuts between Diamond and Deborah — but I would’ve been just as happy with a constant Deb Cam. You can tell Simon is gunning for this little girl’s success — he called her “really amazing” without a whiff of boredom, though he did feel the need to compliment the other two 13-year-old girls in the same critique. I think Diamond and her denim vest might be my new favorites. Can’t have one without the other. They’re awesome.

NEXT: Yeah, well my spiritual leader told me it’s okay to eat a whole pie today Emblem3 is definitely growing on me. I’m not big on the group performances where everyone just jumps around and shouts, so I appreciated hearing each individual just sit and sing this time. They can carry tunes! Learning about the boys’ “spiritual leaders” (man, kids are advanced these days) added some humanity to them as well; I’d previously been holding onto an impression of Drew in particular that pegged him as a bully whose own talent didn’t warrant the dismissal of others in the same boat as him. (Not that talent should ever allow for that ANYWAY.) But now that he’s built houses for Haitian refugees in the Dominican Republic, I like him? God, I am so easy.

Drew’s spiritual leader Sean was rocking out way harder than brothers Wes and Keaton’s spiritual leader Ben during the trio’s cover of OneRepublic’s “Secrets.” It’s important that you know that. L.A. Reid thought this performance “lacked emotion,” which is totally absurd because none of the other Emblem3 performances have been emotional. I mean, out of everything he could have possibly said in the entire world, he picked that? ANYTHING else would have made more sense. “You didn’t sing well.” “I don’t like baseball caps with ‘PLAY’ emblazoned on them.” Anything! It’s like he’s not even in the same time zone as the rest of the people on the red planet. Seriously.

Mario Lopez left Drew hanging! He made sure to let us know of his incredulous concern as he asked about it three times before commercials.

HOW CUTE was the conversation between Arin Ray and his brother Aris (?!) backstage? The older Aris was trying to act all tough, and Arin’s eyes were darting all over the place as he thanked Aris for being there after their parents got divorced. “Seeing you here, everything I did, staying on you — it paid off,” Aris said as if realizing it right at that time. Whoa! Then their acknowledgment of how Arin would effectively be calling his older brother “Baby” during Enrique Iglesias’ “Hero” was just funny. Awwww, brothers. Unfortunately Arin never achieved a big enough “moment” in a song that overpowered him, according to L.A. and Simon. Arin vigorously nodded when Simon complained that Arin wasn’t getting to be himself.

“WHAT IS YOU?” demanded Khloe Kardashian. What Arin really wants it to be upbeat! “I wanna dance for you all,” he promised. Will the 13-year-0ld in the techi-leather jacket earn the chance to dance again?

Ohhhhhh Leopard Face. I love you again. CeCe Frey finished “Wind Beneath My Wings” with two perfect tears streaming down her face, but I was already way ahead of her during the package about her sister Kelsey, who suffered from cerebral palsy and died on Christmas Eve at 6 years old. What really got me was their mom, tearing up while describing how Kelsey had very little control of her arms, yet would try her best to hold still while lying with her baby sister CeCe. Leopard Face always felt that Kelsey was there protecting her, all the way from the purple haze of heaven. Ugh, I was just a goner when she started singing. I have no idea how she hit any of the notes — and to be fair she did not hit many in the first half of the song. Or the second half. But she’s a trier! That’s what Simon says.

At the time, I thought Britney’s critique — “It’s really hard to critique someone when they’re pouring their heart out like that. I just thought you were amazing.” — was a copout. And obviously it was, but as I’m recalling the performance I find myself wanting to give CeCe more credit for even remaining on her feet after that package. Oh, the drama! This is why Thanksgiving week should be a bye week, maybe. Or they could make it simple and vote out the person with the least amount of hardship in his or her life! (Khloe Kardashian.)

NEXT PAGE: Take me in, into Paige Thomas’ darkest hour Fifth Harmony, who would like to thank God, were largely drowned out by the backup choir on “I’ll Stand By You.” I don’t think they’ll be heading home, but I didn’t connect to any part of their performance or tearjerker package. Nobody had died — how dare they? My expectations for pre-performance drama had officially become absurd. The magic of Thanksgiving! Anyway, the judges offered them a total of 21 platitudes, including “so much emotion,” “touching and beautiful,” “harmonies are always on,” and “you can definitely feel the friendship.” I feel like this should be one of those gossip magazine quizzes with the answers in upside-down print, but it’s not even interesting enough to attempt that in Photoshop. Just head left to right down the panel and there you go.

Adopted Vietnamese twin sisters with learning disabilities and scabies! Suddenly I was re-hooked. Brutal but true. It’s their game; I’m just recapping it. Beatrice Miller dedicated her cover of “Chasing Cars” to 10-year-old sisters Georgia and Esther. They surprised her at the show and gazed up at her adoringly while one of them cried and the other mouthed the words. They are probably going to ask their two moms when they can get cool teal and red hair extensions like their big sis. “Not until you’re on a reality show that’s about to crush your dreams!” either Kim or Hillary would tell them. This was not Beatrice’s best performance and I actually agreed with Demi that many of her songs do sound the same — angsty and morose, overall heartfelt but just slowwwww. She does it well, though, and I don’t think she’d be believable jumping around the stage needlessly on a current teen hit. I mean, Beatrice lives in the ’90s, so wouldn’t that be kind of weird?

Even if you thought Vino Alan‘s decision to cover “God Bless the USA” — one of Simon’s faves, let him tell you — was pandering and cheesy, you gotta admit he did finish with a huuuuuge “moment” that could have warmed over even the stoniest of hearts. Vino’s increasingly frisky left hand was also working hard for the votes tonight. He’s easily the most bizarre and amusing live-action character on the show right now — muttering guttural nonsense in response to each judge’s critique (hilariously unnecessary) and wiping his sweaty mouth with a spare flag. Simon thought he’d slip up into the top spot with that crowd-pleaser, but would later change his number-one vote to Carly. People were saluting him! Vino can’t lose.

Khloe’s about to cry, y’all! No one knows why! No one saluted her, either.

It’s weird that I’m willing to overlook CeCe’s pitchiness due to emotional destruction but I have trouble forgiving Paige Thomas — the other act who had a loved one die on evil Christmas Eve — for bungling pretty much every time a note occurred during “Everytime” by Britney Spears. So much cringe. “I think you performed it beautifully,” said Britney herself. Of course. Demi, Paige’s coach, admitted the whole thing was pitchy and insisted Paige had sung it much better in rehearsal, which I totally believe. I don’t know… I want to love her, especially after last week’s sing-for-survival knockout, but I seem to be back to wondering why Paige is still here.

“You know I’m a fan,” L.A. Reid told Paige. As if!

Carly Rose Sonenclar went with “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as a dedication to her brother, even though the pre-performance package was mostly about her mother who’d suffered a severe stroke. It’s lovely to appreciate any and all family members but I didn’t feel much of a connection between Carly’s live performance and that package. It really doesn’t matter because the important thing is that Carly got the perfect opportunity to close the show with a stunning, lounge-y cover of a classic hit that started out super-drawly and languid and finished with more power than Khloe Kardashian exclaiming “Yes!” after everything Mario Lopez says. Sorry to bring them into it. That was wrong.

Carly was crazy good here, though; with the production value (love that low yellow spotlight) and caliber of the vocal, it seemed like she was performing on a completely different show. Or maybe…SHE IS AN ALIEN. That’s what Demi Lovato suggested, quickly adding, “It’s okay, because I love aliens.” Well phew. All four of the judges remarked for the millionth through million-and-fourth times that Carly is way too good to be 13. Yawn. Script some better lines for yourselves, overpaid princesses. The alien shtick is a start.

Are you thankful for aliens? Want to go hug your families? Who goes home tonight? Discuss!

And gobble gobble! Time to stuff yourself. While sobbing.

Episode Recaps

Simon Cowell, American Idol
The X Factor
Simon Cowell, Demi Lovato, Kelly Rowland, and Paulina Rubio judge Season 3.
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