Melanie, Josh, Chris, and Marcus are feeling good for the Top 4 performance show

By Annie Barrett
December 15, 2011 at 08:46 AM EST
Fox
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The audience is just openly booing Nicole Scherzinger now. It could be that all the X Factor automatons miss Rachel Crow, but I’m guessing it’s because they just don’t like Nicole and now that she’s stilettoed a young girl’s heart, it’s apparently legit to openly flame her. Whatever. You show up for national television in a knee-length Hypercolor lace dress, you roll with the punches.

Last night was the season 1 semifinals, or the “Sammy-finals” according to Steve Jones, who keeps adorably trying to make up for his accent by over-enunciating phrases like “Okey-doke!” when discussing Twittah. Is anyone honestly still annoyed by Stevecrest? How and why? Stop being ridiculous. He’s so tall.

This week we finally got treated to the refreshing and caloric Pepsi Challenge. It’s no longer just a silly cola taste-testing opportunity administered to random people on the street — that’s dangerous! Instead, it’s a privilege reserved for the Top 4 contestants of a reality competition — in this case, high school graduate Marcus Canty, Chris Rene, Melanie Amaro, and Josh Krajcik. Let’s get to ’em!

But first…looks like someone’s gearing up for my American Idol recaps!

Esteemed Colleague Email Interlude:

No need to learn anyone’s name in the meantime.

Three-time Save Me Song champion (“A triumph!” —Entertainment Weekly) Marcus Canty started the show off a bit uncomfortably by dangling a white rose over a pit of very special ladies. After initially shushing the audience, he was able to go through with his purple-denim-tuxedo rendition of Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You” as scheduled. It was a typical Marcus performance: Some notes worked, some notes didn’t, and the most consistent element of the production was something in the background — in this case, the reliable writhing-in-place of So You Think You Can Dance alum Allison Holker. She is everywhere! I love her, but Simon pooh-poohed the “zombie dancers.” Nicole (“BOOOOOO”) babbled something about how Marcus was bringing sexy back, and Paula delivered one of her signature unintentional dismissals: “You didn’t let anyone down.”

NEXT: All around the world, statues crumble for Chris Rene“It takes great taste to know great taste,” L.A. reminded Simon, and surprisingly this was not the beginning of a scripted plug for Pepsi (in which, in my dreams, the giant 2-liter behind Steve Jones might explode and then furiously lap itself up) but rather a meaningless sentence that L.A. had come up with all by himself.

Every time L.A. looks down at his cheat sheet before announcing his singers, I hope the cheat sheet will read Good luck! HAHAHA. But not this time: It was Chris Rene! The X Factor’s very own Lee DeWyze sang an out-of-breath version of Sugar Ray’s “Fly.” Despite some very solid efforts from the dozens of “seated people having fun” populating the stage, the performance was only “a 7 out of 10” according to Simon. Paula — still on a roll with unintentional putdowns — announced that Chris looked like “five million bucks after taxes.” You know it, Chris! You look like $2.5 million! Chris then inadvertently made the L-shaped “loser” hand gesture as he encouraged people to vote for him.

At least Chris looked a lot more expensive than Nicole (“BOOOOO”), who looked like someone had wrapped a bunch of these shiny rainbow pencils in cheap black lace and then breathed on them wrong.

L.A., clearly not infused with the bubbly spirit of the Pepsi Challenge, claimed that Melanie Amaro singing her Twittah fan Mariah Carey’s “Hero” was predictable. Well, so what? She and Simon “put a little twist” on the song by setting the first part of it to minor chords instead of major — thus taking the uplifting message to a sad and somber place, according to Paula. I don’t know if it was even that sad — I was actually thrilled that those soft piano notes could change the entire feeling of the song. Melanie looked and sounded like Leona Lewis here — gentler at first, forlorn instead of aggressive. I was also kept riveted to the performance by a sort of “Is it or isn’t it?” game wherein my eyes kept tricking me into believing that Melanie’s glowing-red mic stand was actually a giant sparkly zipper on the front of her dress. What that wasn’t was a giant zipper, and “What that wasn’t was karaoke,” summed up Simon. Shut up, L.A.

NEXT: How on earth did Pepsi approve a song with ‘Coca-cola’ in the lyrics?Do you think that if Josh Krajcik held you in his armchair, you could feel his dis-grease? We came a little closer to the answer as Josh performed The Beatles’ “Come Together.” I liked watching this! The fire was funny, he moved around the stage well without seeming like he was trying to dance, and one notable backup singer lady who was really feelin’ it nearly threatened to steal the show. It wasn’t until Josh’s second performance that he would really “attack our souls” (quoth Paula), but this was a good comeback number for Josh. “I think it would be a massive shame if you were the one to go home,” said Simon, who later assured Josh that he would be in the finals come next week.

L.A. Reid? More like L.A. RUDE! Line of the night: “What have you done to @_Bunnies, L.A.?” –Steve Jones

Now granted, I have the musical tastes of a middle-aged gay man, but I really enjoyed the idea of a techno club remix of Wham’s “Careless Whisper.” I’m not sure I loved the crucial “sung by Marcus Canty” element of this segment, but you can’t have it all. Simon wasn’t having any of it. “I’ve gotta be honest with you,” he geared up. “That was horrific.” According to Simon, this grotesque performance was like being in a Vegas show in 1983. See, that’s kind of why I didn’t mind it. More than any performance so far, this effort from Marcus — with the ridiculous white suit, the just-showing-off-at-this-point confetti overload, the bizarre song choice, and his terrible wink at the end — is something I would not immediately turn off if I came across it while flipping channels. I’d just have so many questions. Namely: How can this possibly be on the air, What year is it? and Am I about to die? Certainly L.A. Reid was wondering just that during his mid-song seizure.

L.A. Reid Seated Dance Move of the Night: Mild Epilepsy [via Rickey]

NEXT: Post-trauma, L.A. tells Chris ‘stardom is not about singing’Chris Rene‘s personal history package was by far the sobbiest of the night. He spoke of his late father, who’d tried to help him many times as Chris struggled with addiction. “Sorry for all the times I was bad,” Chris told his dad and the X Factor viewing public in one fell swoop. “I will make you proud.” [Starts to cry.] “And then he passed on.” [More crying.] [Knuckle tattoos.] Ooh, this one really got to me. I was tearing up a bit myself as an unfamiliar older gentleman with slicked-back hair and a grandpa cardigan started to play Alicia Keys’ “No One” on the piano. I wish Chris would have remained seated and finished the song like that; instead he yelled “Hit that beat!” and then bopped around the stage, sharing screen time with shadowy fringe-sleeved backup dancers and multiple cellists in the forefront. There were so many players I barely knew who to watch, and the billion quick cuts did not make it easy.

And the judges LOVED it! “Your spirit transcends across the universe,” said Nicole (“BOOOOOO”). “You may be the dark horse in this competition,” claimed Simon. And then there was L.A.: “Stardom is not about singing; it’s about lovability.” Can’t it be about both?

After a tepid personal history package, the highlights of which were @MariahCarey and a shot of Simon drinking out of a fancy teacup, Melanie Amaro delivered the true grit and jaw-dropping high note we’ve been waiting for from her all season with her rendition of “Feeling Good.” YES! Now that’s what I call range! This was magical!

Not even L.A. could find fault with Simon and Melanie’s “not predictable” song choice. He even called Melanie the “greatest female,” with perfect timing seeing as there are no other females left. Simon called her “a bit of an underdog” — in what universe, exactly? — and encouraged everyone to “please pick up the phone and put this girl in the final, purely based on talent.”

NEXT: The baffled King Krajcik composes ‘Hallelujah’“I’m totally voting for Melanie because y’all said she was being Doolittle’d!” wrote our fave EW.com Big Voice Correspondent Melinda Doolittle during last night’s live chat. Indeed — Melanie’s quiet consistency and unremarkable edits of late could send her home tonight. But after a performance like that? It was her freedom anthem, for Gosh’s sake! (Shut up, Nicole.)

(Aside: Whenever I hear “Feeling Good” I think of this incredible Six Feet Under season 4 promo where they all sing and caress oranges in the supermarket, except for Brenda who has to silently skulk away. End of aside.)

Many of you may be sick of the use of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” in musical reality competitions, which I think is uttah-ly ridiculous because anything that invokes the Marissa Cooper death scene from The O.C. is fine by me. Seriously, though, if the contestant is vocally up to this non-soda-sponsored challenge, why not go for a beautiful, classic song everyone knows and loves? Josh Krajcik and the day-to-night Christmas trees behind him sold the heck out of this performance — I was pleasantly surprised he was able to hold back during the first, more tender half before releasing the wails at the end. I’m always so impressed when singers turn out to be so expressive — when you’re at the piano and the only shot we’re going to see is of just your face, you’re going to have to be a pretty dynamic actor.

L.A. must not have been watching the GIANT SCREENS to pick up on Josh’s nuanced emotions, because he claimed the performance “lacked excitement.” A few doors down, Paula was sobbing. “L.A. How. Could you even. Say that?” she asked, gasping for air as she drowned in tears and Pepsi. Paula’s never seen a contestant quite like Josh, who “opens up his heart and gives every ounce of himself to the public.” Simon then pulled a fast one on us (that we all saw coming!) by starting out, “I’ve gotta be fair here….” and then agreeing with Paula!

And that was it! Who’s going home tonight, Ameriker?

And speaking of tonight (nice segue!), be sure to join us for tonight’s results show live chat, where I’ll be joined by co-host Mary Murphy — of So You Think You Can Dance judging (and EW.com blogging) fame! I’ve been wondering which “acts” she’d put on the Hot Tamale Train all season.

See you then!

Follow @EWAnnieBarrett

On the scene for the Top 4: Paula’s strutting, Rachel Crow’s doppelganger, and six other things you didn’t see on TV

Ask Annie anything about ‘The X Factor’ (or whatever) in the video player below. To see her answers to previous questions, click on the text links below the picture.

Read more:

‘X Factor’: Top 4 Best/Worst (PHOTO GALLERY)

‘The X Factor’: On the scene reports!

All of EW.com’s ‘X Factor’ recaps

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