Yes, it was “time to face the music,” in the overheated words of “The X Factor” pretty boy Steve Jones, who makes one long for the wit and wisdom of “Idol” host Ryan Seacrest.
The survivors have been designated, the shocks out of the system and at this point, it’s anybody’s guess which of the four finalists—big-voiced Melanie Amaro, feel-good story Chris Rene, heartland soul belter Josh Krajcikand song-and-dance man Marcus Canty—will be the $5 million winner and star of their own Pepsi Super Bowl spot.
Dubbed the “Semi-Finals,” the final four will be reduced to three tomorrow night, strictly by public vote, and the winner will be announced from the remaining three next Thursday night. With the judges now back to their accustomed role kibitzing the contestants, the field has been leveled again, after the shenanigans over the last few weeks which eliminated two of Simon Cowell’s three remaining prodigies in Drew and Rachel Crow.
What he’s left with, though, is the acknowledged front-runner, and the only female left in the competition, Amaro, who is turning into the show’s version of “X Factor” U.K. winner Leona Lewis. Huge, sturdy voice, perfect for soaring ballads. Or as L.A. puts it, “predictable.”
Tonight, she stood out, not so much for her own performances, but the lack of anyone stepping up and grabbing the lead from her.
The contestants sang two songs tonight, the first, part of the so-called Pepsi Challenge postponed from last week, where viewers vote on the tunes for each of the finalists.
Marcus Canty, who has already ducked three straight “Save Me” song bullets, a fact championed by his mentor L.A. Reid, took on Boyz II Men’s “I’ll Make Love to You” in a dark suit and tie, which wasn’t much of a stretch. Nicole said, “You are bringing sexy back in a classy way.” Paula reiterated her description of him as “the entertainer of the group… You gave 150%.” Simon didn’t like the staging (“Distracting and corny”), which I’ve felt all along is an unfair criticism, while L.A. insisted, “It takes great taste to know great taste. You’re still here and giving you’re all. Keep doing your thing.”
Returning in a white suit for his second song, Canty speeded up George Michael’s “Careless Whisper” into a dance tune which I thought was one of his better performances. He admitted in a taped segment that he was “shocked” when Rachel Crow was sent home instead of him last week. “It gives me motivation to go out there and keep competing.” And that he did. Nicole loved it: “To me you’re already a champion.” Paula thought it worked, but Simon once again blasted the presentation, and its dancers, as “horrific… The song was absolutely wrong, like a Vegas act in 1983. This was a joke. You deserve better.” L.A. disagreed, pumping up his guy: “Week after week, he gives a fabulous performance. You look like a change, not an underdog.”
Chris Rene just opens up his heart and sings, which is almost always good thing. The viewers picked Sugar Ray’s “Fly” for him to do, and it was the perfect choice, a vaguely hip-hop blue-eyed pop song right in his wheelhouse. Nicole agreed. “What I love about you and what American loves about you is you just make us feel good.” Paula said, “Your heart resonates with the world. Keep spreading it.” Simon gave the performance a “seven out of 10…You have to come out with more conviction and focus.” L.A. thought his charge “dazzled like a major star. Keep doing what you’re doing. It works.”
For his second number, Rene sat at the piano and took on Alicia Keys’ “No One,” dedicating it to his late father, and performing it in his own inimitable manner. The kid may not have the greatest voice, but he has a way of connecting with the audience. “Your spirit transcends across the universe,” gushed Nicole. “I love everything about you. Your confidence and transformation is awe-inspiring,” added Paula. “You’ve just delivered big,” said Simon, who called him the “dark horse” in the competition. “Your dad would be incredibly proud. You’ve got heart.” L.A. encouraged his charge: “Stardom is not just about singing, but lovability and you have lovability.”
Melanie Amaro didn’t surprise anyone with her first choice, Mariah Carey’s “Hero,” but the arrangement climaxed with an incredible high note that may have delivered that $5 million. “That was really, really, really good,” said L.A., not her biggest fan. “Buyt I didn’t feel your usual passion and love for the song. Nicole loved that American chose that song, adding, “You’ve grown into the woman you are. Inspiring and liberating to all of us.” Paula called her voice “impeccable… it inspires me,” though she quibbled about how the arrangement turned the major chords into minor ones. “It didn’t all for that happiness.” Simon defended the treatment: “It wasn’t karaoke. It’s called putting your stamp on the song. That was bloody fantastic.”
For her second number, Mel pulled out all the stops with a version of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” that wowed the panel, with even L.A. admitting, “That was not predictable… You killed it. You are the truth, young lady.” Nicole called it “the Melanie Amaro freedom anthem.” Paula said, “You’re letting go and I love it.” Simon went into his spiel about “this is why we brought the show to America…to find someone like you. This was your greatest performance on the show so far.” And it did nothing to dispel her favorite status.
Josh Krajcik remains a long shot, and he didn’t necessarily help himself with two rather predictable song choices, though the public picked “Come Together” for him to do, which is tough taking on John Lennon. “I rather enjoyed that,” said Reid, who called it a comeback from the last couple of weeks. Paula praised his “ability to attack our souls… I would pay to see you perform. You’re brilliant.” Simon thought it was a return, pointing out “You haven’t got Cruella de Ville putting those dance routines in back of you… I think it would be a massive shame if you don’t make the finals.
Alone at the piano again, where he is arguably at his most effective, Josh turned to that old warhorse “Hallelujah” (“I wanted to take a desperate, beautiful love song and emotionally connect with it”) and while it was an impressive turn, it didn’t really separate him from the pack. I do think it earned him a trip to the finals, though “I’m a huge fan,” said L.A., “But that lacked excitement.” Paula tearfully disagreed: “He opens up his heart. I’ve never seen a contestant like him. You’re the one to beat. Beautiful, brilliant.” Simon started off with his ominous, “I have to be honest with you,” before saying he agreed, not with L.A., but Paula. “You did what it takes to get into the final.” Nicole defended her man: “You recognized the simple truth, a beautiful prayer, a gift to all of us. That was just breathtaking.”
Was it enough to get Josh into the final three? Can anybody beat Melanie? Who’s the next to be sent home? Who do you think deserves to stay? Who had the best performance tonight? Let us know.
SEMIFINAL POWER RANKINGS
1. MELANIE AMARO: It’s hard to lose, but at this point anybody is capable of putting on a $5-million-winning performance. Can she keep from being predictable?
2. CHRIS RENE: He seems to be a fan favorite, and young girls are obviously the strongest voting contingent. His story is great, he tugs at the heart, but will his lack of a game-changing voice be a game-changer?
3. JOSH KRAJCIK: He’s my personal favorite, and I think he has an outside shot, but the burrito baritone’s just not landing the knockout blow he needs at this point to overcome the favorites.
4. MARCUS CANTY: The plucky underdog has had to “Save” himself three straight times, so he’s used to getting off the floor, but there’s no such safety valve with the public along weighing in tomorrow night.
1. Melanie Amaro, “Feeling Good”: She nailed it, what more can you say? The best pure voice in the competition, and now that she’s shown her heart, it’s a combination that’s gonna be difficult to beat.
2. Chris Rene, “Fly”: Perfect song for him and showed what he does best. He may not win this competition, but I bet L.A. Reid knows what to do with him.
3. Melanie Amaro, “Hero”: The note she hit midway through was what you might call a money shot…$5 million worth.
4. Jojsh Krajcik, “Hallelujah”: Predictable choice, but a marvelous performance that could well earn him another week to land his best punch.
5. Marcus Canty, “Careless Whisper”: He proved he’s not just a ballad crooner, but where are the dance moves? Those could vault him right back into this thing.
6. Josh Krajcik, “Come Together”: A thankless task doing a John Lennon song, but he didn’t disgrace himself, either, like Aerosmith did on the Sgt. Pepper movie soundtrack album.
7. Chris Rene, “No One”: An Alicia Keys song was not an obvious choice, and the performance on piano was serviceable, but it was no game-changer.
8. Marcus Canty, “I’ll Make Love to You”: Yeah, the audience picked it for him, but he did nothing to embellish or make it his own.