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'The X Factor' recap: Back to the judges' homes

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The remainder of the final 32 contestants performed at the judges' homes — perched on the edges of swimming pools, set atop sweeping vistas and tucked under weeping waterfalls — Sunday night. And as host Steve Jones (whose pronunciation of Maryland we can now add to the ever-growing list of words he says funny) repeatedly informed us, the "girls" were with Simon Cowell (but not Mariah Carey) somewhere in France, the "boys" were with L.A. Reid (and Rihanna) in East Hampton, N.Y., the "over 30s" were with Nicole Scherzinger (and Enrique Iglesias) in Malibu, and the "groups" were with Paula Abdul (and Pharrell) in Santa Barbara.

Over the course of the two-hour show we saw the following performers sing:

Jazzlyn Little: Cowell said at auditions that he could see her becoming a major star, but Little still hasn't managed to shed her nerves. She sang Chantay Savage's "I Will Survive," but will she? One of the three show staffers (a vocal coach and two music producers) summoned to kneel at Cowell's feet said he found her too "high-school talent show."

Brennin Hunt: This pretty-boy singer said he wanted to be "bigger than Lady Gaga." His voice has an appealing gruffness that his face and demeanor lack. But Rihanna said she found his take on "Like A Star" by Corinne Bailey Rae "a little bit corny" and reminiscent of a "'90s boy band."

Josh Krajcik: The soulful burrito maker revealed that he had a daughter, for whom he intends to set a positive example by winning this competition. He also revealed a bit too much chest underneath his button-down shirt as he dug deep and emerged triumphant on Roberta Flack's "First Time I Ever Saw Your Face." I wouldn't mind seeing him win; I also wouldn't mind seeing him wash his hair.

Tim Cifers: We know from last year's "American Idol" that male country singers can win TV singing competitions. Cifers tugged at the heartland's heartstrings with "Dance With My Father" by Luther Vandross. Is he "The X Factor's" answer to Scotty McCreary?

Rachel Crow: This 13-year-old in search of her own bathroom has the eye of the tiger, telling us that, though she views her fellow contestants as pals, she also sees them as competition. "I want that chance to blow America away," she said, adding that "whatever happens, it's gonna be epic." Cowell called her performance of the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" "unbelievable," but I was so-so on it.

LeRoy Bell: The man who makes 60 look so good — and so cool — put his appealing rasp to work in Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love." He's a veteran musician who's performed with lots of big names (Van Morrison, Al Green, Erykah Badu, LeAnne Rimes) and wrote a Grammy-winning hit for Elton John ("Mama Can't Buy Me Love"). [http://leroybell.com/] Will his experience work for or against him?

Tiger Budbill: Until he stepped up and showed his impressive range Sunday night, I had written Budbill off as a random grab-bag contestant, chosen by the judges to add variety and a good recession storyline (a 42-year-old DJ, his family's house is one step away from foreclosure, he's told us) but unlikely to progress. With "Don't Give Up On Me" by Solomon Burke, he earned my respect (don't give up on him!) and prompted Iglesias to shrug off Scherzinger's concern about Budbill's "marketability" (read: Is he young and pretty enough?). "I don't think there should be any rules when it comes to music," the young, pretty Iglesias said.

Marcus Canty: This singer from "Marry-land" said he wanted to make his mom proud. He certainly made Rihanna fidget, looking deep into her eyes as he sang "All My Life" by Casey & JoJo. "I felt like a fan," she told Reid. "He made me feel really good with that performance."

Tiah Tolliver: This lush-lipped, sloe-eyed singer, whom Cowell fought for in the audition rounds, proved herself to be more beautiful to look at than to listen to on "No Diggity" by Blackstreet. She's fine, but competition is tough in this category.

Christa Collins: A former child star (she said she paved the way for "Britney and Christina"), she's at the young end of the Over-30 category. She's got style — Iglesias loved her — but I kind of agree with Scherzinger. Collins, while a talented, intense performer, didn't really connect with me on "No Surprises" by Radiohead.

Chris Rene: I've loved this guy from the moment he stepped out onto that stage and sang his "Young Homie" rap during auditions. He not only moves fluidly and sings with a certain ethereal tone, but he has, I dunno, some sort of glow. After hearing him sing "Everyday People" by Sly and the Family Stone, Rihanna says she wants to know more about Rene. Reid concedes that Rene is "one of the special ones."

Melanie Amaro: At 19, Amaro is already a remarkably consistent performer. You just know when she steps onstage she's going to belt it to the heavens. (Cue camera shot of treetops.) Her big-voiced, goosebump-inducing performance of Michael Jackson's "Will You Be There" blows Cowell clean over on his outdoor couch.



Oh, and there were some groups in there, too. Seriously, does anyone aside from the group members' own mothers care about that category? Can anyone out there even keep the groups straight? At one point, the producers showed an abbreviated version of one group's performance while cutting to b-roll of the group members talking about how much they wanted to make the next round. That even the producers can't properly pay attention to the performances is not a good sign.

The best thing about the group performances on this episode was getting Pharrell's take on them. He said of one group, the Disney-esque "X Factor" creation Intensity, "That was like a cookie. There were some really good star morsels in there."

We'll find out on Tuesday night who will go through to the next round. My top four in the three soloist categories (I'll let Abdul and Pharrell worry about the groups) would probably be … let's see …

Girls: Drew Ryniewicz, Melanie Amaro, Tora Woloshin, Caitlin Koch

Boys: Chris Rene, Marcus Canty, Brian Bradley, Tim Cifers

Over 30s: Josh Krajcik, Stacy Francis, LeRoy Bell, and either Tiger Budbill or Elaine Gibbs

I could see the judges making other choices, though. How about you? Who do you want to see go through?

RELATED:

'The X Factor' recap: First visit to judges' homes

'The X Factor' recap: Who will survive boot camp

'The X Factor' recap: Final auditions find a few gems

— Amy Reiter

Photo: Rihanna and L.A. Reid judge "the boys" at Reid's home in East Hampton, N.Y., on "The X Factor." Credit: Jeffrey Niera / Fox

 
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