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'The X Factor' recap: The top 5 tackle dance songs -- and a twist

December 8, 2011 |  9:45 am

It was dance song night Wednesday on "The X Factor," but it was the second, non-dance half of the show, when the top five contestants performed a song they'd chosen (but had had only one day to prepare) that was more likely to bring audiences to their feet.

Let me just cut right to my main thought here: Where has Chris Rene been hiding that talent these past weeks? Under a backwards baseball cap? And why, after wowing us all with his original song "Young Homie" during his very first audition before the judges, has he been lying so low for so long? Honestly, you could be forgiven for thinking, before he launched into his original song, "Where Do We Go From Here," in the last moments of Wednesday's show, that Rene, while an appealing fellow, had overstayed his time in the competition. But as it turns out, Rene just wasn't performing the right songs. He should have been singing his own songs. And by that, I don't mean his raps layered on top of other people's songs; those just haven't been doing it for me. On songs he has written, Rene's voice, while not a powerhouse, has a sweetness, an honesty and a raspy emotionality that make you want to keep listening to it. Simon Cowell called Rene's risky decision to sing his own material a "stroke of genius." Agreed. This song could well have put him on the path to a come-from-behind victory. Who would have predicted it?

And the other contestants? Really, it's not impossible to see (almost) any of them winning either:

Melanie Amaro just seems to get more and more comfortable as a performer. Every time she steps out on that stage, she seems to take it as another opportunity to show us that she's something special –- her voice, her presence, her conviction. She did it twice again Wednesday night, with a dance version of Adele's "Someone Like You," in which she made the song sound as if it were her own, and Whitney Houston's "When You Believe," on which she simply soared. Who knows how the voters will go -– we've seen bright vocal talents knocked out of competitions like this all too early before -– but Amaro has far and away the strongest, ripest voice of the lot, and a powerful, passionate presence as well. A true diva.

Josh Krajcik passionately delivered Rihanna's "We Found Love" and the Beatles' "Something" Wednesday night. And while neither was my favorite performance from him, his vocals were rich, rough and soulful, as always. Then again, I know what Cowell meant when he (meanly) said Krajcik sometimes looks insane when he sings,  and I also get Nicole Scherzinger's retort that that's called getting lost in the music. Debate the merits and demerits of his impassioned delivery all you want, Krajcik's performances have resonated enough with "X Factor" voters to get him this far. They may take him further still.

As a performer, Rachel Crow is uneven, but you could also call her mismanaged. She connects much more strongly with audiences on the songs she picks for herself, which reveal a much deeper, more serious, more mature side than the chipper kid-star tunes mentor Cowell selects for her. After the Drew debacle, Cowell may finally understand that. He seems to be backing off, introducing one of Crow's numbers Wednesday night by noting that she had not only picked the song herself but also would perform it without a chair, a reference to his mistake with Drew. Crow did surprisingly well with B.o.B's "Nothing on You" and followed up with a performance of Michael Jackson's "Music and Me," which started off a little shaky but then found its power spot and stayed there. Cute as a button and both teen- and grandma-friendly, Rachel, too, has a shot.

You've got to hand it to Marcus Canty. After being in the bottom two and singing for survival two weeks in a row, he came back not demoralized but galvanized. He delivered both his songs -- Chaka Khan's "Ain't Nobody" and Leon Russell's "A Song for You" -– as if his life depended on it. The judges rightly praised not just his vocals but his honesty as a performer: One of them called him a "storyteller." Canty is a strong performer and a very sweet presence on that stage. If he goes out this week –- and I'm guessing he will -– he will at least go out strong.

As for that "war" Cowell promised to wage against the other judges, or at least the female judges, thankfully, it never quite seemed to materialize. Cowell is undoubtedly a creep and he did manage a few unnecessary catty comments here and there: He fantasized about a Nicole Scherzinger voodoo doll. He offhandedly intimated that Scherzinger and Paula Abdul were basically the same person. At one point, he told Scherzinger to "get lost," which prompted L.A. Reid to stand up and applaud. (Very disappointing there, L.A.) But things never really got too out of hand. Of course, we're still two weeks away from the finale. Depending on who gets sent home this week, tempers may yet flare again. …

What did you think of Wednesday's show? Who do you hope will be sent home this week? And who do you hope will stick around for the win?


'The X Factor' results: The final five are revealed

'The X Factor' recap: Summoning the spirit of Michael Jackson

'The X Factor' results: The lucky seven remain as two head home

'The X Factor' recap: The top nine give us a lot to be thankful for

-- Amy Reiter

Photo: Melanie Amaro performs in front of the judges Wednesday. Credit: Ray Mickshaw / Fox