'Tis the season for the sixth-season finale of the serial-killer drama “Dexter,” followed by the freshman-season finale of “Homeland.” Claire Danes and Damian Lewis star in the latter series, a conspiracy thriller for our post-Sept. 11 world. (Showtime, 9 and 10 p.m.)
Romance of the nerds: The two-part special “Geek Love” spotlights Sci-Fi Speed Dating, a matchmaking service designed especially for the costume-clad Comic-Con crowd. So what time should my mom and I pick you up? (TLC, 9 and 9:30 p.m.)
Where my divas at? At “VH1 Divas Celebrates Soul.” Mary J. Blige, Kelly Clarkson, Florence + the Machine, Jennifer Hudson and Chaka Khan are among the singers taking part in this special benefiting music education in public schools. (VH1, 9 p.m.)
Feast and be festive with the debut of “Lidia Celebrates America,” a series of culinary specials with celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich, starting with four holiday tables: Italian Christmas Eve; Mexican-American Christmas; Chinese New Year and Jewish-American Passover. (KOCE, 8 p.m.)
There's no place like “A Home for the Holidays With Martina McBride.” The country music superstar (above) is joined by the ubiquitous Justin Bieber and the aforementioned Ms. Blige for her annual event promoting the cause of adoption. (CBS, 8 p.m.)
After Wednesdays night's last sing-off, it's Part 2 of the season finale of “The X Factor,” the talent competition noteworthy if for nothing else than reuniting Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, the Bickersons of “American Idol” fame. (Fox, 8 p.m.)
A study in Scarlett: The glamorous Ms. Johansson (right) — star of stage and screen, tabloid fixture, red carpet sensation, sometime recording artist and onetime Mrs. Ryan Reynolds — is profiled on a new “Biography.” (Biography, 7, 8 and 11 p.m.)
'Tis the night before you-know-what, and that means holiday favorites like the 1946 classic “It's a Wonderful Life” starring James Stewart and the annual 24-hour marathon of the nostalgic 1983 tale “A Christmas Story.” (NBC, 8 p.m.; TBS, 8 p.m.)
Photos: "A Home for the Holidays With Martina McBride"; credit: Randi St. Nicholas / CBS. "Biography"; credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press
In a remarkably unsuspenseful results show, Marcus Canty was sent home on "The X Factor." That means the three contestants who made it to the finals were, as expected, Chris Rene, Melanie Amaro and Josh Krajcik.
Because there was no final showdown, no judge decision, nothing but voter results to determine the final outcome, the producers had a lot of time to fill, but they didn't really pack the night with much razz or matazz. There were three performances to burn time. The final four turned in a pretty good mash-up of "No Diggity" and "Shout." Florence + the Machine performed the song "Spectrum" from the album "Ceremonials" in a deco-inflected stage production complete with Erte poses, stained glass and classic ballet dancers.
"X Factor" judge Nicole Scherzinger premiered her new song "Pretty," which Simon Cowell, who was sitting in Scherzinger's chair at the judging table, critiqued thusly (channeling Scherzinger, he said): "I believe in you. You believe in me. You transcend the universe. God is smiling on you. Life is a waterfall, and you are the ultimate rainbow."
Cowell was clearly feeling pretty pleased with himself after learning that Amaro had made it through. Rene and Amaro were the first to hear they'd cleared the hurdle for the finals, though of course the results, as host Steve Jones never hesitates to remind us, are given "in no particular order." That left Canty and Krajcik to sweat it out. In fact, Krajcik, awaiting his fate backstage, didn't appear too concerned. He was anxious to begin preparing for the finals, he said. Canty, meanwhile, looked like he knew it was all over, but since he'd successfully (miraculously) cheated fate before, you couldn't fault him for holding out some hope that America would, as he put it, "just give me a chance."
Alas, America opted not to give Canty any more chances. Eventually, after a pause that Jones didn't stretch long enough to build tension -- perhaps rightly fearing that the audience would simply fall asleep -- it was revealed that Krajcik and not Canty had earned that final spot in the finale. No one seemed terribly surprised.
"Why you looking sad, Steve?" Canty asked Jones, who said he didn't want to see Canty go home.
"Trust me, this is not the last time you will see Marcus Canty," Canty vowed.
Jones tried to get Canty to admit to at least some disappointment, reminding him he had come "so, so close" to the finals. But Canty wanted only to reassure his fans and send a message to family at home: "Stop crying. It's ai-ight. Relax," he said.
Mentor L.A. Reid said he'd "be lying" if he said he "wasn't a little sad," admitting he'd felt a particular connection to Canty. But, he said, Canty is a "major star, a great singer" and had his support, which is not nothing coming from an industry mover and shaker like him.
"It ain't over yet, y'all. It's not over yet," Canty said.
I, for one, believe him.
Are you pleased with the results -- or outraged by them? And who do you think will win the whole thing next week?
Do we all agree that the three (out of the four) remaining acts who should make it to the finals on "The X Factor" next week are Melanie Amaro, Josh Krajcik and Chris Rene? Are there any die-hard Marcus Canty fans out there clamoring for him to pull off yet another miraculous squeaker to survive? Actually, I'm sure there are many of them — Canty's a talented singer and clearly a sweetheart of a guy. But judging from the performances on Wednesday night's "X Factor" semifinals, in which the contestants performed one song selected for them in a Pepsi-sponsored vote and another of their choosing, it seemed that Canty's time may soon be up.
Of course, you never know which way the audience vote will go, as booted "X Factor" contenders Rachel Crow and Drew Ryniewicz would surely attest. But Amaro, Krajcik and Rene all kicked it up at least a few notches during the semifinals, and Canty, well, in his best moments he got lost, and in his worst, he made us squirm.
I blame L.A. Reid. He's repeatedly made cheesy production choices — cheap-looking, lingerie-clad dancers who paw at Canty, for example — on Canty's behalf, which keeps landing the singer in the bottom two. (Three times!) Once there, Canty saves himself by shining on songs in which he is allowed to connect directly with the audience, sans flashing lights and flashing mud-flap ladies. If none of that stuff were there in the first place, Canty might have had a smoother ride in this competition.
But this week there is no save-me song. These two performances count for everything. And while Canty's vocals managed to rise above the stage shtick — a single white rose handed to some random "special lady" in the audience, a scantily clad hair-flinging dancer, billowing stage smoke — on his first song, Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love to You," he was completely overpowered by the ridiculously gyrating "Chorus Line" rejects and confetti on his rendition of Wham!'s "Careless Whisper." Simon Cowell called Canty's second song "horrific," "grotesque" and "an absolute joke." Cowell put it a little strongly, but he was pretty much right.
Meanwhile, the other three contestants fared much better. Despite not having the best voice in the competition (as the judges repeatedly reminded him last night), Chris Rene put his seductive sweetness — or, as Reid termed it, "lovability" — on display in both his songs last night, not to mention in a pre-performance video package in which he wept because he so deeply wanted to make his late dad proud. He might not be the best singer, but in a between-lyric "uh … uh" competition, Rene would win hands down. He also moves well onstage. And he's cute. I thought his first song, Sugar Ray's upbeat "Fly," worked pretty well. (Cowell rated it a seven out of 10.) His second song, Alicia Keys' "No One," worked even better. It showed not only that Rene can play piano, but that he looks just as adorable in a grandpa cardigan and tie, with hair slicked back, as he does in his backward-hat street-tough look. Smart move, that outfit — it will net him both the grandma vote and the young-girls-who-dream-of-bad-boys-with-golden-hearts vote. Even Cowell was affected, telling Rene he could be "the dark horse in this competition."
Melanie Amaro sang a solemn version of "Hero," with the writer of the song somewhere in the house and a stamp of approval from the singer who made the song mega-famous, Mariah Carey. Amaro killed it, as usual, though the judges' response was mixed. (Reid didn't feel Amaro's "usual passion.") Then she sang a rousing, inspiring, just freaking amazing version of Nina Simone's "Feeling Good" and brought the house down and the judges to their feet. Reid, who mentors the boys, called her "the greatest female that's ever graced this stage," which would seem like higher praise if she weren't the only woman left in the competition. Amaro has incredible range, beautiful tone, tremendous vocal control, an impassioned delivery, a hard-core work ethic, a heartwarming smile and a moving backstory. Who knows how the vote will go? But I'd like to see her win.
Which is not to say that Josh Krajcik doesn't also have much to recommend him. He did a bang-up job on his Pepsi Challenge song, the Beatles "Come Together," and then tackled a long-time favorite song of mine that has, alas, lost much of its power to move me now that it's a singing-talent-show chestnut, Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Song staleness aside, Krajcik's gritty, tender voice caressed all the right notes and admirably attacked the others, but I felt he got a bit lost behind the piano. Still, Krajcik is soulful, unslick, kind-eyed and has someone out there he communicates with in sign language: He'd be a worthy winner too.
What do you think? Who should advance to the finals, and who do you want to see win the whole thing?
Oh, the outrage! Poor "X Factor" judge Nicole Scherzinger is being pilloried by the show's fans for dooming Rachel Crow by punting to the popular vote rather than sending Marcus Canty home after Thursday's save-me sing-off. One Show Tracker commenter called Scherzinger a "coward." Sniffed another, "A judge who cannot judge is not a judge." Hollywood Life editor Bonnie Fuller even wrote a furious blog post calling -– in very strong terms -- for Scherzinger's head.
Of course, people complained last week when fellow judge Paula Abdul didrender a judgment -– sending Drew home to save Canty -– rather than letting the people make the decision in "deadlock."
Abdul has thrown her support behind Scherzinger, tweeting, "All we can do is the best that we can and you did your best Nicole!" And even Crow has asked the show's fans not to blame Scherzinger for her elimination. "I don't understand why people are taking it out on her," Crow told People magazine. "It's no one's fault." But the controversy -– and the way things have played out -– raises some very real questions about "The X Factor's" elimination process.
One big one was pointed out by Show Tracker reader Audrey Wijaya after Thursday night's sad, strange elimination: "The point of having a save-me-song is to give the bottom two a chance to survive despite the lowest vote. If both did well, it is fair to go into deadlock and let the vote determines who goes home. But tonight, clearly Rachel delivered the better performance, so the judges (or, Nicole) should've done their job and sent home the one who did not do as well. Otherwise, what's the point of having a save-me-song? Just send home the lowest vote each week ..."
Good question. Why does "The X Factor" have a save-me sing-off each week at all? (Apart from the fact that the producers need some way to fill the hourlong results-show time slot and that the performances are often pretty darn dramatic.) Should the judges actually have a say in who gets eliminated? Or should the audience vote alone determine who goes home, as it does on "American Idol," where, once the competition gets rolling in earnest, the judges' only power, when it comes to who stays and who goes, is one measly judges' save per season?
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:
The single-named competitors have been sent home: Drew and Astro were voted off "The X Factor" Thursday night in a double-elimination results show that I, personally, sort of wished had been a triple elimination show – with host Steve Jones being sent home as well.
Here's hoping Jones ticked off Simon Cowell enough for that to happen. Jones certainly seemed to risk just that in the final moments of the show, after the judges had given Drew – and not Marcus Canty – the heave-ho.
After Astro had been sent home with the least amount of votes and Chris Rene, Melanie Amaro, Rachel Crow and Josh Krajcik had been ushered through to the next round, it came down to Canby and Drew in the "save-me song" round.
Drew was in and out of tears, trembling, looking very much like the 14-year-old girl she is. But she emerged for her song looking relatively composed, and sang "Listen To Your Heart" with trademark passion and artful vocal maneuvers. Miraculously, Drew not only sang well, she also pulled out her moves: a slow, deliberate walk around the bottom lip of the stage. (Hey, it was something.)
But then it was Canty's turn to sing, and he literally sang for his life. Throwing everything into "Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)," including his upper notes, which cracked with raw emotion. It wasn't the most polished performance. But you knew he meant it.
It was Michael Jackson week on "The X Factor" on Wednesday night, and while host Steve Jones insisted that the evening was all about "the preshah!" it was really all about the fact that Jackson's kids (and mom and some of his brothers) were in the house. Yep, Prince, Paris and Blanket, kept essentially hidden by their father before his death, were in the audience, front and center and looking as if they'd rather be any place else.
Could they have looked any more bored by the onstage goings-on if they had tried?
Jackson's mom, Katherine, declared -– audibly only after she was finally handed a mic -– that "The X Factor" was her favorite show. But the kids looked as if they had been beamed in from another planet and had no idea precisely where they were and what they were doing here. Unfortunately for them -– and for the poor contestants onstage struggling to curry favor with their father's songs -– the camera kept cutting to the unsmiling, clearly unimpressed Jackson kids, deflating whatever other enthusiasm the contestants had worked up in the crowd.
Pressed to do so by Jones, the kids did their best to make the appropriate appreciative noises, but honestly, it was a little painful. It's hard to imagine that the fiercely protective and private (with his children) Jackson would ever have put his kids in that spot. Remember how he used to keep their faces covered when they went out with him in public?
As far as performances, the night did have its highlights. It also had its head-scratchers. And sometimes it was hard to decide which was which.
Josh Krajcik chose an odd song (Jackson's "Dirty Diana") and performed it in a cage, with scantily clad dancers writhing around him, but still ended up looking and sounding like a gritty champ.
Astro took Jackson's "Black or White" and made it his own with a heartfelt rap about racial tolerance. (I'd really love to read through the lyrics of all of Astro's songs, but this one in particular. The kid's a true poet with important things to convey. It's unfortunate that it can be hard to catch all the words.)
Drew, meanwhile, was bizarrely confined to a chair by Simon Cowell as she sang "Billie Jean." The vocals were possibly Drew's best yet, but it seemed like yet another missed opportunity for Cowell and Drew to show that the singer can move around at all -– even a little bit -– onstage. It's starting to feel as if Drew's voice comes from a singer in a straitjacket. It's certainly possible that Drew could win this competition by relying on her voice alone, but that sort of undercuts what Cowell has said the show is. It's not supposed to be only a singing competition, right? But rather about being, to use one of the judges' favorite phrases, the "whole package" –- isn’t that what they keep telling us?
Rachel Crow tackled "Can You Feel It," and although you might have expected Crow, with her bubbly energy, to really shine on Michael Jackson night, it was the most checked out we've ever seen her onstage. Perhaps Cowell is overmanaging the talented contestants he's mentoring -- because the most comfortable we've ever seen Crow onstage was when she was allowed to channel her mature energy on the Etta James song she picked. That's the Crow I'd like to see more of, not this high-top, bubblegum version.
Marcus Canty, on the other hand, appeared to be in his element with the King of Pop's "P.Y.T. (Pretty Young Thing)." He sang, he danced, he even did a flip onstage. (Risky move, that -– what if he hadn't pulled it off?) Despite the dancing mudflap girls projected on the video wall behind him, Canty came out looking like a class act. If his fans don't rally after seeing him just avoid elimination last week, and he doesn't make it past this week, you can't say he didn't give it everything he had.
Before he took the stage to sing "I'll Be There," Chris Rene revealed that he has a family connection to Michael Jackson: His grandfather wrote the song "Rockin' Robin," which the Jackson 5 made very, very famous. Rene's version of "I'll Be There" showed off the sweet tone that has kept him in this competition (his rap-inspired "uh, uh's" may be among the loveliest I have heard) but also displayed his lack of range, though some notes were hard to decipher over the background singers. I think it's unlikely that Rene will have another moment in this competition that's as transcendent as his "Young Homie" audition. We'll see if the voters are still holding out hope.
Melanie Amaro again made the biggest impact onstage, looking gorgeous and passionate and singing an absolutely triumphant version of Jackson's "Earth Song." Now that she's come out of her shell and showed us who she really is, where she's come from, and what's at stake for her, it's as if she's been released from a cage. She could go far.
At this point, I'm thinking Amaro and Krajcik are the ones to beat here. As for who will go home in Thursday night's double elimination, well, it's probably anyone's guess, but I'm saying Canty, Rene and Crow are in danger. On the other hand, Astro's fans will still need to stay vigilant to keep him in the competition. And Drew's restrained stage style may not sit well with voters.
What do you think? Who would like (and hate) to see sent home?
By the end of "The X Factor's" Thanksgiving week results show Wednesday night, seven acts were feeling very thankful indeed, and two acts – manufactured girl group Lakoda Rayne and hipster-oldster Leroy Bell -- were heading home for the holiday.
Lakoda Rayne got the bad news first. After Kelly Clarkson performed her song "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)," prompting host Steve Jones to compliment her "pipes," and the circus-attire-sporting top nine clambered up on a rotating turntable to belt out "Raise Your Glass" and "So What" in a fun, frisky production number orchestrated via an Internet poll, Jones put on his somber visage and summoned Lakoda Rayne and Drew to the stage.
"I know this comes as a surprise," Jones said, meaninglessly. Based on the results of the "X Factor" votes, one of the two acts would move on to next week's show; the other – the week's lowest vote-getter -- would be sent directly home. Would it be Lakoda Rayne, the highly attractive group of women that had climbed doggedly toward mediocrity? Or would we have another results-show shocker, with the talented young Drew prematurely dispatched back to her small town?
Tick-tock, tick-tock … Jones waited out the clock and then delivered the highly predictable news: Bye-bye, Lakoda Rayne!
The Thanksgiving Week theme on "X Factor," as we were often reminded, was "giving thanks." No big surprise there. But, as it turned out, Tuesday's episode brought us all a lot to be thankful for. For instance:
More backstory: I've complained before that "X Factor" hasn't revealed enough about the contestants' offstage lives, which lowers the emotional stakes. On Tuesday night's show, the contestants each dedicated their performances to someone they were grateful for, and before they stepped out on the stage to sing, we got to see them speaking revealingly about their lives and loves, mothers and daughters, fathers and friends, troubles and triumphs, hopes, dreams and enduring faith.
In some cases, these segments added depth and detail to stories we already knew: Rachel Crow's parents described the abuse and neglect she'd suffered in the first few months of her life, before they adopted her. Chris Rene told us about the car accident that made him quit drugs and turn his life around, and he paid tribute to the counselor who helped him do it. Marcus Canty recalled the sacrifices his single mom made to keep her children safe, provide for their futures and cheer them with song. Josh Krajcik revealed that the young love that had, when he was just 17, resulted in the birth of his now-teenage daughter had also led to an early heartbreak that had made him lose his way in music; he was now determined find musical success, he said, if only to serve as an example for his daughter.
In other cases, the stories felt almost, or even completely, new: Drew described her adorable relationship with her longtime "bestie," Shelby, reminding us that, despite her vocal maturity, Drew's still just a kid from a small town. (That's something L.A. Reid might try to remember the next time he unfairly criticizes her just to needle Simon Cowell.) The always-chill Leroy Bell got choked up as he told us about his mom, who died a few years back, and the unwavering belief she had in him. The girls of Lakoda Rayne paid tribute to the supportive dads, boyfriends and grandparents who stood behind them. And most movingly, Melanie Amaro, who dedicated her performance to God, revealed the faith that had gotten her through a longtime childhood separation from her parents and her early difficulties adjusting to life in the United States after she finally came here from the Virgin Islands to join them.
Well, although the ultimate outcome of the "X Factor" results show Thursday wasn't a total shocker -- Stacy Francis, who'd started the competition strong but recently had stumbled and made a particularly uninspired Rock Week song choice, was sent home, buying nine other acts at least another week in the competition -- the show itself packed a few unexpected twists and turns. There were revelations. There was attitude. There were moments in which contestants nearly went rogue. (Oh, the exciting possibilities of live TV!) Like the best results shows, nothing seemed predetermined and we were kept guessing until almost the end.
The anything-can-happen vibe was set right from the get-go during the opening number, in which the top 10 contestants sang Queen's "We Will Rock You." Leroy Bell, whose microphone gaffe earlier this season led to the disclosure that "The X Factor" performers regularly lip sync during group numbers, had another glitch that revealed just the opposite. He forgot to sing his solo line when the camera swung his way, and we heard vocal-track dead air until he picked it up again. (I will not call it a senior moment.)
Honestly, it just made my regard for Bell swell. (He's so chill, that guy.) I was sad to think he might be in danger this week. I'd figured he, Francis, sole remaining group Lakoda Rayne and perhaps even Chris Rene were vulnerable. But no, host Steve Jones put on his serious face just after he checked in with the judges (Simon Cowell said that, aside from his own mentees, he thought Josh Krajcik and Astro had been Rock Week standouts) and gave us a quick one-two punch of unpredictability: Both Bell and Lakoda Rayne had been voted through to next week.
Is it me, or is "The X Factor" getting boring? Actually, I know it's not just me. My 8-year-old son, a die-hard "American Idol" fan who kept me company this past summer when I was assigned to write about "America's Got Talent" as well, told me Thursday morning he wasn't sure he wanted to keep watching "The X Factor."
"It's not that interesting," he noted.
And when Rock Week (apparently a loosely defined term) is a snoozer, you know things are not on a great track.
I've already listed things I think the producers could change to make the show better, and as the weeks wear on, it's only clearer that host Steve Jones is dragging down "X Factor's" energy and sense of fun. (It's not just his accent that's a distraction, but also his stiff manner and the way he abruptly and frequently interrupts the judges to keep the show on track timewise –- like some kind of smarmy schoolmarm.) But the show's troubles go way beyond its host.
Let's take Wednesday night's illustratively dull episode as an example.
1. A theme that meant nothing: If you're going to have a rock 'n' roll week, have a rock 'n' roll week. Two out of the four judges -– L.A. Reid and Simon Cowell –- allowed the contestants in their categories to perform songs that in some cases had only the slenderest rock creds (Bob Marley's reggae hit "No Woman No Cry" -- Reid's choice for Chris Rene? Yeah, not buying it) and in other cases allowed their contestants to take both the rock and the roll out of the songs: Paula Abdul was right when she said Cowell mentee Melanie Amaro "took us to church" (not the church of rock) with her take on R.E.M.'s "Everybody Hurts." And on U2's "With or Without You," Drew continued her moody crooning without once picking up the pace. Abdul was also correct when she advised Drew to use the themes to allow her to experiment with genres and styles and take risks. (Talk about a missed opportunity!) All the contestants should have been encouraged to do that. Playing it safe may keep them on the show, but it might not keep audiences watching.