The live rounds are finally here, and although I’m still peeved Cheryl Cole is nowhere to be found, it’s time to find new things to complain about!  Seventeen singers remain, but five warblers get their dreams shattered to bits tonight!!

“It’s all come down to this,” says the nattily dressed Steve Jones to open the two and a half hour show.  Mr. Jones, please remember to use that phrase during the finale, and NOT the first evening of the live rounds!!  Too soon!

L.A. Reid’s Boys crew is up first, with Brooklyn rapper Astro (Brian Bradley) starting things off with a several second ode to Wreckx-n-Effect’s hit “Rump Shaker,” as he raps “Check baby, check baby, 1-2-3,” before launching into Kris Kross’ “Jump.”  Full of swagger, Astro’s got enough charm and flow to make it to the final.  Simon Cowell says Astro is the most confident and obnoxious teenager he’s ever met, and added that it’s just tripled, saying “You’ve just come out on this stage, 14 years old, live, and you just killed everybody.”  And yes, Astro killed it, and we all know he’s making the final 12, but will his cockiness be his undoing?

Chris Rene, six months clean and sober, is up, as he sings “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore.”  He’s a cross between Remy Shand and Elliott Yamin, but with a deeper hip hop edge. Dig of the night so far: Nicole said it was a good performance, but she questioned L.A. Reid’s song choice.  Ouch!! Maybe I don’t miss Cheryl Cole after all!  Paula Abdul describes Rene as “infectious,” and Cowell sums it up perfectly: he’s probably not the best singer in the competition, but he’s one the best “recording artists” of the Top 17.

Jazz singer/crooner Phillip Lomax gets the short end of the stick, as L.A. Reid picks “I’m A Believer” (yes, a freakin’ Monkees song).  I suppose Mr. Reid wanted to see how far Lomax could stretch his wings, but when a singer lives and breathes Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Harry Connick Jr., and Michael Buble, where in the world does Davy Jones or Micky Dolenz fit in?  “Tonight you were like a racing driver, and L.A. put you into a tractor,” said Cowell.  “The song is too cheap, it’s too throwaway, it’s too cabaret, and L.A., on this guy, you 100% failed.”  I’ve been harping since last week at Nicole’s decision to put Dexter through over James Kenney and Elaine Gibbs, but throwing Lomax under the bus with a ridiculous music number was absolutely wrong.  L.A. Reid said that Lomax owned the song and he was no longer imitating Frank Sinatra.  Note to L.A.: better to imitate Sinatra than a cheap Las Vegas lounge act!!

Marcus Canty, who looks like a younger version of Dallas Cowboys legend Michael Irvin, is ready to “capture the moment” with…”Do You Really Want to Hurt Me.”  Although he’s a good kid, knows how to dance, and has a solid voice, I just don’t see the “X Factor” in Canty.  “Marcus, honey, you just make it look too easy,” said Scherzinger.  “I just have one thing to say – you were born to be on that stage.”  Sure, as a group member or part of a musical production.  But as a lead singer to open up a concert?  Absolutely not.  This is “X Factor” not the “Pretty good” factor!  That being said, all the judges loved him.

Out of the four boys, Reid eliminates….Phillip Lomax. With last week’s elimination of Tim Cifers, and the two strongest vocalists from Reid’s camp are gone, although Chris Rene’s a diamond in the rough.

It’s Paula Abdul time, as the Groups section are ready to perform.  The Stereo Hogzz take one the Otis Redding staple “Try A Little Tenderness” .  It’s a polished performance, and they’ve definitely improved under Abdul’s direction.  Cowell loves the Hogzz, saying there’s no band on the charts like them, and he even admits that Paula has done a real good job with the Hogzz.  Would love to hear them do a version of “Nights Like This,” that hit song from The Five Heartbeats, but like everything else in my life, I digress…

The Bieber, I mean The Brewer Boys, start things off with a countrified version of “Rich Girl” and move into “Faith” and back to “Rich Girl.”  They’re cute, they’re lovable, and they give a completely likable performance.  L.A. Reid, in a case of the pot calling the kettle black, tells Paula Abdul that she was out of her element in mentoring the siblings.  “I believe in those boys,” said Abdul.

As a closeted High School Musical fan, I’m pulling for InTENsity, and watching them perform “The Clapping Song” and “Footloose” in a gumbo pot of goodness is totally Disney Channel.  I’m slopping up every minute.  Though they entered the competition as soloists, they were thrown together by the judges as a group.  So far, Ellona Santiago is the Alpha Dog, but I’d love to see the other 500 members of InTENsity shine as well.  Ah…Nicole Scherzinger just called them “yummy pumpkins.”  Simon sees them as the “young Glee,” and he singles out the girl “in the red jacket” (Ellona) as having an “amazing voice.”

And speaking of cobbled together groups, we now have Lakoda Rayne or, as I would like to call them, Three Blondes and a Brunette (sounds like a CBS show!!).  The photogenic foursome charm their way through “Come On Eileen,” a performance which is blah and safe, but they’re all beautiful young ladies and this is television, so who cares?  L.A. Reid says he’d sign them right now to a “worldwide recording contract” if they walked into his office. L.A., after what you did to Lomax, can you sign him too?   Girl group vet Nicole Scherzinger says they make “girl groups look good.”  Paula gets teary just thinking about Lakoda Rayne. The more I think about Hayley Orrantia, the more I forget about Dia Frampton!  Stalker much??

A predictably teary Paula Abdul eliminates …. The Brewer Boys.  Nathan Brewer broke my heart when he tells Paula, “Thank you so much for the opportunity, I’m sorry we didn’t live up to your expectations.”  She tells The Brewer Boys she loves them but before she can properly explain herself (a Paula trait which is a time killer), Steve Jones interjects, “We’ve got to move on.”  Got to give Mr. Jones credit having the guts to cut her off and keep the show moving.

It’s Nicole’s turn, as the over-30s are up.  Out comes Dexter Haygood, stealing an outfit from Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and belting out a wailing, over-the-top, version of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl.”  Cowell describes Dexter as “interesting” and “unpredictable,” and Nicole is just “proud” of Dexter for remembering the lyrics.  If you mix a pinch of James Brown, add a dash of Jimi Hendrix, and splash a bit of Mick Jagger, what you don’t get is Dexter Haygood.

We transition from butchering a Katy Perry track to the laid back vocal stylings of 60-year-old Leroy Bell, as he takes on one of my favorite Pink songs, “Nobody Knows.”  It’s a solid song choice from Scherzinger, although L.A. Reid complimented Bell and cracked “I would have given you a better song.”  Zing!! Paula Abdul compares Leroy’s voice to velvet and Michael BoltonSimon Cowell says he wishes he, and not Nicole, was mentoring him.  Double zing!!  I hope Bell gets a shot at covering a Bill Withers tune down the road.

Stay at home mom and constant crier Stacy Francis does her version of George Michael’s “One More Try.”  L.A. Reid says he’s proud of Francis already because she’s not crying so “don’t start.”  Paula says she gave a “brilliant delivery,” but Simon didn’t like the choice of song or her outfit.  “What you are, and you are brilliant at this, is that you are a church singer,” said Cowell.  “And I wouldn’t have chosen that song.  I would have done something which is the kind of record you should be making.”  Wow.  Simon is really hammering Nicole, who defends herself and says the performance gave Francis “wings.”  Actually, it made me miss Elaine Gibbs even more, but in fairness, Francis deserved a better song tonight.  Wait…Francis just told Simon she wants to be a pop star and not a church singer, but before she could ramble on, Steve Jones thankfully cuts her off.  Okay, now I really miss Elaine Gibbs.

Last, but definitely not least, is my X Factor favorite, former burrito maker (and I’m assuming Joe Cocker disciple) Josh Krajcik.  He does “Forever Young,” and although his performance didn’t wow me like his audition, that’s like going from an A+ to a A-.  Not one to shy away from hyperbole, Paula says he has the favorite voice she’s heard in over a decade, Simon adds that he is the singer he fears.  “You’ve got it all going on,” said CowellNicole said it was a “soul stirring” performance.

Nicole has to send one of the over-30s home, and thankfully it’s Dexter Haygood, who says he was “kinda confused” with the decision.  He’s in a “boggle zone.”  I’m in a happy zone.

Simon Cowell’s girls close out the show, as Simone Battle gives an unmemorable and near lifeless performance of “Just Be Good To Me.”  L.A. Reid dishes out the meanest critique of the evening, telling Cowell that he still doesn’t understand why he put Simone through (Caitlin Koch, come on down!!).  “I just don’t get it,” says Reid to Cowell.  “You must be really rich, because $5 million dollars clearly doesn’t mean much to you.”

Precocious Rachel Crow, blessed with a smile of a thousand sunshines (I have no idea what that means, sorry) combines “Baby Where Did Our Love Go” and Justin Bieber’s “Baby” and delivers one of the evening’s better performances.  L.A. Reid says her career could go beyond music and into acting.  Nicole takes a half hearted dig at Simon, telling Rachel she would have picked a song that showed off her vocal range.  Paula jumps on the let’s insult Simon wagon and agrees with Nicole’s assessment.  Simon, who never backs down from a verbal sparring match, says the audience will disagree with the two judges, describing them as “Squiddly and Diddly.”

Another of my X Factor favorites is Drew, that Fiona Apple/Sarah McLachlan sounding 14-year-old who can turn a song on its head and make it her own.  She transforms  Irene Cara’s fevered tempo “Flashdance” into a bittersweet, introspective tune, and if there’s one singer who can make my face turn into a pool of Stacy Francis and Dexter Haygood tears, it’s Drew Ryniewicz (Simon dropped her last name, but I’m keeping it!).  All the judges loved her, with Nicole calling her “my little folk princess.”  Simon adds that Drew is a huge reason why he wanted to come back to American television – to find someone like her.

I’ve been a huge supporter of Tiah Tolliver ever since Paula and Nicole snubbed her during the audition rounds.  Simon Cowell has championed Tiah throughout the competition, and he gives her “Sweet Dreams.” Clothed in ominous black and surrounded by dancers amidst a Tim Burtonesque backdrop, Tolliver was a definite trooper, but Simon definitely steered his girl wrong with this misbegotten number.  Nicole sums it best:  “Well if that was a sweet dream, I hate to see what one of the scary ones are like.”  Simon defends Tiah, saying she worked her “nuts off” and describes Paula and Nicole as “two spiteful little cats” who will never recognize Tiah has potential.

The last girl is 19-year-old Melanie Amaro, who Simon initially cut but came back to make his final five.  She is gifted the Whitney Houston showstopper “I Have Nothing.”  L.A. Reid describes her as “unbelievable” even though the song choice was “predictable.”  Nicole says she is “grateful” that she’s back on the show, and Melanie tears up.  “I now have to make the hardest decision I’ve ever made,” says Cowell.

Simon has to send two of the five girls home.  First girl through is Drew.  Second is Rachel Crow.  And the Melanie AmaroTiah Tolliver and Simone Battle are gone.  Well, Simone Battle is still in our hearts, thanks to the catchy and amusing music video, “He Likes Boys.”  Watch below – you may like it!!

So there you have it.  Phillip Lomax, Dexter Haygood, The Brewer Boys, Simone Battle, and Tiah Tolliver are history.  Did you agree with the judges’ decisions?  Did Steve Jones finally win you over by getting the show done on time?  Tell us what you think!!

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posted by Greg Srisavasdi