Adorable Rachel Crow had it right: Tuesday's X Factor was a roller coaster.
It was the night we found out which 16 acts from the "judges' houses" round of auditions made it through to the live shows and which 16 got sent home.
Some of the choices were pretty much preordained since the first audition shows; a couple were head-scratchers; a couple were gut-wrenching; one made me want to slap Simon Cowell upside the head.
I'll spare you a blow-by-blow recap of the drama leading up to each reveal. It was pretty consistent stuff: contestant explains what getting to the next round would mean to them and how badly they want it; judge gives them compliments on their singing then throws in a "but"; judge says he or she has come to a decision; judge delivers the decision, sometimes with the screen cutting between multiple wannabes to keep us guessing a little longer; judge hugs contestant, whether or not they were successful, and sends them on their way; contestant gets a hug from host Steve Jones and dissolves into tears of joy or sadness.
The mentors had all disappeared by the time each hopeful faced the music. I guess breaking hearts wasn't in the contract.
What follows is each judge's picks and what I thought of them.
The Boys according to L.A. Reid: Brian "Astro" Bradley; Phillip Lomax; Chris Rene; Marcus Canty
Was there ever any doubt that Chris Rene was moving ahead after that first audition where he revealed that he was fresh out of rehab? Duh, not with that back story. I didn't love his audition at L.A.'s house in the Hamptons, but he's likable and someone that I'm sure viewers can root for, which likely has as much to do with why he's going to the live shows as his singing and rapping. Speaking of rapping, Brian's a talented kid but still too smarmy for my taste and it would have been nice to see somebody like Brennin Hunt, who'd been knocking his head against a music industry brick wall for years, get a break. The boy band-style phoniness could have been drummed out of him. Phillip and Marcus were both among my picks for the top four boys.
The Groups according to Paula Abdul: Brewer Boys; Lakoda Rayne; inTENsity; Stereo Hogzz
If I'd been Paula Abdul, even if I'd already made up my mind not to pick Stereo Hogzz, I would have changed it after seeing those flashy Crayola-coloured suits. I guess they ruined them by jumping fully clothed in Paula's pool after getting the good news, but it made for fun TV. And I should add that they can sing, too. Lakoda Rayne and inTENsity were also two of my picks for groups. These were the two cobbled together by the judges from failed solo contestants: four young women for Lakoda Rayne (yeah, still a pretentious name, but they can sing) and 10 youngsters for inTENsity. I didn't love the Brewer Boys' take on "Only Girl (in the World)" last week, but they can sing, they're cute and quite articulate for their ages (14 and 17), so they'll be fine.
The Over 30s according to Nicole Scherzinger: Josh Krajcik; Dexter Haygood; LeRoy Bell; Stacy Francis
I would not have wanted to be Nicole in this episode, despite the lovely home in Malibu. This was the most emotionally wrenching category to watch because this was a last chance at a music career for some of them, and with families to support and bills hanging over their heads, they had way more to lose than the kids in their teens and 20s. The pre-ordained pick in this group was Stacy. She'd had so much of a buildup that it seemed impossible for her not to make the live shows, especially with Simon calling her first audition one of the best he'd ever seen, but that doesn't mean it's undeserved. She killed "Purple Rain" in front of Nicole and Enrique Iglesias. I'm thrilled Josh made it through (you could argue that with his well-established back story as the burrito maker that he was pre-ordained too) because I love his voice. And LeRoy is such a good singer and it's so cool that he's doing this at the age of 60 that it's great to see him included. But man, do I feel sorry for Tiger Budbil. If his story about his house being up for auction and only getting work as a DJ two days a week is on the up and up, then it's pretty awful that he didn't get picked, especially since he really can sing. Nicole praised his voice and spirit and energy but said she wanted more from him as "an artist." I do believe those were genuine tears she shed after poor Tiger told her he felt his heart drop at the news. It's also a shame for James Kenney, whose voice I really liked and who said he works daily from 7 a.m. until 1 or 2 the following morning supporting his family. The big surprise for me was Dexter. Even he knew his audition at Nicole's place had not gone well. And is it mean of me to say he seems a bit unstable? I lost track of how many times he cried on camera on Tuesday. On the other hand, who would be churlish enough to not cheer on a homeless musician getting his break on a big-money reality show?
The Girls according to Simon Cowell: Simone Battle; Drew Ryniewicz; Tiah Tolliver; Rachel Crow
I think you could say 13-year-old Rachel and 14-year-old Drew were the preordained contestants in this category (and I would like to alter my previous poor opinion of Drew's judge's house performance: you were right, I was wrong, she was great) but I think it would have been a travesty if Simon had not included them, not least because Rachel shouldn't be denied her separate bathroom. Simon told Drew somewhat ominously she wasn't the best teenager who auditioned, then added, "You were the best contestant of the whole day. You are in my final four." Drew responded, "Are you kidding? Are you serious? Are you legit? Are you real?" which was the cutest reaction of the night. I grudgingly accept Simone, because she did sound better at Simon's house and she seems to have tempered the I'm too cool for school attitude, but I still would have liked to see Jazzlyn Little get another shot. Hopefully, that grit that Simon talked about seeing in her is for real and she doesn't let this setback become permanent. But I still think Simon made a mistake pushing through Tiah. To say she had "pitch issues" is an understatement. Maybe Simon's a genius after all and he'll turn Tiah into a great singer, but I have my doubts.
Meanwhile, how could he include Simone and Tiah and leave out Melanie Amaro, who could outsing those two with her vocal cords tied behind her back? Turns out he didn't leave her out. In a scene that seemed genuinely heartwarming, Simon showed up on Melanie's doorstep in Sunrise, Fla., and to the delight of her family apologized and asked her to come to the live shows. "You're a true man," someone whom I assume was Melanie's father told Simon. "He has a heart, baby," the dad told his daughter. "I have a heart," agreed Simon.
So the top 16 are now 17. And I have to say they cleaned up pretty good from what we saw of them at the very end of the episode.
Next Tuesday, we get two and a half hours of X Factor (so set your PVRs accordingly) as the acts go through yet more auditions, this time in a live show, to become what Fox calls the "top finalists." It starts at 8 p.m. on CTV and you can look for the recap here.
In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the judges' picks. You know the drill: comment here, on Twitter @realityeo or on my Facebook page.
(The photos of Chris, Dexter and Drew are by Aldo Rossi for Fox.)