The second half of the final 32 "X Factor" acts performed in front of the judges at their respective homes on Sunday's episode, vying for spots in the top 16. Those 16 will compete in the show's live episodes and ultimately battle it out for a $5 million recording contract.
The judges were joined by celebrity consultants for this round. Rihanna partnered with L.A. Reid at his home in the Hamptons to evaluate the boys; Pharrell Williams helped Paula Abdul critique the groups in Santa Barbara, California; and Enrique Iglesias assisted Nicole Scherzinger while she evaluated the over-30s at her home in Malibu, California. Over in France, Simon Cowell was joined by a team of industry professionals to assess the girls after his original co-judging choice, Mariah Carey, was detained due to a hurricane.
First up for the girls was early favorite Jazzlyn Little, who, despite her imminent stage fright, made a lasting impression early on with her rendition of Mary J. Blige's "I'm Goin' Down." Her nerves seemed to have gotten the better of her again prior to performing, though she pulled through on a stepped-up version of Gloria Gaynor's disco classic "I Will Survive." Impressed, Cowell said the 16-year-old "put herself back in the frame," though vocal coach Savan Kotecha was rougher, dismissing the performance as "a little high school talent show."
Rachel Crow is too young to even enter a high school talent show, yet the 13-year-old sang a resonant version of the Backstreet Boys' "I Want It That Way" on Cowell's back patio. Cowell called it "unbelievable" and sent Crow off with a "well done, you," which had the spiral-haired teenager beaming. Tiah Tolliver, the 20-year-old Washington singer for whom Cowell has fought hard in the competition, put a showy spin on Blackstreet's "No Diggity," which seemed to divide Cowell's aides, though Cowell argued yet again, "I always thought she fits in this show." But he didn't have to do any convincing of the merit of 19-year-old Melanie Amaro, whose take on Michael Jackson's "Will You Be There" caused Cowell to mock-faint on his patio couch.
There was no mock-fainting going on with Rihanna, but she was clearly intrigued by Chris Rene, the garbage collector and recovering addict who performed "Everyday People" for her and L.A. Reid at Reid's picturesque estate. "He has something very special. I want to know more about him," Rihanna told Reid, helping confirm Rene's status as one of the show's early frontrunners. Ri-Ri was also intrigued by 20-year-old Marcus Canty, who sang K-Ci & JoJo's "All My Life" directly to her, though she said she was unconvinced of his potential star power.
Rihanna was less impressed with Brennin Hunt, the 26-year-old with the soap-star good looks, whom she called "corny" and said he gave off a " '90s boy band" vibe following his performance of Corinne Bailey Rae's "Like a Star." She liked 30-year-old country singer Tim Cifers, who performed a twangy version of Luther Vandross' touching "Dance With My Father," though L.A. Reid was disappointed by him. "I wanted so much more from him," he said.
In the over-30 group, Josh Krajcik — whom producers somewhat hilariously insist on referring to as a "burrito maker" — caused Iglesias and Scherzinger to debate his potential star power. The husky singer "is not your typical star," Iglesias said, and Scherzinger agreed he's "a little rough around the edges." But both seemed pleased with his version of "The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face," and the "burrito maker" seems poised to live another day in the competition. Meanwhile, 42-year-old wedding DJ Tiger Budbill seemed to be making a direct plea to the judges with his version of Solomon Burke's "Don't Give Up on Me," which hit home but also had Scherzinger questioning his marketability. (Didn't she notice his name is Tiger Budbill? What more do you need?)
Christa Collins, meanwhile, a former child star who claimed to be the prototype for Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, sang an awkward version of Radiohead's "No Surprises" that left Scherzinger wanting more "pain" and "emotion" from her. And from Scherzinger's perspective, nerves got the best of 60-year-old LeRoy Bell during his rendition of "Make You Feel My Love," which could hurt his chances going forward.
In the groups category, the standouts were the Stereo Hoggz, the Houston group whom Pharrell praised as mixing Motown soul with Ginuwine swagger, and Intensity, the group of 10 outcast solo artists who were put together as a group by the judges. They performed an exciting mash-up of the Ting Tings' "That's Not My Name" and Hall & Oates' "You Make My Dreams Come True."
On Tuesday's "X Factor," the top 16 acts will be chosen, leaving the other half to pack their bags and say goodbye.
Who do you think should make the top 16? Let us know in the comments!