The top seven "X Factor" contestants tackled the catalog of Michael Jackson on Wednesday (November 30), paying tribute to the late King of Pop while members of Jackson's family — including his brothers, mother and children — looked on from the audience.
Melanie Amaro earned the evening's best marks for her show-closing rendition of "Earth Song," dubbed "amazing" by L.A. Reid, who told the singer he felt he was not in the midst of a competition, but at an Amaro concert. Nicole Scherzinger called it one of the best performances of the season, and Amaro's mentor, Simon Cowell, told the 19-year-old, "I couldn't think of a better way to pay tribute to one of the greatest artists in the world."
Not all of Cowell's contestants fared as well. Rachel Crow received her harshest critiques yet from the judges, after the bubbly 13-year-old's take on the Jacksons' "Can You Feel It" — a rather obscure selection from one of the most celebrated bodies of work in the history of pop music — fell flat with the panel. "This is probably the only time I've watched you and didn't believe you were having a great time," Reid commented, a sentiment echoed by Scherzinger and Paula Abdul. Cowell backed his singer, saying the critiques were a result of it being "anti-Simon night," though he seemed less than over-the-moon when he told her, "You always put on a show, you look like a pop star, and you're having the time of your life."
Cowell's remark that it was "anti-Simon night" came from Scherzinger and Abdul criticizing 14-year-old Drew for doing a slowed-down, piano-driven "Billie Jean" while sitting in a chair, saying she wasn't being pushed enough as a performer. Cowell called Scherzinger's comment "absolute nonsense" and told Abdul, "Too much dancing, that's why your acts are out of the competition," while praising Drew for sticking to her strengths. Meanwhile, Reid, who week after week has been Drew's sharpest critic, begrudgingly complimented the singer. "It pains me to say this," he told her, "but I liked it."
Of all the evening's contestants, Marcus Canty gave the most physical performance, doing a sweaty rendition of "PYT" that included a mid-song backflip. Both Scherzinger and Abdul used the same words, calling Canty "the whole package," while Reid said he hoped the flip would flip him some votes. Cowell was more critical, saying Canty's vocals were compromised as a result of all the dancing.
Teen rapper Astro put a rejuvenated spin on "Black or White" and was praised for the youthful energy he brought to the song. Chris Rene, who also funnels his material through a hip-hop prism, did a stepped-up "I'll Be There," which Scherzinger said was the best he's ever sang. But splitting the hip-hop vote with Astro could prove costly, and Cowell predicted he'd need a lot of support to survive the week.
Meanwhile, 30-year-old burrito maker Josh Krajcik — Scherzinger's sole remaining contestant in the competition, and one of the show's favorites to win — opened the night with a rearranged, nearly unrecognizable version of "Dirty Diana" that Cowell called his "weakest performance so far," even as the other judges applauded his efforts.
Two singers will be sent packing on Thursday's results episode, which is also set to feature a performance from Tinie Tempah.
What did you think of the "X Factor" Michael Jackson tribute? Let us know in the comments!