Following last week's shocking elimination, Wednesday's episode of "X Factor" began on a somber note as the final four contestants continued to compete for a spot in next week's finale episodes. Each performer sang two songs, including one chosen by the fans -- a fitting move considering that tonight's elimination is in the voters' hands, rather than the judges.
Despite being in the bottom two for the third time last week, Marcus Canty is still hanging on to the "X Factor" competition. But whether he'll be able to make it through another elimination is doubtful at best. His first song, chosen by fans in the online Pepsi Challenge, was a cliched performance of Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love To You," complete with a single cheesy rose, random modern dancer and excessive winking. Paula and Nicole of course loved it -- because in reality, they never criticize anyone unless it's a dig at Simon -- and L.A. supported his mentee like always. Simon took a more realistic approach, calling the performance "very distracting, very corny" and too close to the original.
Video: Marcus Canty, "I'll Make Love To You"
Following Marcus was the second and only remaining contestant from the Boys category, Chris Rene. The sometimes-singer/sometimes-rapper sang Sugar Ray's "Fly," a performance that was a little too much of a '90s throwback, but was pretty decent overall. "I love the choice of song," Simon told Chris. "Was it the best vocal I've heard from you so far? No. It was a good performance but it wasn't mega-vocal." He then challenged Chris to really shine on his second song. All criticisms aside, the most noticeable part of judging was the audience's unfaltering chant of "Chris Rene" that showed that singing may not be as important as star power.
Video: Chris Rene, "Fly"
Melanie Amaro, the last female in the competition, sang the song that she couldn't leave the competition without performing: Mariah Carey's "Hero." L.A. didn't have much to say, just that if America hadn't chosen the song, he would have criticized her for being predictable. It kind of sounded like he still blamed her, regardless. Paula announced that she had invited the "Hero" songwriter to be in the audience, and told Melanie, "Your voice is impeccable and it inspires me every time you sing." While Simon could have taken the high road and just complimented Melanie, he took his time at the mic to send an insult Marcus's way: "What that wasn't -- it wasn't karaoke. Unlike the first song we heard tonight."
Video: Melanie Amaro, "Hero"
The final contestant to perform his fan-voted song was Josh Krajcik, singing the Beatles' "Come Together." A fantastic choice on America's part, the song was perfect for Josh's voice and style and everyone, audience to judges, was impressed. L.A. usually saves his praise for the contestants in his group, but he made a mega-exception, telling Josh, "As far as I'm concerned, you're one of the best in the competition, and I've always picked you as a guy who could win." The compliments were seconded by the rest of the panel, all of whom agreed that Josh just rose to a new level.
Video: Josh Krajcik, "Come Together"
Wardrobe changes and make-up touches finished, and the second round of songs began, with Marcus singing George Michael's "Careless Whisper." The judges' opinions on Marcus were split once again. Nicole told Marcus that he "did his thing" and said, "to me you're already a champion and a winner," sentiments that Paula and L.A. agreed with. Simon seemed taken aback by the positive reactions, telling Marcus, "That was horrific. The song was absolutely wrong, the grotesque performance -- that was like being in a Vegas show in 1983, with the confetti. This was a joke, an absolute joke and you deserve better than that."
Video: Marcus Canty, "Careless Whisper"
Chris Rene cleans up well, donning a tie and slicked 'do as he sat down at the piano for his performance of Alicia Keys' "No One." He definitely accomplished the task Simon set out for him after his first song. Simon told Chris, "I said on the earlier song, you've got to come out and deliver and you just delivered big time. … You've got heart, Chris, you really do, and you deserve everything that comes your way." Was Chris's performance vocally fantastic? No. But he showed the vulnerability and dedication that he does on his original songs. L.A. summed up the Chris Rene appeal perfectly: "Stardom was never about singing. Stardom is about lovability and you have lovability."
Video: Chris Rene, "No One"
Melanie's performance of "Feeling Good," sung by dozens of artists including Nicole Scherzinger's own Pussycat Dolls, was met by a standing ovation from both the judges and the audience. For once L.A. had nothing but good things to say about Melanie, telling her, "I know why you're the only female left; because you're the greatest female that's ever graced this stage. You have everything it takes. I loved the song choice, it was not predictable, and you killed it." The rest of the judges were equally impressed, and Simon pleaded with America to vote for Melanie so that she didn't see the same fate as his last contestant, Rachel Crow.
Video: Melanie Amaro, "Feeling Good"
If the judges loved Josh Krajcik's performance of "Come Together," it was nothing compared to their reactions to his second song, Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." He followed the style that's been working lately: just him, his powerful, raspy voice and an instrument (in this case, piano) on stage without confetti or back-up dancers or flashy sets. The only judge who wasn't quite as impressed was L.A., who felt the song "lacked excitement." The others made up for that criticism in spades, Simon telling Josh that this song alone had just put him into the final next week and Nicole calling it "breathtaking."
Video: Josh Krajcik, "Hallelujah"
Tonight's episode airs at 8 p.m. EST, when one of the four contestants will be sent home -- by America's votes alone. How Fox plana to turn a single elimination, with no performances and no deliberation, into an hour-long episode is still a mystery, but chances are it will involve a lot of awkward-but-not-particularly-funny banter on the part of host Steve Jones.
Which performance was your favorite? Who do you think should stay and who should go home tonight?