All in all, Thursday's "X Factor" elimination wasn't really a good night for anyone. The contestant who stayed had to feel like the audience didn't want him there, the performer sent home only did so after collapsing onstage in tears, Nicole was booed off the stage after refusing to vote and sending the competition to deadlock, and Simon and L.A. both had acts in the bottom two.
But before any of the drama began, there were two guest performances and a whole lot of commercial breaks. Steve Jones was really on his game last night (quite the rarity), offering up zingers like, "Last night the judges were pretty well-behaved… I wasn't told to shut up once which was nice." After the first guest, Lenny Kravitz, performed a medley of "Rock Star City Life" and "Are You Gonna Go My Way," Steve joked that "no man should look good in that much leather."
Video: Lenny Kravitz, "Rock Star City Life/Are You Gonna Go My Way"
Kravitz's performance was followed by Wednesday night's highlight reel, where all the judges said Chris Rene's performance had been their favorite. When it came time to announce who would be moving forward, Josh Krajcik and Chris Rene both made it through.
Before announcing the third and final contestant who would be safe, the acts (and the audience) had to wait nervously while Mary J. Blige took the stage to perform "Need Someone." Finally it was back to judging and Melanie Amaro was sent through to the next round, putting Rachel Crow and Marcus Canty in the bottom two.
Video: Mary J. Blige, "Need Someone"
No stranger to the save me songs -- having narrowly escaped elimination after landing in the bottom for two weeks in a row -- Marcus sang Rose Royce's "I'm Going Down," a performance that lacked all hope. He was clearly disheartened, moping off the stage when he finished.
Video: Marcus Canty, "I'm Going Down"
Rachel followed with Etta James' "I'd Rather Go Blind," in a passionate, powerful performance that was one of (if not the) best of the entire competition. Paula was out of her seat screaming "yes, yes, yes" at the stage as Rachel's eyes began to water, putting every bit of her emotion into the song.
Video: Rachel Crow, "I'd Rather Go Blind"
When it came to judging, L.A. voted (once again) for his own contestant over who he thought sang better, and he chose to send Rachel home. Simon's judging was one of the most hilarious to date, because all he had to say was, "What's the point of even saying anything? I'm going to miss you, but Marcus I'm afraid you're going home." (Don't jinx it next time, Simon.)
Paula voted to send Marcus home, saying, "You both did an amazing job, but if I'm being honest with my heart, the one that truly blew me away was Rachel Crow." The decision was then up to Nicole: if she voted for Marcus, he would go home; if she voted for Rachel, it would go to deadlock and America's votes would determine who would be eliminated. Shaking, stuttering and crying, Nicole was unable to make a decision, despite the audience's chants of "Rachel, Rachel." Finally she went against the audience, voting to eliminate Rachel -- not to send her home but to force a deadlock.
But Nicole's vote was fortuitous and Rachel was in fact eliminated after receiving the least number of America's votes, despite never having been in the bottom two before. The 13-year-old singer collapsed to the ground in tears, Simon rushing to the stage to console her. Everyone was crying, Rachel's mother flew to the stage, and Steve quickly gave up on trying to get a comment from anyone. When he asked Nicole to say something, the boos from the crowd were deafening, and she turned away in tears. Simon's final words were that Rachel had gone out "on the very highest she could go out," and that this was just the beginning for the young star.
With only a few episodes left, "X Factor" will have to work hard to pull some inspiration back into the show, because that last two episodes have been nothing short of depressing.
Were you shocked by the decision? What do you think of Nicole's cop-out? Who should have gone home? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!