‘The X Factor’ recap: The top 9 give us a lot to be thankful for

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The Thanksgiving Week theme on ‘X Factor,’ as we were often reminded, was ‘giving thanks.’ No big surprise there. But, as it turned out, Tuesday’s episode brought us all a lot to be thankful for. For instance:

More backstory: I’ve complained before that ‘X Factor’ hasn’t revealed enough about the contestants’ offstage lives, which lowers the emotional stakes. On Tuesday night’s show, the contestants each dedicated their performances to someone they were grateful for, and before they stepped out on the stage to sing, we got to see them speaking revealingly about their lives and loves, mothers and daughters, fathers and friends, troubles and triumphs, hopes, dreams and enduring faith.


In some cases, these segments added depth and detail to stories we already knew: Rachel Crow’s parents described the abuse and neglect she’d suffered in the first few months of her life, before they adopted her. Chris Rene told us about the car accident that made him quit drugs and turn his life around, and he paid tribute to the counselor who helped him do it. Marcus Canty recalled the sacrifices his single mom made to keep her children safe, provide for their futures and cheer them with song. Josh Krajcik revealed that the young love that had, when he was just 17, resulted in the birth of his now-teenage daughter had also led to an early heartbreak that had made him lose his way in music; he was now determined find musical success, he said, if only to serve as an example for his daughter.

In other cases, the stories felt almost, or even completely, new: Drew described her adorable relationship with her longtime ‘bestie,’ Shelby, reminding us that, despite her vocal maturity, Drew’s still just a kid from a small town. (That’s something L.A. Reid might try to remember the next time he unfairly criticizes her just to needle Simon Cowell.) The always-chill Leroy Bell got choked up as he told us about his mom, who died a few years back, and the unwavering belief she had in him. The girls of Lakoda Rayne paid tribute to the supportive dads, boyfriends and grandparents who stood behind them. And most movingly, Melanie Amaro, who dedicated her performance to God, revealed the faith that had gotten her through a longtime childhood separation from her parents and her early difficulties adjusting to life in the United States after she finally came here from the Virgin Islands to join them.

More resonant performances: The genius of the theme was that the contestants carried onstage these passionate personal connections to their songs -- and then were able to use those real emotions to connect to their audience much more movingly and immediately. The over-the-top production values (Lights! Video! Back-up singers! A stage full of dancers!) were, overall, far more subdued. And so it was an evening of ‘bests:’ Marcus Canty’s tearful take on Boys II Men’s ‘A Song For Mama,’ Leroy Bell’s heartfelt version of Sarah McLachlan’s ‘Angel,’ Drew’s riveting rendition of Demi Lovato’s ‘Skyscraper,’ Lakoda Rayne’s less-shaky-than-usual performance of Taylor Swift’s ‘You Belong to Me,’ and Chris Rene’s eventual return to the song that got him there, his own ‘Young Homie.’ Rachel Crow (with Yolanda Adams’ ‘I Believe’) and Josh Krajcik (with the Rolling Stones’ ‘Wild Horses’) also did well. But the best of the best was undoubtedly Amaro, whose rendition of R. Kelly’s ‘The World’s Greatest’ had the power to make believers of us all and led to her finally emerging from her shell to declare, as tears streamed down her cheeks, that her whole difficult life had led her to this moment, standing up on that stage. She revealed more than just her background and her accent; she seemed to let us glimpse her soul.

Deeper meanings, nobler causes, humbler hearts, higher stakes: Perhaps most thankfully, we saw the contestants’ goals shift and swell as they realized that the contest and its resulting fame might bring greater rewards than just $5 million and a starring role in a Pepsi commercial; more than record deals and sold-out venues: It might provide them the chance to carry a meaningful, potentially transformative message of hope to others who have had struggles similar to their own. The ‘X Factor’ audience sure needed that inspirational boost after the parade of petulance and entitlement we observed during last week’s results show.

Speaking of which, Astro offered us all an apology (who knows how heartfelt?) for his teenage tantrum last week: ‘Astrogate,’ one of the judges called it. (He’s a kid, his feelings were hurt, and he didn’t handle it well, his mom explained. Was that really so unforgivable?) The young hip-hopper dedicated this week’s song to the fans -- Astronauts, as he’s dubbed them -- who’ve stood by him. It was the right thing to do, but, alas, possibly too little, too late to keep him in the competition.

Which reminds me of one more thing to be grateful for …

A faster pace: This week we’ll get a double elimination, a chance to drop some dead weight and move forward a little more fleetly.

My best bet for the two who will go home are Lakoda Rayne and Astro (unless his fans rise up to save him by voting or the judges again throw him a lifeline).

What did you think of the show? And who do you think will be sent home?


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-- Amy Reiter