Hold onto your hats folks, there's an articulated lorry packed full of drama heading your way. Starting with a close-up on Simon's evil eye, we're warned by the voice-over guy that the battle lines have been drawn. Simon promises a big fight tonight, before changing his opinion and telling us that now it's war. One more take and he's going to be offering up mutually assured destruction.
Someone's obviously had a word in Steve's photogenic ear and told him to be more energetic. He's trying his best in his dull grey suit, but since no-one's bothered to turn down the music volume, it's like watching a mime trying to apply for a bank loan.
Stop the presses, Steve attempted a funny by going for some banter with Simon, but his boss shoots him down by admitting that he wasn't listening anyway. Crash and burn, you big wax muppet. Steve tells us that this is dance music week, which has got Paula wetter than one of Nicole's tissues.
Melanie is opening tonight's show, with her take on one of the biggest songs of the year. If you're not already sick of Someone Like You, in ninety seconds you will be. Unless you've spent copious amounts of time in the kind of bar that has a dark room instead of a cloakroom, you may be unfamiliar with this 140 bpm version of Adele's pitchy growler. Nicole tells Melanie that she's a rock-star diva, but I don't think Nancy Wilson is going to have too many sleepless nights about the competition. Simon complements her on the performance, and says that he's noticed she's been getting better, ever since she revealed her true self. To put things into perspective, she just started speaking with a Virgin Islands accent - it's not like she hitched up her skirt and revealed a cock.
Steve is back in the audience to do his intro's, which smacks of Bruno Brookes hosting the Christmas edition of Top of the Pops. LA Reid introduces Marcus, who's wearing a hat and doing a lackluster version of Ain't Nobody. Chaka Khan is an amazing singer, but she's got one of those distinctive love-or-hate voices. Sadly, Marcus seems to be emulating the latter. Having seen Brian Friedman putting his all into the choreography, its disappointing to see Marcus dancing like a not-drunk-enough secretary at her first office Christmas party. Nicole's a believer, and tells Marcus that "God has a plan for you." I think Simon just got a little hard when he heard his new nickname. Simon also complements Marcus, telling him "I don't like people who play the victim." Which is true, he prefers to make those decisions in the editing suite.
To put things into perspective, she just started speaking with a Virgin Islands accent - it's not like she hitched up her skirt and revealed a cock.
Steve reminds us that the winner will receive a $5 million recording contract AND an appearance in their own Pepsi commercial, as if they're equivalent prizes. Which gives you an idea of how much of that signing fee they'll actually see. Rachel is singing 'Nothin' On You' and it's veering dangerously close to Minipops territory. In this week's first weird outburst, Paula tells Rachel that her voice transcends all generations, whereas Simon mentions that she used to do "stand up comedy years ago". So whilst her contemporaries were potty training, Rachel was rehearsing mother-in-law jokes.
Josh is having a go at 'We Found Love' because the world has been crying out to hear a Joe Cocker/Rihanna mash-up. Despite an impressive vocal effort, it's quite evident that Josh would be less embarrassed if he'd been caught sodomising an alpaca in a branch of Footlocker. Simon and LA give him a tough critique, and tell him he's lucky to have a second song tonight. I'm really rooting for Josh to get through to the final, if only for the grand homecoming segment, when he'll finally get to return to the mystical land from Where The Wild Things Are.
Chris is closing the first half of the show, doing another Rihanna song - no wonder she's happy to pop up on the results show every couple of weeks. Chris is OK at what he does, but he's bringing back some uncomfortable memories of Vanilla Ice and Snow. Simon asks LA why he chose to include a travellator in Chris' performance, as though the music mogul was up on stage moments earlier, adjusting the speed with a socket wrench. Still, it's not everyone who can sell a song whilst making their way across Terminal 5.
Steve leads into the ad break with the revelation that last night, the contestants received some news that changes everything. Turns out, they're singing their own song choices, instead of those chosen by the audience. Did anyone else just feel the world spin off its axis?
Melanie's doing 'When You Believe' - the song that got Leon Jackson's career off to such a great start. Given that it was a Christmas number one, you'd think it would be memorable, but it's one of those drippy power ballads that you've forgotten before the singer's even finished performing it. Not to worry, Melanie is far and away the best singer in the contest, so she should be safe. Now it's time for her customary speech after her song. Steve's not going to be happy because he's going to have the producers yelling in his ear to rush Paula and Nicole's feedback. Nicole got goosebumps all over, and in her minimal outfit, we can pretty much see the evidence. Simon gives a shout-out to Clive Davis, who gives us a royal wave. The crowd goes wild because they think it's Tony Bennett, who just left his wig at home.
Simon also complements Marcus, telling him "I don't like people who play the victim." Which is true, he prefers to make those decisions in the editing suite.
Marcus reveals that, if he doesn't nail this, he could be going home. Did he just read the instructions about how the show works? This time around he's singing A Song For You, which must surely hold some kind of a record for the number of times it's been trotted out on one of these shows. The performances tonight are only 90 seconds long, but like a true pro, Marcus made it feel like quarter of an hour. Nicole has been stealing Louis Walsh's script notes, telling him he reminds her of a young Al Green. Beats the shit out of Lenny Henry I suppose. Alternatively, LA Reid compares his protege to Muhammad Ali, but I'm sure that Marcus is just shaking because of the nerves.
Steve says "It's another of the girls, Simon Cowell". Does he not want to keep this gig? Rachel Crow is singing Music and Me, which should have been her song choice last week when they were rifling through Michael Jackson's back catalogue. That early MJ sound suits her voice perfectly, but she's been dressed like Jeanette Krankie in a rare appearance out of schoolboy drag. Speaking like a true Toddlers and Tiaras finalist, she tells Paula "My mission is just to inspire the kids."
Steve points out that Nicole's not paying attention, and she looks embarrassed, like a dog caught attempting to apply its lipstick. Growling so hard that I can hear the nodules forming in his throat, Josh is doing 'Something', and making Shirley Bassey's rendition sound whispered and low-key. Of course, he's a great singer, with a scruffy Gruffalo edge, but to those who are getting excited about his future, I have two words: Bo Bice. Paula says adjectives don't adequately describe his brilliance, but she's never allowed herself to be troubled by the limitations of language. Nicole has a rhyming dictionary, calling her artist a "male Adele" (pronounced Mell-Adele) and then referring to his performance as Krajcik-Magic. Guess who's angling for a song-writer's credit on her next album.
Chris is going to be performing his own composition, and so Stevie Wonder calls him to tell him how inspired he is by the young artist. In other news, Anne Widdecombe receives a letter from Joan of Arc, complementing her on her pioneering feminism. The song is nice enough, in fact his vocals are the best they've been all series, but it's got a Jason Mraz b-side feel to it. Paula invokes the universe and its mysterious ways. But compared with her little monologues, the universe is like Janet and John.
And now we move onto the results show to see someone's dream end. The show opens with LeRoy's older brother Lenny Kravitz, who doesn't seem to be putting too much effort into pretending to play his guitar. Just as he gets warmed up we switch into Are You Gonna Go My Way, one of the most annoying wedding DJ records ever made. It's always a worry when someone appears on these shows to plug their new material, and resorts to a reprise of their greatest hit within sixty seconds. Not the most compelling recommendation for the new stuff. Weirdly, the judges are already seated behind the table - suggesting that this show is going to be filled with content. But with just five acts left, and an hour to fill, I can't help but be suspicious.
Despite an impressive vocal effort, it's quite evident that Josh would be less embarrassed if he'd been caught sodomising an alpaca in a branch of Footlocker.
To fill in the running time, we're treated to a backstage expose of what goes into the choreography, make-up and wardrobe. During this segment, we get to hear from Kristofer (seriously) Buckle and his spectacular gayface, talking about how people cope with "having six hands on them at once" - for some people, that's just a regular weekend. There's also lots of talk of shirts coming off and hairpieces being thrown aside. Whatever it takes to keep Simon happy.
The judges and their acts are welcomed one by one. So spare a thought for Paula, standing alone at the judges' table, doing her wide armed slow clap. Josh is safe, prompting Simon to chew the inside of his cheek. Chris is also safe, and launches into one of Dermot's patented slow spins, before making a heart shape with his fingers - on this show, no cliche is left unmolested.
Melanie, Marcus and Rachel are backstage, and Steve "genuinely can't believe" that one of them is going home tonight. They're all talking about their fans, and "loving everyone out there" and having God's support. Steve tells them that they're not going to find out who's through just yet, and regrettably, neither are we. Instead, here's Mary J Blige to teach these chumps what a real star looks like. Remember my vertical light beams of victory? Well, no-one got them this week, because they were being saved for Mary J. She's pretty ace, but the song sounds a little twee for her, like Tiffany & Co setting a chunk of granite in an engagement ring.
Good grief, now there's even more recapping, as Steve reads laboriously through the judges' notes. The final act breezing safely into the semi-final is Melanie Amaro, which was utterly unsurprising. Rachel has switched up her eerie professionalism to 11 - we're in Village of the Damned territory now. Marcus is a little more sanguine about the whole thing, but that's because he's spent more time stuck in the bottom than a proctologist with big hands.
They're preparing to do their 'save me' song, which should be interesting given that they used up their original choices in the second half of last night's show. Marcus' choice is a tuneless mess, like he's actually singing for his life, rather than just a chance to be ignored three months into a winning contract with Syco. Interestingly, Rachel's incredible talent is paling in comparison to her obnoxious sense of entitlement. "Do I have to?" is a familiar cry from 13 year olds, but usually it's reserved for the moments when they're asked to clean their room. Not when they're given the chance to sing for survival. After Astro's outburst a couple of weeks ago, we should probably be thankful that she didn't start off by refusing, but she didn't look too gracious to be there.
Simon mentions that she used to do “stand up comedy years ago”. So whilst her contemporaries were potty training, Rachel was rehearsing mother-in-law jokes.
It's all so predictable as Simon and LA opt to save their own acts. Which puts far too much power in the hands of Paula and Nicole. Why not give them a briefcase full of enriched uranium while we're at it? Nicole is getting upset, so the thirteen year-old counsels her from the stage, leaving Nicole with no choice but to take it to deadlock. The audience isn't happy, and Nicole pretends she's lost the ability to speak. If only Paula could develop a similar affliction.
The act with the lowest number of votes is Rachel, who suddenly reveals that she's actually a child, and not a forty two year old woman dressed a pink pleather jacket. Dropping to the floor and sobbing uncontrollably, she's comforted by her mother who promises that it's all going to be OK. "Do you promise, do you promise?" she screams, and it's all a little disturbing. Meanwhile, Steve stands there like someone who's just walked in to find his grandparents spit-roasting the vicar.
Rachel briefly manages to compose herself long enough to tell the audience "I love you so much for voting for me, even though you didn't." See, she's not even out of her teens and she's already mastered the passive aggressive back-handed compliment - this kid's gonna go far. You know what, nothing says entertainment like watching children cry. After this, I might throw on Who Will Love My Children, and go straight to the scene were the twins are sent to separate foster homes because one of them has epilepsy.
Sensing that the cameras are focusing too much on the devastated 13 year-old, Nicole rushes to the stage to offer up her own photogenic tears. That's right Nicole, as always, it's all about you.
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