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'X Factor' Recap: Motown Night a Mixed Bag for Top 12

The finalists and one wild card pick take on hits by The Commodores, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5 and The Temptations.

The X Factor S3 Top 12 Party Judges - H 2013
Frank Micelotta/FOX

The X Factor took a page out of the American Idol playbook Wednesday night with a Motown-themed episode dedicated to a legacy judge Kelly Rowland described as “classic, magical music.”

Leave it to Lillie McCloud to call out producer Simon Cowell on the selected theme.

“Simon says that I’m dated and now they have Motown week,” she said, laughing.

Point taken, but it’s not about the cards you are dealt, it is how you play the hand. Several contestants--including standout Khaya Cohen--took the theme and ran with it while others treaded water.

PHOTOS: 'X Factor' Season 3: Meet the Top 16

Still, it was fun to hear selections by The Commodores, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5 and The Temptations while watching the evolution of Mario Lopez and his increasing mastery of the hosting job. Freed of co-host Khloe Kardashian, Lopez is clearly enjoying himself, keeping the pace, riffing with contestants, and surprising wild card contestants in diners.

After a group number (again-shades of Idol) performing a medley of songs, including The Jackson 5’s “ABC,” the show got down to business bringing back a wild card pick: ousted teen Josh Levi.

While I’m sure fans of Roxxy Montana or James Kenney felt robbed, Levi is talented, cute and has undeniable charisma. His version of Smokey Robinson and the Miracles' “Who’s Loving You” was the perfect way to kick things off (if you really want to hear a fantastic version of this song, look up Terrence Trent D’Arby’s interpretation) and he looked adorable with his backwards baseball cap and killer smile.  “You went from zero to hero,” said Cowell.  Boys mentor Paulina Rubio looked thrilled to have Levi back in the fold, saying, “I want you to know that you deserve this..You were born to be a star.”

Breaking down the teams, Demi Lovato’s girls had several winning moments for their blue-haired mentor. Ellona Santiago’s aggressively upbeat version of The Supremes' “Baby Love” drew praise from all four judges, with Rowland proclaiming her the Filipino a “powerhouse.”  Lovato also has a recording star in the making with Cohen, who Cowell astutely noted channeled Amy Winehouse with “My Girl” by The Temptations. Rion Page returned to her country roots with a sweet version of “’Aint No Mountain High Enough,” but drew mixed reactions, with Rowland dissing the song’s arrangement and Cowell proclaiming it “beautiful.”

PHOTOS: From Gwyneth Paltrow to Simon Cowell: How 8 Stars Are Trying to Halt the Aging Process

Cowell’s groups has an interesting team this year, anchored by country cuties Restless Road coming across like the down-home version of Emblem3. Their rendition of The Commodores' “Easy” was easy like Sunday morning, until Colton Pack went terribly off pitch in several areas. Rubio was absolutely correct to call him out on it, but Cowell was quick to name check Lionel Ritchie, calling the decision to perform the song “brilliant.” Girl group Sweet Suspense rolled out the Kim Wilde arrangement of The Supremes’ “You Keep Me Hanging On,” complete with disco outfits and a bird cage. While Lovato called them stars, their mere presence brought out a mini-war of words between Rowland and Cowell when the Destiny’s Child singer said there was a lack of a female groups in the pop world. AHEM-what about Fifth Harmony??? Oh, and by the way--the girls were singing in (dare I say it?) unison several times during the song. Paging L.A. Reid! The true feather in Cowell’s cap, however, are Alex and Sierra, the indie-world’s answer to Sonny and Cher. The two of them together are hot--and musically, I would love to hear them try a Civil Wars song sometime. Their arrangement of “I Heard it Through The Grapevine” made Rubio “sweat,” while Lovato said it was “sexy.”

Rowland’s Over ‘25s could be in trouble this week. While Rachel Potter started the season strong with her countrified and pitch-perfect audition piece of Queen’s “Somebody to Love,” the strategy failed on Motown night with “This Old Heart of Mine” by The Isely Brothers. Something just didn’t work, and the judges zeroed in on it. Cowell called it “horrible.” “It’s such a beautiful song and you made it insane,” he said. McCloud looked stunning in a gold evening gown as she delivered the good on Stevie Wonder’s “All in Love Is Fair,” but Lovato still felt she was “outdated.” There was something very ‘70s show variety hour about the performance, but I hope America keeps her around for another week.

Rowland had better luck after Jeff Gutt's  ‘80s power ballad interpretation of Lionel Ritchie’s “Say You, Say Me” from the movie White Nights (come on, who else expected Mikhail Baryshnikov to pop in and yell “Help me!”). Gutt is very good, though not very current. But since he is the only rock hope left in the competition, he has a shot. Cowell called it “outstanding."

Rubio, now back up to four on the team with the return of Levi, has a harder road ahead of her. Carlos Guevara has smooth vocals, but zero stage presence as correctly noted by Cowell, who was irked that he lurked around the stage looking at the floor as he struggled through Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” It didn’t get much better when Carlito Olivero turned “Stop! In the Name of Love” into a Backstreet Boys-type ballad. Not only did Cowell call it “girly and theatrical,” but Rubio agreed with that assessment. Olivero is definitely in trouble. Tim Olstad, whom Cowell called a funeral director last week, tried to prove he is a fun guy by picking “I’ll Be There” by The Jackson 5. Didn’t work. Kudos to Lovato for pegging the Josh Groban wannabe as a good fit for Adult Contemporary radio, because she’s right. Cowell compared him to Donny Osmond, but no. Olstad can’t rock the purple socks the way Donny did. No way. There is only one Captain Purple.

The results show will air on Thursday at 8 p.m., and it seems we are getting the return of the results board like last season. What do you think, X Factor fans? Who will rank at No. 1? Who is going home? Hit us up in the comments!

Twitter: @MicheleAmabile