'X Factor' Recap: British Invasion Hits Top 10

The contestants took on the songs from across the pond.
Ray Mickshaw / FOX

It’s British Invasion Week on The X Factor, and that could only mean one thing--plenty of plugs for One Direction.

Lest we forget, they are the most successful boy band in the world right now, and they will make a triumphant return to the show for Thursday night’s program. 

But before we get there, America has the dubious task of eliminating another two finalists--but who should it be?

As all four judges made a grand James Bondian entrance set to Sir Paul McCartney and Wings’ epic, “Live and Let Die” (Simon Cowell makes a dashing Bond to Kelly Rowland’s Goldfinger ensemble, no?), fans no doubt wondered which wave of the British invasion would be celebrated. Would we get a rerun of American Idol Season Six alum Sanjaya Malaker’s infamous rendition of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” complete with a crying girl in the audience?

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No such luck, but we did get a sampling of British music in several decades courtesy of the top 10-with two of Sir Elton John’s ballads dragging down the tempo and pace of the show, which should have been more upbeat given the theme.  

Rowland’s Over ‘25s category kicked off with the show’s only resident rocker, Jeff Gutt, reacting to Cowell’s challenge to try something different. So the Destiny’s Child star assigned him Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” While this was one of Gutt’s best showcases of the season, he struggled with the high notes and at times seemed to be mimicking Freddie Mercury rather than giving his own interpretation. Charisma-wise, he didn’t come close to Idols Constantine Maroulis or Adam Lambert, but it was a marked improvement over last week. 

“What a powerful way to start the show,” said Rubio, but who added the transitions were rough. Demi Lovato called it his “best performance yet,” and Cowell was curious to know why at 37, things haven’t worked out yet. Lillie McCloud underwent another stylistic change this week. Only this time, she now resembles Diana Ross. Donning a white evening dress, McCloud took on the amazing Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work.” The 54-year old professional is just in a different league when she is up there. You almost think she’s a guest star and not a contestant. She earned praise from all four judges and one critique from Lovato, who wanted her to switch up her range a bit towards the end.

Rubio’s boys got off to a slow start with Tim Olstad, arguably the sleepiest, most charisma-free contestant ever to be called sexy by both Rowland and Lovato. His “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” by Elton John did nothing to liven up the party, and even though Rowland was captivated by Olstad behind the piano, he didn’t hold a candle in the wind to other pianists (ahem, Idol roll call: Colton Dixon, Angie Miller, Brooke White Matt Giraud, Scott MacIntyre) who have graced the reality show stage.  

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Lovato  inexplicably compared him to Robin Thicke and said he wasn’t “boring anymore,” while Cowell called him a “singing hamster” when the girls wanted him to be a “singing lion” and pointed him toward a career in cabaret and Broadway. Rubio tried to jump in on the lion analogy and called Olstad, “Simba.” Could a role in The Lion King be in his future?

Luckily for Rubio, she has a monster of a pop star in the making in the form of Josh Levi, who emerged from a red telephone booth with a contemporary Dubstep/urban interpretation of “Sweet Dreams” by The Eurythmics. Levi once again shined like a new penny in an updated leather Sgt. Pepper vest, and his mega watt smile just lights up the stage. Did he need the dancing policemen? No. Was his dancing awkward as Lovato pointed out? Not quite. Levi is Rubio’s best chance to win, and Rowland and Lovato couldn’t contain their jealousy. Cowell hated the staging, however, and told Rubio ““You must have been drunk when you came up with that concept…it was bonkers.”

Carlito Olivero tried to bring sexy back to the show with The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.” Olivero was all swagger as he danced alongside multiple versions of himself, but he didn’t exactly have the moves like Jagger (or in Paulina-world, "Meeek Yagger") , so to speak. Lovato liked it better when he was dancing with  himself (hey, why no Billy Idol this week?) and Cowell longed for Olivero to sing in Spanish, but praised him for being a “man,” while Rubio missed his “smile.”

Lovato’s Girls  were a mixed bag, with Khaya Cohen singing  The Beatles' “Let it Be” in the key of Amy Winehouse. Rowland said the beginning was “a little low” and advised her to round out her vowels. Rubio called it her best performance. Cowell felt she needed vocal lessons and her appearance in the bottom two last week was “a joke,” but also should amp up her personality with smiles and puppies.

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Rion Paige took on the second Sir Elton ballad with “Your Song.” The stripped down version worked for the teen, who lovingly talked about missing her little brother in a pre-taped package. Paige is good with moments like this, and Lovato rightly praised her control of the stage and the crowd. Rowland’s comment that Paige was “human” and “vulnerable” in the performance was right on the money.  Ellona Santiago was led astray by Lovato with a weird hair makeover and staging a la Season three's CeCe Frey on Ellie Goulding’s “Burn,” a song that really does not lend itself to the wide range of notes she usually delivers. She hit the big note in the middle, but there was something strange about the whole performance, prompting Cowell to tell the teen she is “like a dancing singing puppet and I think you are better than that.” Rowland says her voice is “big,” but felt something was missing, while Rubo praised the “light” that Santiago brings to the stage.

Cowell’s groups came out ready to rumble with top contenders Alex & Sierra entertaining with their folky version of One Direction’s “Best Song Ever,” one of the most original moments of the night. These two are AAA radio’s dream come true, and it’s easy to imagine their songs fitting comfortably on Mike Marrone’s Sirius XM playlist on The Loft. Rubio wanted more rock, Lovato said she was going to download the song from iTunes, and Rowland said Sierra seemed a little tight on her vocals. Restless Road’s countrified take on Coldplay’s  “Fix You,” however, caused great derision on the panel, and with good reason. The harmonies were off, as Lovato pointed out, and the background track was way louder than the boys, perhaps throwing off the “cohesion” the group. Cowell was clearly miffed, calling the two judges “the gloom sisters” and declaring it one of the best performances of the night.

So who will survive? Cowell predicted that Olstad, Olivero, Santiago and McCloud (?) were all in jeopardy. What do you think?

Twitter: @MicheleAmabile