By Chuck Barney
"The X Factor" returns to action and "Tonight, it's a blood bath!" roars the over-amped announcer guy.
So does this mean Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid are going to settle their nasty little feud in a rock-'em, sock-'em steel-cage match? (Pretty please!). Um, no, the announcer guy is referring to the fact that four singers will get their butts kicked off the show.
What this means is that Simon, L.A., Demi Lovato and Britney Spears are able to each save two singers from their team based off of last night's Top 16 performances. The remaining two must take the stage for a sing-off, leaving only one moving to the Top 12.
But first a word about our hosts: Yes, newbies Mario Lopez and Khloe Kardashian Odom have both bravely returned. We thought they may have run screaming for the hills after getting their first taste of the outrageous, overproduced and super-silly spectacle that is "The X Factor." But no, they're back and Khloe has wisely chosen to wear a less-sheer, blue leather dress -- the better to hide those pesky nipples.
As for the judges, well, they've got some tough decisions to make.
"They're like my children, so it's going to be very hard to choose which one of my children will go home," says Brit-Brit, speaking, we assume, about her team of singers.
OK, so here's how it all went down:
Demi's Young Adults
Demi, who is rocking yet another new hairstyle, puts Jennel Garcia and Paige Thomas through to the next round. That means CeCe Frey and Willie Jones will have a "bloodbath" sing-off.
CeCe, in a stunning (and short) red dress, brings plenty of power and emotion to "Out Here on My Own." It's way better than her weaked-voiced, washed-out performance on Wednesday. By the end, she's crying.
"I don't understand why you didn't do something like this last night," Simon says.
Jones follows that up with "You Don't Know Me" by Ray Charles. Again, it's better than last night's number with all those goofy female dancers. But is it good enough to beat CeCe? Apparently not. Demi sends him home.
"I just think it's not your time right now," says Demi, looking like a brown-clad school marm. "But I believe in you."
Just not enough. And so we lose one of the more distinct performers at this stage of the competition.
L.A.'s Over 25s
L.A. sends tattooed rocker Vino Alan (who was terrible last night) and country cowboy Tate Stevens into the Top 12. Singing for survival: David Correy and Jason Brock.
David goes first, delivering a weirdly rearranged version of Kelly Clarkson's "Since You've Been Gone." It feels forced and melodramatic and just strange.
Britney is blown away, but Demi says it "felt like you were screaming the whole time." Simon agrees with Demi.
Brock follows with Whitney Houston's "One Moment in Time," wisely resisting the urge to over-sing. It ends with a couple of nice runs that have Britney saying, "Today you turned me into a fan." Demi notes that "There'something really genuine behind your eyes." But Simon lets his jerk flag fly by saying, "You're asking me to jusge two horses who are coming last in a race" (because he can't imagine either David or Jason winning the competition).
L.A. takes a moment to tell Simon "that was really mean." And then he makes David walk the plank.
Excellent. Our ears thank you.
Britney should be ashamed of herself for a case of bad mentoring. None of her team members were given songs and/or arrangements that played to their strengths Wednesday night. Still, two have to go through and Ms. Spears gives her blessing to Beatrice Miller and Carly Rose Sonenclar.
That leaves Arin Ray and Diamond White to sing for their lives.
Arin becomes the second dude of the night to do Whitney Houston, delivering a lovely (but not great) version of "I Look to You" that has the little girls shrieking. It continues the trend of contestants improving upon their Wednesday performances.
White responds by pouring her heart into Mary J. Blige's version of Elton John's "Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word," and I like it better than Arin's performance. We agree with Simon, who says he doesn't think either singer should have to leave the show (Can we just replace Jason with one of them?).
"This is like the hardest decision ever," says Brit-Brit, who finally decides to send Diamond packing. Both Diamond and Arin look stunned.
An easy choice here: Simon gives passes to adorable boys of Emblem 3, who brought down the house on Wednesday, and frenetic rap group Lyric 145.
Going on to the battle round: Sister C and 1432.
Sister C goes first, doing a nice version of Miley Cyrus' "When I Look at You" and looking like a trio of glam stars from The CW.
1432, five teen girls who only recently became a group, boldly take on Demi Lovato's "Skyscraper," and deliver some lovely harmonizing. "You made me a believer," says Britney, and Demi is so impressed that she claims they "did better than the original singer."
Of course, it's Simon who has the last word and he sends Sister C home.
But before the show closes, Simon confesses that he just can't live with the name "1432" and tells us that he's putting a call out to the public -- via the "X Factor" website -- to make suggestions for a new group name.
Next week, the show continues with the battle of the Top 12 and we poor sould in the audience finally get our chance to weigh in.