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"The X Factor": Jackson night becomes anti-Cowell night

Marcus Canty performs in front of the judges on "The X Factor," airing Nov. 30, 2011. Fox

(CBS) "One word: Pressure." That was the considered view of "The X Factor" presenter, Steve Jones - aka Mannequin Man - as he introduced last night's Michael Jackson tribute show.

First, we had to be introduced to what seemed like at least three generations of the Jackson family. His mom mouthed that this was her favorite show. Did anyone have any doubts?

Pictures: "The X Factor"

Michael Jackson was undoubtedly not Josh Krajcik's favorite artist. The fact that he had to sing a Jackson song would express one of the absurdities of shows such as this. Why should Krajcik have to sing any Jackson at all?

Why did he choose a song that was utterly unrecognizable? Why did he have those odd lady dancers gyrating beneath him as if this was the Mandalay Bay in Vegas?

This was, apparently, a song called "Dirty Diana" and, for the first time in the whole competition, a Krajcik performance was utterly forgettable.

"You landed on your feet, my man," said L.A. Reid, oddly.

"You were over-produced. You got lost in all the choreography," said Simon Cowell, oddly objective. "This is not you on stage. This is what Nicole wants to be. This was your weakest performance so far."

Nicole aka Scherinzger - Krajcik's mentor - objected, but not so objectively. This was utterly, sadly pointless.

For some strange reason, Mr. Jones kept repeating that the winner of the competition would get to be in a Pepsi ad. Yes, just like Michael Jackson. Yes, the Michael Jackson whose hair caught fire during the shoot of a Pepsi commercial.

Astro claimed he loved Michael Jackson. He also stepped out of his comfort zone to, well, rap some more.

He chose "Black and White." His dancers appeared to be Cossack Scots who, for presumed reasons of fashion, were wearing yashmaks. It was terribly energetic. It was terribly frenetic. It was terribly like a performer with an aggressive tic.

"That was bad," said Scherzinger. It wasn't, however, bad in the sense that she thought it was her favorite Astro performance.

"You're the future. But you're more than that. You're our past and our present," said Paula Abdul.

The world stopped spinning on its axis for a few seconds, while someone, anyone tried to work out what on earth she was attempting to express.

Prince, Paris and Blanket - Jackson's children - were all totally excited by what was going on, in a rather passive way sitting together with their grandmother in the front row.

Feist Lite, otherwise known as Drew, performed a stripped away version of "Billie Jean." Cowell has some experience of this song, as David Cook performed a fine, original version of this song during his rise on "American Idol." That would be before his relative disappearance after "American Idol."

Drew performed this unplugged "Billie Jean" very well. She sat. She sang. That was it.

"You made it your own," said Reid, before admitting he liked it.

Scherzinger, suitably primed to create faux-tension, decided that she didn't like it. "It was exactly what I expected," she said. She criticized Cowell for playing it safe with his mentee.

Abdul objected to the lack of visual effect. Cowell retorted, factually: "Because of too much dancing, all your acts are out of the competition." Truthfully, though, the groups were also out because of too much singing - mediocre singing.

Rachel Crow has, in Scherzinger's brain, the singing tone of a young Michael Jackson. Her rendition of "Can You Feel It?" was complete with a young Michael Jackson hairdo.

"This is the only time I've watched you and didn't feel you were having a great time," said Reid.

"Pumpkin, I thought you did a really good job. I didn't feel a connection between you and everything that was going on on stage," mused Scherzinger, with a slight self-contradictory air.

'You transcend generations," waffled Abdul, before admitting that she hadn't really liked it.

Cowell declared it was obviously "anti-Simon" night. As if other nights were glorious "pro-Simon" nights.

Weirdly, we were assaulted by "American Idol" ads during the breaks. Are there any other desperately wishful singers left in America?

The desperately wishful Marcus Canty decided to dance around a lot while he attempted to sing "PYT." Some might have called this the PYT of despair.

Half way through a completely karaoke rendition of the song, Canty performed a backflip. The camera immediately cut to the Jackson children. Paris flickered an eyebrow. Blanket looked entirely unimpressed.

Scherzinger gushed with running cliches, culminating in a declaration that he was "the whole package."

Abdul reached for originality. She called him "the whole package."

Cowell told him that his vocals weren't very good. Reid claimed it was an inventive arrangement. Indeed, like the average star pre-nup.

Chris Rene revealed that his grandfather had written "Rockin' Robin", a song that Jackson had performed. Rene didn't perform that, and instead he chose "I'll Be There."

Rene simply isn't a very good singer. He's also very fond of grunting. He needed a gaggle of backing singers to drown out his uncertainties, and when he was left alone, he was weaker than a sparrow with a polyp.

"It was so beautiful," crowed Scherzinger, whose ears seemed to need flushing.

"The vocal was a little bit shaky at the top," said Cowell. "I think you're going to need a lot of support from your home town."

His home town is Santa Cruz, Calif. Is the population of Santa Cruz big enough to keep Rene around?

The producers are very, very wily on this show. They often leave the best performance to the end.

So here we had Melanie Amaro, surely ready to make Jackson come alive, surely ready to make Paris and Blanket twitch an eyebrow and show a smile.

Amaro has been showing diva tendencies in recent weeks. So here she was giving "Earth Song" something more than earthiness. She injected drama and passion and torment. It was good, but not desperately, overwhelmingly good. It was simply better than everything that had gone before.

"For one second I forgot we were in a competition and I thought we were at a Melanie Amaro concert," said Reid.

"One of the best performances of the entire show," cooed Scherzinger.

Two acts go home this week. Some might say three or four deserve to at this point. It's hard to mimic the King of Pop when your voice is the seven of clubs.

TOP TWO: Melanie Amaro, Drew
BOTTOM TWO: Marcus Canty, Chris Rene

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