'The X Factor' report card: The Top 10

Chris Rene peforms on "The X Factor."

Story highlights

  • Popdust writer grades Top 10 on "The X Factor" as well as the judges
  • L.A. Reid is still Simon Cowell's rival, and he consistently out-judges and out-grumps him
  • Simon tells Melanie Amaro not to sing Mariah, Whitney and Celine
  • Leroy Bell is the most poised, professional contestant of the Top 10
It's taken multiple eliminations, with tears and without. There have been a few quick performances by Willow Smith, Jessie J and Outasight (and next week is Rihanna, which is quite the step up). Server farms have been full of tweets, and there's been endless bickering among the judges. But the big moment's arrived: "The X Factor" has chosen a Top 10.
It's missing two groups -- choreographed smoothies the Stereo Hogzz and the boppy kids of Intensity -- but it's nevertheless diverse, with classic belters, quirky singers, rappers and burly rockers all represented.
That said, they don't all represent themselves equally. When you watch "The X Factor," some people come off as stars and some come off as the people in the karaoke room next door over.
Popdust has been keeping in-depth tabs on the contestants in our power rankings, but if you've missed out, here's our Second Quarterly Report Card, grading the Top 10 and judges based on their performance thus far. Who's in danger of flunking? Who leads the class? Read on.
Astro: He's no longer Brian Bradley, The Astronomical Kid, the subject of any judge's unfounded brattiness accusations or the "X Factor"-appointed ambassador for hip hop. What he is: a star. He might win the competition. And he'll deserve it. A+
L.A. Reid (judge): He's still Simon Cowell's designated rival, and he not only consistently out-judges but out-grumps him. Give him this credit, too -- the boys' category, for weeks the weakest of the four, is starting to look pretty formidable. But of course it is; he's L.A. Reid. Would you expect less? A

Melanie Amaro:
Can you sell records solely by being consistently flawless? Simon tells her not to sing Mariah, Whitney and Celine, then keeps giving her the equivalent of Mariah, Whitney and Celine. She's always immaculate, but the 2000s and -- imagine this -- the 2010s have plenty of big voices. If she wins, that's who she'll be; why strand yourself in the past? A-
Marcus Canty: He's never had a bad performance. He's also never had a fantastic performance. Even his best to date -- Rose Royce's "I'm Going Down" -- was eclipsed by sorely missed Jazzlyn Little's audition. He's got mad charisma in person, but to stick around past the Top 8, he'll need to channel it more in song. B+
Leroy Bell: The most poised, professional contestant of the Top 10 got stuck with a "you had a confidence issue" critique, and it seems to have stuck; he's gone from shrugging that off with "I don't think I did" to sounding genuinely worried in interviews. As for his performances, they're much the same: impeccable in an understated way. Voters have been fine with that so far; let's hope that for him they'll remain so. B+
Rachel Crow: Sorta like the Scotty McCreery of "The X Factor": How can a voice towering like Beyonce's or Etta's come out of the mouth of a grade-schooler? From whence comes the mini-Janelle Monae poise? She's best on songs like "If I Were a Boy" where you're genuinely, intriguingly not sure. B+
Nicole Scherzinger(judge): Consistently the most quotable judge, an astounding feat when the panel also includes Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell. The show pretty much treats her as a joke, but she's in on it, or at least mugs and laughs like she is. She's also surprisingly good as a mentor. Most improved! B
Drew: Lost her "Ryniewicz" to Simon and L.A.'s weird ideas about celebrity names, but her identity's intact, and quite impressive for her age. She trills like Ellie Goulding, is perpetually wonder-stricken like Taylor Swift and designs her own clothes and interpretations. They don't always work -- she's got the thinnest voice of the girls, and a few experiments with rose petals and deconstructed dresses went awry -- but they're always interesting. That's an "X Factor" most of the Top 10 are missing. B
Josh Krajcik: At his worst, he sings as averagely as any old scraggly-haired everyguy. At his best, he's growly, soulful and magnetic in a way that belies his burrito background. There's a lot more "best" than "worst" lately. B
Paula Abdul (judge) : America hates groups, which is why groups always end up in the bottom two -- as Steve put it, a "nightmare situation" for Paula! She handled it ... not well, freaking out on camera last week over the choice of eliminating the Stereo Hogzz or punting the decision to Simon. Poor Paula! At least, now that only one group's left, the nightmare's over. If only it could have ended with a different group remaining. B-
Steve Jones: His hosting duties are as such: teleprompt his way through the exposition, awkwardly flirt with guest performers like Jessie J and get visibly exasperated with the judges on elimination nights. Comparing him to Ryan Seacrest isn't fair; the latter's had oodles of "Idol" seasons to practice. But you know you're doing it anyway. B
Stacy Francis: "The X Factor" is dutifully ignoring the Internet overreaction to her, which we'll do as well. Or maybe they're not; her song choices, like an over-gospelly "Up to the Mountain" or that other song from The Bodyguard soundtrack, verge on sabotage. Stacy sings them well (then oversings them, less well), but you kind of wonder how semifinal category-mates Elaine Gibbs or Audrey Turner would've done instead. C+
Simon Cowell (judge): The real star of the show; none of the other judges get to go on as many commercials muttering "junk, rubbish," snipping at camera crews and collecting commissions. Unfortunately, he knows he's the star of the show (and has the best overall category), meaning he preens about as often as he judges. C+
Chris Rene: Last week's "Gangsta's Paradise" suggests he's apparently a full-on rapper now, in the Jason Mraz style. Wait, wasn't there hullabaloo about Astro's rapping being incomprehensible to you viewers? It's not his best look. His niche is lite rock, which is fine (and bankable); trying to occupy Astro's instead is bizarre. C-
Lakoda Rayne: Time travel a month, and guess which of these three groups would stick around longest: the charisma-swamped R&B guys with killer choreography, the posse of photogenic kids one graduation away from the class of "Glee" or four pretty but blah women told they'd suddenly be country (a genre they sing maybe once every two weeks)? To be fair, they're getting better -- but so are the rest. And they're still called "Lakoda Rayne." D+