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The X Factor Top 12 Perform...Wait, Was Last Week's Elimination Rigged?

Was Dexter Haygood just a pawn in The X Factor's reality-TV game?

"There's no truth in this at all," a Fox rep tells E! News in response to Haygood's claim that he wanted to be cut early on because the show tried to make him into a kooky character instead of just let him be an aspiring artist.

"Dexter always said he was very happy with everything leading up to last week's show and he had no conversation with either [mentor Nicole Scherzinger] or producers to the contrary. In fact, it was the opposite. He was always very positive about the song, the show and his performance."

But that was last week. Tonight, the top 12 finalists took the stage knowing that, for the first time, their fate is in the voters' hands. How did the crème de la crème do when it counted?

READ: Simon and Paula's Reunion Lives On! Fox Renews The X Factor for Season Two

The five-man R&B group The Stereo Hoggz came out with all the bells and whistles that that you'd find at an arena concert—meaning it was more about the spectacle than the singing. But if you like spectacle, they were great, and they did Janet Jackson's "Rhythm Nation" proud. "I don't think there's a band in the world right now as good as you," Simon Cowell raved to his chagrin (this is Paula Abdul's group, after all). "That was a master class of choreography, being slick, vocals, charisma...I wish I was mentoring you. This is so annoying!"

Chris Rene was back in action after an off-week with a pop-R&B verson of The Carpenters classic "Superstar"—and he sounded like Bruno Mars. We mean that as a compliment!

LeRoy Bell, he of the inexplicable 60 years of age, threw the judges for a loop with a country ballad—Lonestar's "I'm Already There"—that once again had Simon accusing Nicole Scherzinger of picking the wrong song for her pupil. "You know what, Simon?" Nicole shot back, "Sometimes, less is more."

READ: X Factor Reject Capitalizes on Ouster, Gives Her Best Katy Perry in Debut Release

Sadly, we feel that 13-year-old Rachel Crow was swallowed up by the theatrics that accompanied her weird arrangement of "Walking on Sunshine." Not that it made her any less adorable, of course. Simon looked perfectly pleased, but...he'd never admit otherwise. "It's called being inventive, darling," he snarked at Nicole, who questioned why Rachel's mentor switched up the lyrics.

We caught a few bum notes during Lakoda Rayne's "Landslide" harmonizing, but Paula looked as if she'd been transported to La-La Land by her girl group's ethereal beauty. Even host Steve Jones told Simon he "needed glasses" after the Brit criticized their gowns—which, as with all the other critiques tonight, was really more of a slam at his fellow judge than anything the performers had done.

Josh Krajcek ripped our hearts a new one, positively searing through the room with his rendition of Christina Perri's "Jar of Hearts." "I feel like a proud mom, but we're the same age, so that doesn't really work," joked mentor Nicole. "That was incredible," admitted Simon. "It's like you wrote the song, one of my favorite songs of the last few years...Absolutely stunning."

MORE: Wanna Know What Nicole Scherzinger Is Doing for Her X Factor Encore?

Josh's tearjerker was followed up by another torcher from Melanie Amaro, who sang the Eagles' "Desperado." "The only thing Simon ever did right was [bringing] you back," L.A. Reid told the 19-year-old. "Right now, you are the one to beat, trust me," asserted Simon.

The only competition for Rachel's Cutest Contestant title is Astro, the hip-hop specialist who actually comes off younger than 15—but that's not a bad thing, because that makes him seem like even more of a prodigy. Tonight, he took on Naughty by Nature's "Hip-Hop Hooray," again with a few of his own lyrics thrown in for effect.

Once again, if you like to download Glee's versions of your favorite songs, there's nothing not to like about the hodgepodge of 12- to 17-year-olds who make up InTENsity.

READ: X Factor Fight! Fight! Who's Calling Simon Cowell "Childish" and Nicole Scherzinger "Grumpy"?

Fourteen-year-old Drew isn't "cute." She's stunning. Simon's girl with the golden pipes made him proud for the umpteenth week in a row with her clear-as-a-bell version of...Nelly's "Just a Dream"?! Actually, it wasn't our favorite of hers, but her voice is so darn good, it doesn't matter. "You're unlucky, you have the wrong mentor," L.A. cracked. "Otherwise, you're amazing." To which Simon replied, "I'm not her mentor, she's my mentor." (We're speechless, too!)

Marcus Canton's vocals suffered only the slightest amount from adding a performance-length dance routine to his "Beautiful Girls"-"Every Little Step" routine. Even though he called it a "bit narcissistic" of L.A. to assign Marcus a song that he himself wrote (along with Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds), Simon admitted it was a brilliant song choice.

Stacy Francis sang her heart out while closing the show with Patty Griffin's "Up to the Mountain." And yes, Simon took credit for advising Nicole's over-30 standout to go gospel. "You stirred our souls," L.A. complimented her. "Nicole, this was a shining moment," Paula added. "I think you want to give me a kiss, don't you?" Simon asked Stacy with a satisfied smile.

Is it just us, or is this group of performers way better than your average American Idol top 12? Who got your vote tonight? But more importantly, who do you predict is going home tomorrow?! Sound off in the comments section!

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