Good thing for Nicole Scherzinger that those boos are making her stronger.

"I haven't seen her," Simon Cowell said of last week's The X Factor castoff, Rachel Crow, whose explosive exit made for one of the memorable ousters we've seen. "But she's a fighter, she's a survivor. And she's not at the mercy of these two anymore," he added, pointing to Nicole and Paula Abdul, "so she's fine."

Cue the boos for Nicole, whose reluctance to send anyone home left Rachel at the mercy of...well, America. Which is where she would have been anyway if she had made it to tonight's semifinal round, after which only the fans' votes determine who moves on to next week's two-night finale.

"Rachel, I have nothing but love for her, and, you know what?" Nicole said. "God is good, and I got nothing but love and light tonight! And it's rock 'n' roll time, and it's about these contestants!"

Indeed it is. So how did they do?

First round, the semifinalists had to sing whatever the fans who voted in the Pepsi Challenge chose for them.

In Marcus Canty's case, that was Boyz II Men's "I'll Make Love to You." He sang it well, and quite charmingly, but in the end, it was nothing more than the sum of its parts.

Simon blamed L.A. Reid for "very distracting, very corny" staging, but L.A. had nothing but love for the "three-time save-me-song champion," which is what the veteran songwriter-producer persisted in calling Marcus tonight.

But Simon pulled no punches when judging Marcus' second song, an up-tempo, bass-heavy version of Wham!'s "Careless Whisper," calling it "horrific" and "grotesque."

All of that vitriol was directed at L.A., of course, who said that what he just witnessed was a guy who gave "an absolutely fabulous performance" who looked "more like a champion" than an underdog tonight.

The fans' chose excellently in giving Chris Rene's the song-rap hybrid "Fly" by Sugar Ray, which—as Mark McGrath originally demonstrated—is more about charisma than vocal ability.

Which, as Nicole and Paula pointed out repeatedly, Chris has in spades.

The fan fave went way outside the box in the second round, sitting down behind the piano (and then standing up and rallying the audience) to put his own spin on Alicia Keys' "No One."

So, you think a few hearts may have melted? L.A. actually saluted him afterward!

Melanie Amaro continued to be the one singing-show contestant who can do true justice to Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, tonight taking on the viewers' choice of Mariah Carey's "Hero." Paula criticized the arrangement and L.A. said he didn't see Melanie's usual passion...and then Simon mowed 'em all down and called his protégée "bloody fantastic."

Before Melanie sang her second song, Simon warned us that he had either "done this well or done something stupid," when it came to the arrangement.

And then the 20-year-old became the millionth person to put a spin on "Feelin' Good." But it was friggin' fantastic, and the arrangement was lush and showed off every aspect of her voice, so...we're feelin' great about her chances of making the finale.

"I know why you're the only female left, because you're the greatest female who's ever graced this stage," L.A. said appreciatively. "Really great song choice, not predictable, and you killed it, girl. Great job, Simon."

"You should be feeling so good now!" Nicole exclaimed, with Paula adding, "I feel you, and it feels good!"

"Mel, this is why we brought the show to America," Simon said solemnly, "because I always dreamt we would find someone like you."

Poor Josh Krajcik, who had to close the show after that.

The 30-year-old dad, who turned L.A. and Simon back into Josh fans with his first-round performance of "Come Together," made the night's final pitch for a spot in the finale with none other than "Hallelujah."

Always a risky choice, because it's such a simple-yet-epic song that has already been covered so memorably multiple times...

And would you believe that L.A. said Josh's performance "lacked excitement"?

"How can you even say that?!" choked Paula, who apparently could not believe it.

"I've got to be honest with you, right," began Simon. "It's all about the finals, there's a lot of money at stake and I'm going to have to agree with..." he paused.

"Paula," Simon concluded. "I think you did what we knew you should do. You came out with a great song, great emotion, it was sincere. I think that song has put you into the final next week."


The final three will be named tomorrow night. At stake is a Sony recording contract, a spot in a Pepsi commercial and, oh, just $5 million.

And who do you deserves one last shot at the title? And is this the most twisted group of judges ever, or what?! Sound off in the comments, please!

GALLERY: Top 10 Stylish Stars of 2011

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