The X Factor: It's all Paula

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We all know you're Mr. Cool, Simon, but who stole the show?

After an embarassing selection episode,  the Simon Cowell Show (excuse me, the X Factor) is actually allowing the contestants to sing. And while Simon is strutting around trying to steal the limelight and show how incredibly cool and smart he is (at one point telling one of the contestants to kiss him because he knew what kind of music was best for her) the real star was ... Paula Abdul.

Not because she's appears perfectly sober (amazing) and looks great in purple -- but because she's taken the people with by far the least talent and turned them into winners.

See, each judge gets to mentor one category. Simon, of course, has the girls (more on that later). L.A. Reid has the boys. Nichole Sherzinger has the over-30s ... and Paula has the groups.

Frankly, the groups were the weakest entries. In the early rounds, some of them were train wrecks and none of them were terribly good. But somehow, Paula has turned three of them into real contenstants; she's picked good music, helped with good dance moves, given them confidence ... even Simon admits she's done well. Not that any of her folks are going to win (first prize -- you get to make a Pepsi ad!); they aren't that good. But while the other judges, particularly Simon the Great, have made some awful mistakes, the spaced-out daffy Paula has kept it together.

So onto the show.

What's up with the interplanetary opener? Like the folks on Saturn are really zipping through the Solar System at warp nine just to see the X Factor? If this is the random picture of life on Earth that reaches the Vulcans, they're going to continue to believe that the third rock from the sun is still far too primitive for First Contact.

The host, Steve Jones (no, not THAT Steve Jones) is as dull as dishwater, and needs a personality implant.

Stereo Hogzz open the show; I wasn't impressed last time, and the red vests gotta go -- but man, Paula worked a miracle with these guys. They're actually ready for prime time. Chris Rene tries to do a hip-hop version of Karen Carpenter, complete with flames shooting out of what looks like a giant barbecue. Ack. Leroy Bell is 59, does a decent job with a bad song.

Rachel Crow is Viv's favorite, of course, since she's 14. She does a tolerable "Walking on Sunshine," except that Simon has changed the lyrics to "You are my Sunshine" and the rythm is all wrong. Oh, and the bad psychedelic graphics in the background made the whole thing hard to follow.

Lakoda Rayne. Paula's girls. They're all dressed up like colored crayons, and they all look exactly the same. They have very little talent among them. But they managed to make a Fleetwood Mac song sound okay. A little less sexy than Stevie Nicks, but what are you going to do.

I hope Joch Krajcik wins, if only because he looks so much like Jack Black in School of Rock, complete with a girlfriend who clearly has been supporting him all these years while he makes an occasional burrito and sings in unsuccessful bands. I like the girlfriend; she better get half the money. And the guy can sing, he really can.

Melanie Amaro does "Desperado." Jean hates the Eagles and always has, but not me, and that's a great song for the right singer, and Melanie is the right singer. Something Simon did right. She's got as much vocal talent as anyone in the show.

Astro -- man, you have to love Astro. He's 14, he writes his own raps, and even when he's a little shaky, he's awesome. He just is.

Marcus Canty is L.A. Reid's guy, and Reid has him sing a song by ... L.A. Reid. But it's good, and he's good, and L.A. gets a good one on Sir Simon, to wit:

Simon: It's a little bit narcissistic to have your artist sing one of your own songs, but ...

L.A.: Well, Simon, we were going to do one of yours, but ...

Stacy Francis. Girl has pipes. Not my kind of singer. Amazing voice, though.

InTENsity. Some shit about America. Drew: Cute but predictable.

Tonight someone goes home. I predict weeping.