X Factor Top 12 Revealed

Simon Cowell
The X Factor is live!

Fox”s talent competition returned Tuesday with its first live show, a 2½-hour presentation that seemed rushed as producers squeezed in all 17 remaining acts with commentary from judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, Nicole Scherzinger and L.A. Reid. Poor host Steve Jones looked stressed out as he hurried the night along. But in the end, they made their time and 17 acts were trimmed down to 12.

Keep reading to find out who made the cut – and who was sent home:

L.A. Reid and the Boys:
Brooklyn”s hip-hop wonder kid Brian “Astro” Bradley, 15, was the first act to hit the stage and performed an impressive and impeccable version of Kris Kross”s “Jump.” “You”ve just killed everybody,” Simon told him before turning to L.A. to say, “If this kid doesn”t make it through to the finals you are literally insane.” He did make it, as did Chris Rene and Marcus Canty, who was “born to be on that stage,” according to Nicole. Sadly, crooner Phillip Lomax was the first contestant of the night to be sent home.

“It”s such a shame that L.A. is sending me home tonight but I”m so happy to be here in the first place,” Lomax said. “I hope that I”m going to be performing as much as possible in the future.”

Paula Abdul and the Groups:
The mentor had a unique challenge with two of the groups, Intensity and Lakoda Rayne, who were formed during the course of the competition. But both made it through to the top 12. L.A. said he would have signed Lakoda Rayne on the spot after they sang a pop-country version of “Come On Eileen.” Simon agreed: “Right now there is a gap in the market for a group like you, ” he said. Intensity, which has 10 young members, were also impressive as they sang “Footloose.” Simon called them, “nothing less than a music miracle.” The Stereo Hoggz – a both “current and classic” R&B act, according to Nicole – also made it through, which means that California brothers The Brewer Boys, who sang a mash-up of “Rich Girl” by Hall & Oates and “Faith” by George Michael, were sent home.

“You surpassed my expectations,” Paula told the disappointed siblings. “I believe in both of you. You”re going to go on and have careers.”

Nicole Scherzinger and the Over 30s:
Dexter Haygood sang a surprising mash-up of Britney Spears”s “Womanizer” and Katy Perry”s “I Kissed a Girl.” Simon said the combination of 49-year-old soul singer performing those hits was like the “weirdest milkshake in the world but I kind of like the taste of it.” Too bad Nicole had to say goodbye to Dexter, who said he was “kind of confused” with her decision. Going through are the show”s oldest contestant, LeRoy Bell, 60; stay-at-home mom Stacy Francis, 42; and burrito maker Josh Krajcik, who got some of the best notes of the night. “Your voice is my favorite voice I”ve heard in the past decade,” Paula told him. Stacy had a tougher time, with Simon telling her she was a “church singer” and suggesting her sound needs a “massive shift.”

“It”s my dream to be a pop star,” she said just before being put through.

Simon Cowell and the Girls:
The night”s final round, which featured five singers instead of four, kicked off with Simone Battle, who gave a sexy performance with a gaggle of back-up dancers. L.A., Paula and Nicole were clearly unimpressed but saved their harshest criticism for her mentor. “You are a pop star,” Simon said, defending her. Next, adorable Rachel Crow, 15, received universal praise. Paula suggested she run for president because she”s so likable. Drew (Simon said she”s dropping her hard-to-spell last name), 14, was also one of the night”s favorites. “This is why I wanted to be back on American TV,” Simon said, “to find someone like you.”

Tiah Tolliver had a tough act to follow and performed an intense version of “Sweet Dreams.” “If that was a sweet dream I”d hate to think what one of the scary ones looked like,” Nicole said. Finally, Melanie Amaro, who was sent home before Simon admitted his mistake and made it right, brought the house down. “We really did save the best for last because, honey, you were unbelievable,” L.A. said.

Although Simon said he faced the toughest decision he”s ever had to make in sending home two contestants, it seemed like an obvious choice to keep Drew, Rachel and Melanie, while Tiah and Simone were sent home.