Welcome to the homestretch of The X Factor, where more rules are being made up on the fly just in time for the semi-finals! This time, the show has chosen to scrap the reveal of the vote leaderboard each week to prevent teenage voters from feeling their act is safe. Wednesday's episode gave us another round of double performances from the final four contestants, an increasing amount of filler, and a completely checked-out Demi Lovato.
Tate Stevens – First up for the evening, Tate went with Craig Morgan's "Bonfire," which featured some serious pyrotechnics and L.A. Reid wearing a black cowboy hat in solidarity. Tate ignored Simon's past advice and did a little dancing while putting on a very fun show. Britney didn't think it was Tate's best work, which led to a shocked yelp from L.A. Demi disagreed, calling it a "winning performance." Simon called it "one of his favorite performances" and praised Tate's decision to go with a song he'd actually want to record. Khloe tried to press Britney a bit, but only got "I feel like I've seen it done better" out of her.
Carly Rose Sonenclar – Carly Rose decided to go with Elton John's "Your Song" and donned her usual Broadway-ready attire. She hit the notes, but the act felt theatrical. It didn't help that the voices of a children's choir joined in toward the end, but the X Factor cameras revealed that the children standing onstage weren't singing a word. Whoops! Call us crazy, but Carly's schtick is starting to feel well-worn. L.A. disagreed with us, though, and when we thought Demi would take our side after calling Carly predictable, she then contradicted herself entirely by saying the performance was her favorite. Simon called Demi out on that insanity and she called him old. So, not much new there. With no acts left to her name, it's not clear that Demi knows how to handle her role. Simon declared Carly's showing "a beautiful version of a fantastic song," but not her best performance.
Emblem3 – After a really awkward start that saw the guys lying on the stage and looking up to a camera in the rafters, their take on Peter Frampton's "I Love Your Way" fell nicely into their usual rhythm – a mix of thrusting steps, reggae rap, and clapping along from the audience. Some reports this week had Simon vowing to sign these guys regardless of the outcome of the show, and we can see why. L.A. called it their "five million dollar performance." Demi was reminded of what made her fall in love with the group during the early auditions. And Simon predicted the performance would get them into the finals.
Fifth Harmony – Our fourth-place group knew they were on the verge of elimination, so they went big with Elli Goulding's current hit "Anything Can Happen." Simon set them up on stage in a bizarre tea party set that involved a gigantic bow on Camilla's head and butterfly waiters serving them. Seriously, if you're going to watch any of these videos, check out this oddity. But the song sounded awesome, building on last week's momentum. L.A. called it the very best vocal performance they've ever done. Britney said they were "inspiring girl power" and "it's really interesting." Side note: Someone needs to teach Britney some more compliments if she's hit the rock bottom of "interesting." Simon reiterated the song's title to emphasize that he has absolutely no clue how America is going to vote from here on out.
Tate Stevens – L.A. basically forced Tate to go with a song called "Fall." It's pretty hilarious to picture L.A. frantically listening to country music each weekend to come up with something bold for Tate. This one was right in Tate's wheelhouse—slow and emotional with a few big moments to get the audience into it. Britney started with this statement: "We've seen you hit and miss a lot in this competition. But I feel like that was a direct hit." It was nice to see Britney offer a more complete sentence than usual, but L.A. was quick to point out that Tate hasn't missed much. Simon finally noted the absurdity of Tate's weekly anxiety over returning to paving roads in Missouri: "There's about as much of a chance of you going back to your old job as me flying to the moon tomorrow night."
Carly Rose Sonenclar – Britney decided that Carly Rose should start off her second song of the night by playing the piano. In the intro video we were given a goofy moment between Carly, done up with makeup, and her father, wearing one of his favorite T-shirts, talking about her piano anxiety on Hollywood Blvd. Heavy on the filler tonight, guys. The performance of "Imagine" started off well continued strongly as she stood up from the piano, until a decision to literally SHOUT a couple notes. It was baffling and completely took us out of the song. But she recovered nicely and even closed with some more notes on the piano.
L.A. and Demi mailed it in with some generic compliments. Then, in perhaps the biggest moment of the competition thus far, Simon destroyed Britney's decisions as "overcomplicated," saying they "made a beautiful song fussy" and "I'm not sure that song needs those big notes." The look on Carly's face was pure shock. Her first real, brutal criticism. And despite Britney's attempt to stress that Carly is now competing with the best artists in the world, she's definitely worried.
Emblem3 – Simon decided to challenge the guys with "Hey Jude" and called out the little Emblem, Keaton apparently, to carry the day, which he really did. They performed on top of a miniature brick wall of sorts, jumping down for the chorus, running through the audience, and hopping around. L.A. was ready to hate the Beatles song choice, but admitted it was appropriate for these young heartthrobs. Britney called it an "A-level" performance and demanded they take a bow. Demi decided to wake up for a brief moment and point out that they're not quite the Beatles yet. Phew, glad that's out there. At the end, the rapper Drew again pandered to the audience for votes. For all his training, Simon has not found a big enough muzzle for that kid.
Fifth Harmony – Simon decided to return the girls to "Impossible," the song that really alerted him to their potential as a group during the visits to the judges' houses. They even decided to sing a bit of it... in Spanish this time. And Simon surprisingly agreed to that idea. The results were mixed, as the switches between Spanish and English were jarring. If not for Camilla's standout moments toward the end giving us some hope, this song choice could be their last in this competition. L.A. was harsh, proving again that it never really pays dividends to perform a song more than once on this show. Britney said she'll be surprised if they survive until next week. Demi summarized the fact that America will decide their fate and that made her nervous, but didn't ever offer a real opinion. Simon made his best effort to support their candidacy, but it's hard to believe he'd choose them over Emblem3 at this point.
"Let's do it live!" Our favorite judge and host moments of the night
– At one point in the show a very excited teenager was handed the mic and declared her love for Simon, because "he's always right." The cut back to Simon killed us. He's used to this.
– In a cheesy promo for next year's auditions, we learned that one way to try out for the The X Factor is to tape yourself singing in a shopping mall kiosk? And even better, Carly Rose supposedly came to the producers' attention that way? We're nearly positive that this was nowhere near the truth, but good luck with singing your heart out at the mall this summer if you decide try out for Season 3!
– Since we generally criticize the live performances here, it must be noted that this week was quite smooth! But this may've had something to do with the drastic cutback on banter between the hosts and the judges. Still, we'd rather have Khloe forcing Simon to answer questions he doesn't hear the first few times. Bring back the trainwreck!
Our Educated-Guess Rankings
4. Fifth Harmony – We would have put them through after their first performance, but the repeat of "Impossible" did them in.
3. Emblem3 – We don't honestly think they *need* to win this competition like the other acts. They're going to sell records.
2. Carly Rose Sonenclar – It's hard to see her returning to the top spot after this week's strong criticism.
1. Tate Stevens – A pretty solid week for Tate Nation.
1. Will Fifth Harmony pull off a stunning leapfrog into the finals?
2. Does Emblem3 really need to win this competition or have you already pre-ordered their forthcoming album?
3. Is Britney playing fair at the judges' table, or is she being harsh in order to send Carly to the finals?
4. Was anyone else annoyed by Demi's lack of interest in offering an opinion this week?