Thursday marked the season finale of The X Factor, and the question on everyone's minds at the start of the evening was ... how is this show possibly going to stretch the announcement of who won to a whopping two hours?! With no performances by the contestants that will have any impact whatsoever on the result, and no sing-off, is that even possible? (Spoiler: yes.)
Of course, the other mystery was which of the three finalists — Tate Stevens, Carly Rose Sonenclar or Fifth Harmony — would actually walk away with the grand prize, a $5 million recording contract. But before we get to that, let's address the first query. Here's a breakdown of how exactly the show managed to balloon itself to 120 minutes, when the actual victory reveal took approximately two:
8:00 — 8:05: Spillover from the red carpet footage of the pre-show special, with hosts Mario Lopez and Khloe Kardashian awkwardly greeting the four judges as they arrive — L.A. Reid, Demi Lovato, Simon Cowell and Britney Spears, in that order — as well as special guest performers One Direction and Pitbull. Especially cringe-worthy was the moment when Kardashian practically had to tug on Simon Cowell's jacket to get him to stay on the carpet before Spears pulled up. Anyone else thinking that she stage-whispered in his ear, "PLEASE LET ME KEEP THIS JOB!" as soon as the cameras cut away?
8:05 — 8:15: The actual start of the show, featuring highlights from the season and introduction of the judges as well as the Top 3, leading to Super Awkward Moment No. 2! Lopez tries to hand off to "The Three Finalists!" with a flourish only to have the camera pan away to ... nothing. After a few seconds of back and forth, the show finally gets its act together and shows footage of the contestants arriving on the red carpet (separately), singing The Beatles' "All You Need Is Love." More awkwardness: Some of the previously-eliminated acts are stationed on the carpet, forcing the finalists to walk past them as they make their way towards the stage, with maybe a shoulder pat here and there. A little harsh, perhaps? ("Hi! We'll just be inside competing for the $5 million that could have been yours. Have a great night! Tweet me!").
8:15 — 8:25: A montage of Reid's expressive hand gestures at the judges' desk (what!?), followed by Stevens offering a rendition of "Please Come Home for Christmas" flanked by backup "dancers" (I use that term loosely) who looked like rejected extras from Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love" video. Post-performance gushing from Reid, with more hand gestures, plus a video from Tate's friends and family from his hometown wishing him well.
8:30 — 8:40: A montage of Simon's more colorful insults set to "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch." ("Personally, I love Mr. Grinch!" a potentially soon-to-be-unemployed Kardashian enthusiastically interjected after it was over. Oh, Khloe.) Fifth Harmony performs a festive "Baby, Please Come Home," followed by praise from their mentor, Mr. Grinch himself, and a "good luck" video from their friends and family. Touching, but yawn.
8:40 - 8:55: A montage of Britney's "surprised" faces is the most entertaining part of the night so far. Next up is Sonenclar delivering "All I Want For Christmas Is You," and uncharacteristically missing a couple of opportunities to belt and hit her now-famous "Carly Rose Notes" (as coined by Reid). Could the 13-year-old be nursing a cold? And now her hometown video, featuring kind words from friends, family and her piano teacher (aw). "How did that make you feel, seeing all those people?" Lopez asks Sonenclar afterwards. Way to ask those hard-hitting questions, Mario — step aside, Bob Woodward! Khloe has left the building at this point and is out on the red carpet interviewing fans. Lopez looks happy to have the stage to himself.
8:55 — 9:05: We're halfway through — and finally, some actual results! And an outfit change from Khloe! After much fanfare, Lopez and Kardashian reveal which act has finished in third place. And it's ... Fifth Harmony. Not that much of a surprise, given that the quintet was the underdog coming in. Don't be surprised if Cowell signs them anyway. A montage of highlights from their time on the show sends them off into the sunset.
9:08 — 9:20: Khloe's backstage now, "checking in" on Sonenclar and Stevens while wearing a short leather dress and a jeweled headband. Tate's grandmother looks horrified. And then another montage! This one goes all the way back to the audition process, highlighting singers who made it to the live rounds only to get eliminated, plus some of the crazier rejects. All of the judges then talk about their favorite moments of the season. (Britney, whose memory is apparently akin to that of a goldfish: "The whole experience.")
9:20 — 9:25: Pitbull performs the classic Christmas anthem his new single "Don't Stop the Party."
9:30 — 9:35: A montage of Demi's "sassiness," directed at Simon. One Direction performs "Kiss You."
9:40 — 9:50: Sonenclar and Stevens perform a special duet: Miley Cyrus' "The Climb." It's not the best performance from either one of them. Khloe and Mario plug the auditions for next season.
9:53 — 10:00: And now ... a mere 113 minutes later, the moment we've all been waiting for. Who's the winner of The X Factor Season 2? (Also, another outfit change for Khloe, who now looks like a purple and green holiday light display exploded on her dress). After bringing the Top 2 acts out on stage with their mentors, Lopez reveals that the winner is ...
Tate Stevens. The good ol' country boy thanks "the man upstairs, my family, and all the country music fans." Add another expression to the face montage from Britney Spears, who looks like she just stepped in something foul-smelling. To close out the show, Stevens performs Chris Young's "Tomorrow" for the third time this season, and he's joined by all the dearly departed contestants on the stage as confetti falls.
So ... that's all, folks! What did you think of the outcome? Are you a citizen of Tate Nation, or should Carly Rose or Fifth Harmony have taken the prize? Weigh in below!