Last week, when it was announced that the three "X Factor" contestants moving on to Season 2's finale were Tate Stevens, Carly Rose Sonenclar, and girl group Fifth Harmony, I predicted that Tate would win the competition. With Tate being the only male contestant, the only older contestant, and the only country singer left on the show--not to mention the finalist who'd topped the leaderboard most often this season (three times, compared to Carly's two and Fifth Harmony's none)--he seemed, at least statistically, like the obvious frontrunner. I still believed that Carly, this season's most consistent and most technically proficient contestant, had a good chance of taking home that $5 million prize instead, but I figured it was likely that she'd split the vote with the similar-in-age/genre/gender Fifth Harmony, and therefore come in second. And of course, I assumed Fifth Harmony had about as much chance of winning as Britney Spears had of getting through a critique without saying "I feel that..." or "amazing": ZERO.
But, dear readers, after watching this Wednesday's top three competitive episode, I've changed my prediction. I can't believe I am even typing this...but I actually think there will be a "shocking" upset on Thursday, and Fifth Harmony will win.
There are several reasons why I think Fifth Harmony could pull off a dark-horse victory this week. First of all, they got the pimp spot, singing last, just like last week--and even though Wednesday's performance order was supposedly randomly determined by the contestants drawing names from a hat, this helped. (Especially since their final song was "Let It Be," which always seems to go over well despite the fact that it has been performed way too much on all of these singing shows.)
Second, when all three contestants did duets with special star guests, Fifth Harmony were paired with the show's own Demi Lovato, making them likely to appeal to all of the diehard Demi fans who'd tuned in. (It was also the superstar pairing that simply worked best of the three; more on that later.) Third, their biggest competition, Carly, was quite possibly bussed by an ill-advised star pairing that did NOT go quite as well. (More that later, too.)
Fourth, Tate seemed to sort of give up this Wednesday, phoning in surprisingly lackluster and barely memorable performances at a crucial point in the competition. Fifth, America loves underdogs, and the judges called these girls "underdogs" more times this Wednesday than Britney used the adjective "amazing."
And finally...Fifth Harmony simply gave the best performances of the night, peaking at exactly the right time. Combine all these factors (no pun intended) with the facts that they had an animated Pegasus flying in the background during one of their numbers, and that someone in their hometown named a pizza after them, and they seemed to have all the advantages this week. Come on, who doesn't love pizza and Pegasi?
So after this season's top 13 contestants and a children's choir performed Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone" to honor the victims of last week's tragic Newtown school shooting (not nearly as intense or intimate a memorial as this past Monday's Emmy-worthy tribute on "The Voice," but a lovely and well-intentioned effort nonetheless), it was back to business on "The X Factor," with the contestants each singing three tunes--one "song of the season" reprise performance, one superstar duet, and one song they'd never done before. Read my full recap below to better understand why I believe Fifth Harmony may have done what they needed to do to pull off one of the biggest upsets in TV talent show history...
CARLY ROSE SONENCLAR
For her first performance, Carly reprised "Feeling Good," the Nina Simone classic that she did at her first audition, arguably one of the best "X Factor" auditions of all time. The fact that the shrieking audience all but drowned out the song's a cappella intro was unfortunate, as was the granny outfit that "The X Factor's" stylists made this poor 13-year-old wear, but other than that, this was solid. It just didn't have quite the wow factor that it did when we first heard that old-soul voice unexpectedly come out of this little girl's mouth and everyone called her a "robot" or an "alien" or "possessed" or "not really 13," or whatever. The judges, however, were as impressed as they were the first time they'd witnessed Carly singing this. "This is a defining moment, and you have to top everything you've done...and you did," said L.A. Reid. "I think it's really cool to watch someone so young command the stage. I think you are going to inspire so many young girls to follow their dreams," said Demi. "The first time I heard it, it blew me away. And actually, you sang it better tonight than you did the first time," said Simon Cowell. "It is shocking how bright your star is, and we're gonna win this," declared Carly's mentor, Britney. But Britney may have spoken too soon.
For her duet, Carly was paired with...LeAnn Rimes. This is when everything went awry for her. If there was ever any justification to start a conspiracy theory that Carly was thrown under the bus this week, it'd be this mess. Even on paper it sounded like a terrible idea, since a) Carly is not a country singer, so she was the one contestant among the top three assigned a duet partner outside of her genre, and b) LeAnn is a very polarizing public figure, reviled by many for being a "homewrecker" and known these days more for her personal problems than for her music or talent. (Side note: I have nothing against LeAnn myself. But many people out there do.) This just didn't seem like it would end well for Carly. But then these two started to sing "How Do I Live," and it was way worse than I'd even feared. LeAnn kind of seemed sloppy-drunk, or at least like she'd just woken up (couldn't someone have at least combed her hair?); the number seemed less rehearsed than those infamous last-minute song switches by Lyric 145 and Vino Alan; and LeAnn was almost acting like she was in competition with Carly, loudly singing over her in a way that did not complement Carly's efforts and just simply did not feel nice on the ears. ("I was very comfortable," Carly said when asked about her duet experience. Well, I wasn't.) Was any of this poor Carly's fault? No, of course not. I just hope for her sake that viewers realize this when they vote, and that they do not penalize Carly for circumstances beyond her control.
For her third, final, and hopefully redemptive number, Carly did Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah"--which would have been a wonderful choice if it hadn't been covered about 80 gazillion times on various singing competitions, including just this week during "The Voice's" aforementioned Newtown tribute. The song has simply lost its impact by now--even when sung as wonderfully as Carly did it this evening--and I therefore felt strangely unmoved. Additionally, the pageanty costuming and churchy staging made Carly appear uncool and old-fashioned; what she really needed right now was another "As Long As You Love Me"-style moment that would make her seem fresh, young, and current. ("As Long As You Love Me" was one of my favorite performances of this entire "X Factor" season, and definitely my favorite Carly performance.) Simon told Carly she'd had a "good night," Demi and L.A. called her "angelic," and a cocky Britney, already eyeing that $5 million prize, told Simon, "Get our your checkbook." But I don't know if these really were $5 million performances. I am, frankly, worried for Carly, and Carly definitely flashed a couple furrowed-browed facial expressions herself that indicated she wasn't feeling quite as confident about her chances as her mentor was.
Well, at least Carly tried, valiantly, and if she does lose this week, she can take solace in knowing that her performances and vocals were not to blame. Tate was a different story. He seemed to lose all momentum, and I am not sure if he was just tired (he seemed tired), or just complacent after weeks of being number-one in the rankings. For his first number, he redid his audition song, Randy Houser's "Anything Goes," and I thought it was a bit meh, lacking the spark of his spunky first audition in Kansas City, not to mention the fire of his feisty "Bonfire" performance just last week. Britney called him "right-down-the-middle country," which she apparently meant as a compliment, though it sure didn't sound like one. Demi, who normally is "bored" by most performances, raved about this, bizarrely calling it a "stadium performance." Simon got on his soapbox and proclaimed, "You are made in America. You are authentic. You've retained your integrity." But Simon didn't mention whether Tate had performed well or not. Simon actually sounded like he was talking to Lee DeWyze on "American Idol" Season 9, come to think of it.
For his duet, Tate teamed with Little Big Town, a pairing that seemed full of potential given how popular and current LBT are right now. (The song they did with Tate, "Pontoon," recently won a CMA Award for Single Of The Year.) But Tate and LBT's "Pontoon" didn't have any of the original version's motorboatin' energy. Tate seemed to lazily let the Little Big Town ladies do most of the singing, while he just air-guitar'd and grinned and boogied like a drunk uncle at a wedding, and though he looked like he was having a blast and I was happy for him that he got this fun moment, let's just say this was not a "stadium performance," let alone a $5 million one. I'd seen him do much better than this.
Tate's final number, a cover of Chris Young's "Tomorrow," was also a little sluggish. This would have been a good time to do one of his barn-stormin', boot-scootin' performances (I like Tate best when he cuts loose), so I am not sure what was up with him. He just didn't seem like he came to win this week. "That was great, but then again, I always love what you do," Britney shrugged. Simon predicted huge future record sales for Tate--which could still very well be the case, as Tate is very commercial and very marketable--but I don't know if Tate will be winning a huge record deal on Thursday. Something about him just seemed off this week.
"This was the moment when I actually saw something special in these girls," mentor Simon somewhat embarrassingly declared, as he introduced Fifth Harmony's first performance. Why was this embarrassing? Because he was introducing the girls' reprise of "Anything Could Happen," a song they'd performed just last week. Really? He only realized seven days ago that he actually had a good group on his hands? I guess he'd been too laser-focused on Emblem3, whom he'd delusionally believed could become the American equivalent of One Direction, to recognize 5H's talent right in front of him. This was hardly a surprise, but it was surprising that Simon would actually admit it on the air. Anyway, under normal circumstances, I would have thought it'd be a bad move to do the same performance, with basically the same staging and costumes, two weeks in a row. And of course this version didn't have nearly the same impact as last week's did, when the girls surprised everyone and jumped ahead of Emblem3 in the votes. I do wish they'd done something a little fresher. But this was still the most vivacious and effervescent performance of the night, and I suppose I couldn't blame Simon for wanting them to do what was basically their equivalent of Kris Allen's game-changing "Heartless" on "American Idol." L.A. called them "magical" and even declared, "You were the underdogs, and now you are the ones to beat." Britney, who only last week was flashing a major stankface upon hearing the news that Fifth Harmony had made the top three, suddenly had a change of heart and called them "spectacular, girly, and just fun." And Demi told them, "You are so powerful together. I really hope America pulls through and votes for you guys!"
Demi left the judging desk after that, and joined 5H for a performance of her own "Give Your Heart A Break." Finally Demi had something to keep her busy again, after losing her last contestant two weeks ago! All kidding aside, this was a pairing that worked. It was song that 5H had performed on the show before, so they were comfortable and loose, and Demi fit in with them perfectly. Simon, Demi's arch nemesis at times, even gave this performance a standing ovation and said, "It pains me to say this, but Demi Lovato, you were sensational. That is what I call pop perfection. Any time you want to join this group, Demi..."
Fifth Harmony wrapped things up with the Beatles' perennially crowd-pleasing (if overdone) "Let It Be," with Normani Hamilton giving some J.Hud realness and Dinah Jane Hansen sort of channeling Alicia Keys. This was really strong, and a great way to end the show, even if the actual harmonies were a bit lacking. "You guys are really magic happening right before our eyes. You've just come so far," said L.A. (though he wisely stopped short of comparing Fifth Harmony to the Beatles like he ridiculously did with Emblem3 last week, and he surprisingly didn't give them a hard time about their absence of harmonies). "You've blossomed as a group. You've come a long way," said a stankface-free Britney. "I'm really, really proud of you," gushed the group's unofficial sixth member, Demi. And then Simon went into campaign mode and said, "I know I'm biased, but I really do believe you deserve to win this competition." Yep, he's believed that since...um, last week.
So, do Fifth Harmony deserve to win this competition? Well, based on this week's performances alone, I think the answer is yes. But based on the entire season's body of work, it's clear that Carly deserves it more. And I know Carly probably wants it more, and she will just be crushed if she does not win. And seeing a little kid's dreams get crushed on national TV is not fun. However, if either 5H or Carly prevail, I'll be cool with it, as long as the other still gets a record deal (albeit a probably less-than-$5-million one).
And at least we're going into Thursday's finale with a bit of suspense, which I had assumed this season's weekly leaderboard reveals had rendered an impossibility. So tune in Thursday to find out if my 5H prediction is true, or if my Tate prediction from last week was the correct one all along...or if Carly's pure talent can overcome all of this week's obstacles in the end. See you then.
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