Thursday's X Factor started off on a cheery note, delaying the inevitable first elimination with a performance from last year's winner, Melanie Amaro.
The 20-year-old took her sweet time releasing originals after her 2011 victory, with her debut album Truly not due out until early next year. While her debut single, "Don't Let Me Down," was previewed in Pepsi advertisements earlier this season, Amaro performed her latest offering, "Long Distance," on the stage Thursday.
Amaro looked comfortable in a slimming black dress with long, sleek, straight hair -- a far cry from her June 2011 audition in which she sang Beyonce's "Listen." The performance elicited big smiles from judge L.A. Reid, who later tweeted "Great seeing @ItsMelanieAmaro back on@TheXFactorUSA stage - strong performance."
Amaro seemed pleased to be back on the stage that made her a star, telling hosts Khloe Kardashian and Mario Lopez that "I have tons of wonderful people that just love me and take me in," referring to the show's audience. "Thank you," she told the crowd.
Next up was an ultra cheesy (and probably even more pricey) promotional video for Sony X headphones. Because it's not enough that the contestants have been wearing them everywhere all season, now they're shilling them by recalling their earliest memories of discovering that they wanted to be an artist. For CeCe Frey, it was being bullied as a child that made her love music. Apparently not much has changed.
Then came the bad news. One artist was to be unceremoniously booted from the competition without an opportunity to sing for survival. And while Frey always says she hopes to avoid singing on Thursday night, we doubt this was the alternative she was thinking of. Frey was the first to be sent home, leopard-face and all.
"I hope I taught everyone at home to love who you are," she said. "The more you love who you are, the less you need everyone else to."
Demi Lovato broke down in tears while bidding her farewell, forcing Frey to console her with a hug and an "It's OK." Lovato, too, was sporting the leopard-face.
"Thursday was not looking good for the ladies, though, with Fifth Harmony and Diamond White forced to sing for survival as the bottom two. More on that in a minute.
First was a performance from Ke$ha, who, in retrospect, maybe was not the best choice to perform alongside a slew of competitive singers. While Frey was often compared to Ke$ha during her tenure, this performance of "Come On," her new single, made it abundantly clear that she -- and the rest of the competitors -- are infinitely more talented than the pop party girl. We think "Die Young" might have been a better song choice for this stage.
Cowell was not pleased to introduce his act first, challenging Lopez with "Do I have to go first? Really? I want to go second." But producers won out, with Cowell conceding and Fifth Harmony moving forward. The girl group did their best Mariah Carey with "Anytime You Need a Friend," making a point to allow each girl an individual moment to shine, but falling a tad short on the harmonizing once again.
Next up was the "girl next door who sings like an angel," as Britney Spears introduced her. Diamond White performed "I Hope You Dance" by Lee Ann Womack, but fell just short with the judges. While Cowell and Spears sided with their own mentees, it was Lovato who cast the deciding vote to send White packing.
She did note that both acts "have careers that have been made on this show that are going to last. Regardless of what I decide, I think you're both set." Spears echoed that sentiment, telling White that "you're so young and the future is ahead of you. The world is yours." As for White, she looked to X Factor UK alum Cher Lloyd for inspiration, noting that since Lloyd finished fifth in her season, White is not worried about her own future.
"I'm thinking of Cher Lloyd right now, She came in fifth and look where she is," said Diamond, 13. "I'll be sure to come back with one of my hit songs and I'll perform for you guys."
So who came out on top with America? See the rankings below. Next stop for these four: semi-finals.
4th: Fifth Harmony
2nd: Carly Rose Sonenclar
1st: Tate Stevens