Will Fifth Harmony, Carly, or Tate win the pot of gold? And will it explode into five million lasers?
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Credit: Fox
Simon Cowell, American Idol

After a season filled with Simon’s eye rolls, Britney’s stankfaces, L.A. Reid’s staggering indifference, and Demi Lovato — all so compelling! — it’s sometimes hard to remember what this show’s supposed to be about: the contestants! And money. Mostly money. Three acts competed for the unbelievable $5 million recording contract in tonight’s finals. Fifth Harmony = five uniquely talented singers picked to live in a girl group and have their lives sequined. Carly Rose Sonenclar is a pitch-perfect 13-year-old seemingly on her ninth life of superstardom. And then there’s country crooner Tate Stevens, a “family man” (reinforced out loud four times this episode) who years ago gave up a chance at surefire fame and fortune to raise some kids.

I could go on and on about how annoying I find the show’s ever-growing disdain of Tate’s decent, modest, public works job back home as a depressing alternative to the glamorous life of an X Factor winner. But what’s the point? It’s almost over. You can check out my wordy assessment of this disappointing season here. For now, let’s get to the performances….

The judges engaged in delightfully stilted chats with their charges before the “Song of the Season” round. Britney Spears hilariously pretended she remembered the first time she saw Carly: “You were really shy and you had flip flops on, and it was so adorable.” I think we can all remember where we were the night Carly Rose Sonenclar wore flip flops.

Of course we’d already heard Carly earn an A+ on”Feeling Good” during the Knockout Round, so I took this time to become really distracted by her kid-playing-dress-up-in-a-grownup’s-closet costume. One thing Carly did tonight that she had not done before was a questionable tongue wag during the extreme close-up at the end of the song. I can’t tell if the suggestive lick-lipping was “trying to be sexy” or “hungry for the win.” Let’s just go with the latter!

Two noteworthy tidbits from Carly’s Westchester, NY hometown celebration: That effusive mayor or some other sort of official went wayyyyy overboard with a sonnet about how Carly’s “great talent is truly a gift from the gods,” and the woman next to the mayor was about to collapse under the weight of at least six dozen tiny cupcakes. Why did they need to be displayed like that? And why all of them? I was really, really entertained and I thought it was amazing. OMG, Britney’s boilerplate ‘X Factor’ critique, get out of my head!

NEXT: More hometown heroes; L.A.’s pants blatantly catch fire

After listening to his mentor L.A. Reid somehow get through the bald-faced lie “I was just thinking that this journey has been really fascinating” with a straight face, Tate Stevens rehashed “Anything Goes” and did an admirable job. No complaints. (Besides “What is the point of this round?” I guess.) This time, the thing Simon liked the most about Tate was that he was “made in America” and “didn’t try to do something stupid” — which is basically Simon’s not-so-subtle underhanded way of complimenting Tate for dumbing it down. Demi claimed to still “love” and be “obsessed” with Tate. Honey! Tone it down. There are other ways to say he is a pleasant country artist.

Carly got a day named after her, but Tate got a WATER TOWER! That’s way better. This time I fell in love/became obsessed with the way Tate’s hometown mayor looked like a cardboard cutout of a hometown mayor.

I was so convinced Tate’s enthusiastic boss Dave would hand over the mic and then…..nothing. Silence. Just a prop. But he turned out to be human after all. Two other perks: the fun Steve Zahn figure on the right, and the camera man’s awkward zoom-in of Nameless Cheerleader’s hemline to close the segment.

Only Ally’s San Antonio church rally was shown for Fifth Harmony, because the other four don’t have families, friends, or hometowns. Sad. But I did enjoy how Lauren’s mom, Clara, was very Maria Shriver with maybe a bit of Lake Bell glamour.

(WTF? Sorry.)

The girls reprised their Lisa Frank Sparklebarf rendition (I say that lovingly) of “Anything Could Happen,” this time with a giant flying unicorn to guide them — along with about 87 backing vocals and prerecorded tracks — to success! “Magic happens when you guys perform,” botted Britney, who’d been understandably hypnotized by the alluring powers of Camilla’s oversize pink bow, not to mention all the bubbles. Bubbles! “I really believe they’re a group! I believe they met long before any of us met them!” faux-botted L.A., and for a moment I was hopeful for a plot twist wherein we’d suddenly be treated to a SPECIAL INVESTIGATION segment that would reveal Fifth Harmony had been living together in some top-secret 5H Clubhouse since 2009.

“Something special, I believe, would happen if you won this competition,” Simon predicted — foreshadowing the half-grin/dramatic eye roll combo meal he plans to fiercely serve us up tonight if his girl group pulls off the victory.

NEXT: How do I ever, ever survive this terrible Leann Rimes performance? Would Carly sing with her mentor Britney for the celebrity duets round? What an unexpected and redeeming moment that would be! Nah, why bothah? Leann Rimes had graciously taken some time out of her busy schedule of sifting through wet trash to clash horribly with Carly on “How Do I Live”. Apparently Leann had been sick, so her efforts could be considered heroic (though so, sometimes, is picking up the phone and cancelling a live television appearance because you know better). But the whole time I just very much wanted the strung-out lady in galoshes to stomp off the stage and let Carly sing by herself. The two took turns looking aghast at the other as they fought for vocal dominance. I wonder if they got a chance to rehearse this even once. How incredibly awkward! “That was one of the most fun moments I’ve ever had on this stage,” Carly dutifully gushed according to the script. Good girl.

Mario’s knee-jerk retort following Leann’s claim that she “loved this girl so much I wanna wrap her up and just hold her” — “Well, you’re doing it!” — is in the running for one of the most fun moments I’ve ever had watching The X Factor. See how that works?

Tate, bless his big wide-open heart, could barely contain his incredulity about the fact that he was performing with real, live celebrities during Little Big Town’s “Pontoon” — his cutesy facial expressions and absurdly hokey dance moves were cute, but didn’t he seem like a little kid out of his element up there? Maybe that’s his charm. I like that he’s a normal guy and not show business-y, but sometimes you gotta play the part, you know? Oh, well, at least he was being himself. These adorkable (SORRY) few minutes marked the most onstage personality Tate has ever shown, and I know country fans will go nuts over this one. That’s really what it’s all about.

Demi Lovato’s duet with Fifth Harmony (#SixthHarmony? Sure!) on her own single “Give Your Heart a Break” seemed the most natural to me, so I’d say the ladies swept round two. I’d say this song, “Anything Can Happen” and “Pontoon” were the only legitimately fun numbers of the night. I’ve never liked Demi more than when she feistily belted out “There’s no turning back nowww!” So true, Lovato. You’re now a member of a reality show girl group. Deal with it.

NEXT: Carly sang, and it pleased the Lord At first, all I could think about during Carly‘s cover of “Hallelujah” was how much more beautiful, understated, and significant The Voice‘s tribute to the Newtown shooting victims was on Monday compared to The X Factor‘s tonight. (It’s simple: One show has heart; the other’s got no soul, as I wrote yesterday.) But something — very likely the way those white fabric swathes hanging from the rafters looked like big squirts of tubed frosting — drew me in fast and quick to our 13-year-old alien’s effort.

Did I say alien? I meant ANGEL. After four judges’ comments and a triumphant “Carly’s Angels!” from Mario, it’s safe to say Carly has successfully transitioned from alien to angel. What better time than the finals? The chandelier-draped-in-fabric as a crown hovering over Carly’s head was a nice touch. Symbolism at its finest. Truly, though, this was by far the most wow-worthy, slick, and professional performance of the night. I could do without some of the visual schmaltz, but I’d go back and listen to that again for sure. As I’ve said before, I get excited to hear what Carly will do differently with well-known songs — where she’ll take the notes, etc. She may be an exquisitely programmed robot, but robot can SING.

Hey, speaking of all caps: “CAN HE WIN A BETTER FUTURE FOR HIS FAMILY?” –Khloe re: Tate. Are we all clear on this by now? Tate Stevens: Family man. He has a family. Tate family. Little Family Man Tate. Kids sabotaged his career. Family Man Seeks Long-Lost Life Back. #TateStevensFamily.

Tate‘s cover of Chris Young’s “Tomorrow” did not stand out from any of his other performances, I thought, though that might not matter. Oof, I find it so difficult to come up with things to say about him that aren’t “Tate is a solid country singer who is likable.” Those things are true, but my problem with Tate is that I never get the sense that he is superlative in any way. He is talented, for sure. But the show’s called The X Factor and if the aim is to find someone with a profound sense of “that something special” within him, I still haven’t seen it.

For their “Let It Be” cover, Fifth Harmony took turns singing while flanked by two backup choirs. There are five of them! Enough with the choirs! I don’t get it. I mean, I get that gospel choirs are an essential character in The X Factor’s everything-and-the-kitchen sink (or: garbage disposal) production policy. But I don’t get why the choirs’ presence should in any way enhance our opinion of a freaking five-strong girl group. This number would have been so much better if they’d sung on their own, harmonizing softly behind each other’s solos. Why is that not an option?!

Camila’s “let it be let it be” scatting was a high point if you’re into blasphemy and pizzazz, which I am. L.A. Reid stirred up a delicious word soup from the ingredients Britney had laid out previously — “You guys are really like magic happening right before our eyes” — and then had the nerve to suggest 5H was better than the Beatles. “The Beatles are great, but…..” he trailed off. At that point he should have just gone into a trance, executed every last one of his Seated Dance Moves, screamed “I STILL don’t know anyone’s name. I’m out, bitches!” and jogged away, out of the red planet’s orbit forever. But instead he just sat there on his booster seat of cash and smiled serenely.

I’ll miss L.A. Reid’s authenticity most of all.

So who’s going to take it tonight? If it’s a singing competition: Carly. If it’s a “potentially relevant pop star” competition: Fifth Harmony. But since it’s a voting competition, it’ll probably be Tate. I guess? What do you think?


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Simon Cowell, Demi Lovato, Kelly Rowland, and Paulina Rubio judge Season 3.
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