Two of the top 4 acts take on the Beatles. Are these judges/mentors for real?!
X Factor
Credit: Fox
Simon Cowell, American Idol

The judges “don’t have a say this week” in who goes home, so they waved their magic Pepsi wands over the $5 million bonfire and proclaimed “These X Factor contestants shall sing beloved Beatles songs!” It was preposterous, particularly in the case of Emblem3. But let’s not jump the gun.

With an all-new LEADERBOARD BLACKOUT this week (another nonentity designed to distinguish this week from all the others, when really it’s the same), your votes will be “more important than EVER,” croaked out Mario Lopez. His ability to multitask this line-reading while also coughing up a hairball was staggeringly impressive and I take back anything weird I ever said about him.

“This is crazy I cannot believe the FINALS ARE NEXT WEEK!” Khloe Kardashian bellowed in her odd two-toned chat/scream cadence. She’s still officially the worst. Moving onto the contestants….

Our old country pal Tate Stevens made a killer choice for his first-round performance — “Bonfire,” by singer-songwriter Craig Morgan. “There’s no fancy cars,” Tate explained to his cowboy hat twin L.A. Reid re: the concept of bonfires. “People just sit around and play. It’s about them. It’s about friends.” Aw, it was cute watching L.A. grin in bewildered awe as his last remaining act spoke this absurd foreign language about not having a ton of money. Anyway, this was an electrifying performance by Tate and I don’t think we have only the flames to thank. The position changes — down to the front of the stage, then back, then rising gradually on a precarious structure — worked well for him. It’s not like he should pull off choreography per se, but things do get boring when he just stands there. Tate’s vocals were on point as usual. Only Britney thought this was not Tate’s best work, and delivered a MASSIVE eye roll when the crowd booed her following a comment about needing to “see his heart.”

I was disappointed Tate ditched the intriguing shirt he’d worn for the first round — was it black and grey plaid, or camouflage…or both? — but he made cranberry work as well during his judges’ choice round song, Clay Walker’s “Fall.” He got to be emotional and take his time with the notes here so the choice was a perfect complement to round one’s. To reiterate the meaning of the lyrics, Tate helpfully pounded his chest on “never worry, never fear,” and pointed vigorously to the floor on “I’m still here.” His wife is one lucky woman, mentioned Demi Lovato again.

Tate’s wife Ashleigh wanted nothing for their anniversary except for Tate to stick around in the competition this week. Hey, it beats being healthy and happy with a solid job in your hometown. “There’s as much chance of you going back to your old job as me flying to the moon after this is over,” Simon reassured Tate. I couldn’t help but picture both scenarios and I’m sorry but Simon Cowell’s maiden lunar voyage does seem like an inevitability within the next few years. I may be wrong.

NEXT: Imagine all the people cringing at that power note Okay. Carly Rose Sonenclar. She’s flawless and talented beyond her years and I get it. I actually liked the vocal and the visual on “Your Song” better than anything else from her in recent memory — I though the shiny gold pants, edgy lace top and bowler hat made juuuust enough of a kicky/cabaret statement without going over the top, and the outfit matched the intrigue of her slyly lilting vocal if that makes sense. As I’ve said before, just seeing where she’ll take each note is a delight. I did agree with Simon that too much was happening throughout the performance (hello children’s choir!) and that Carly seemed hesitant out on that thin elevated runway all by herself. But this is the vocal performance I’d want to hear most on an actual album once this is all over, hands down. Along with Tate’s two numbers, this was the best of the night. She’s like a musical scientist, this one! And of course, an alien.

I gotta say I lost a whole lotta love for Carly after the second round, though! I cringed twice during this segment — once when she pretended she was nervous about the playing the piano on John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and then again during the performance when she threw in a ridiculous high note where one should really not exist in this song — not ever, not even on Simon Cowell’s reality show. I really wish she’d done the whole thing at the piano, with those loving zoom-ins of her hands and delicate charm bracelets, instead of winding up for an unnecessary “And the world will be as” [deep breath] “WAHHHHHHHHN!” Ack! No. Not a fan. We already know she can do that! It made the whole thing seem precocious (despite the “aging diva” general presentation and outfit) and a bit sterile.

Emblem3 decided on “Baby I Love Your Way” for their contestants’ choice round, because Wes and Keaton’s mom used to have it on in the car while she ran errands. I can respect that. I have a profound love of Motown for the same reason. Good ol’ L.A. was thrilled because the Peter Frampton classic is one of the songs he knows! So it all worked out.

In a totally orchestrated conversation backstage, the guys decided to follow Demi’s advice about using the stage and touching the writhing humans who have made it their lives’ work to see Emblem3 in the flesh. And they sure did! Drew (frosted tips, constantly squinting, not related to Wes and Keaton) traveled the deepest into the humanity quicksand, then emerged triumphant back onstage to titillate just the front row. Vocally this was on par with some of their best performances, which is to say it was pretty decent. I had trouble avoiding full-on hypnotism from the huge, spinning graphics of their three faces on TVs — on my TV! Twice removed from “reality”! I’m telling you it was a trip. L.A. recited his carefully scripted line about this finally being the time he could consider them as viable recording artists, Britney called them “way more than a boy band” (no), and that was that. Well. Not yet.

“That had a little RASTA feel to it! I was feeling it!” oozed Mario Lopez. Are you so turned on right now?

NEXT: Hey, maybe Simon deserves $5 million every time he keeps his eyes open Keaton, the young one who gets the least amount of backstory/screentime, was instructed by Simon over the phone to take the lead on Paul McCartney’s end-of-song freakout sessions during “Hey Jude,” and right away you knew this was a bad idea. Even before that — upon realizing that Emblem3 was about to cover a Beatles song — it was a bad idea. I mean come on. That was a cute brotherly pep talk backstage between Wes and Keaton, but no. Just don’t do it. I just couldn’t get behind any of this — Drew leaning back and sprawling out lazily with his guitar, the way Wes’ voice developed a bizarre Billie Joe Armstrong-esque “alternative twang” mid-song, and especially poor Keaton’s desperate attempts at “emoting” during the final “Jude-ah Jude-ah Jude-ah Jude-AIIIIII! Wah-ho!”s. As Fifth Harmony prognosticated, anything can happen. I just really wish Emblem3’s “Hey Jude” had not.

I appreciated the elaborate staging and keen song choice by Fifth Harmony on Ellie Goulding’s “Anything Can Happen” (it’s getting some decent buzz lately as the song in the new Girls trailer as well as a kick-ass song in general). Camila’s oversize pink bow and the way Lauren was heavily petting an oversize layer cake, and the five askew chairs all lent themselves to a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party aesthetic I can always get behind. Once the girls got up from the table, some of them looked terrified of forgetting the choreography, so some of the choices were probably more trouble than they were worth. But altogether, this showcased their ability to harmonize (thanks to super-intense vocal coach Autumn for making them sing separately so we could hear proof of that) as well as some of the girls’ individual strengths. Dinah Jane killed many of those high notes, Camilla delivered on the the “I know it’s gonna be me” reinforcement, and Ally has some very effective sexy sideways winks in her arsenal. At the end I thought they looked like five modern-day Disney princesses on a lunchbox.


Probably not. Camilla and Lauren’s enthusiasm for singing part of their judges’ home audition song, “Impossible,” seemed promising during the planning stages, but I didn’t think it translated very well (ha) to a moment onstage. Maybe if they hadn’t put it so blatantly — “We think singing part of the song in Spanish might get us into the finals — it could have felt surprising and organic; as it was it just seemed pandering and a little desperate. Little Ally had some trouble hitting all those power “impossibles,” but when she was on-key she sounded great. Not exactly a ringing endorsement, I guess. I really wanted this girl group to turn into something magical — either because of or despite Simon’s involvement — but it just didn’t happen for me, with them, this season.

I wonder — if Simon actually seemed to care at all about The X Factor, could he have made better choices for Fifth Harmony that would have convinced us that they’re cool and current and viable, or were they bound to drown under the show’s overproduction and heavy orchestration anyway? I’m all for accepting the way of the world, reality TV-wise — you’ll become a huge and intolerable cynic if you don’t, and trust me I know I seem like that sometimes — but I gotta say I’m truly disappointed in how uttah-ly bored Simon has looked all season. He sets an example for the rest of the judges and that example is: Just show up. Get through it. Roll your eyes. Avoid eye contact. Collect money. Delete memory.

Great gig if you’re a judge, but come on, man. This s— is just really, really hard to watch.

Are you watching anyway? Which act do you think goes home tonight? (Finally it’s a single elimination this time!)


Episode Recaps

Simon Cowell, American Idol
The X Factor
Simon Cowell, Demi Lovato, Kelly Rowland, and Paulina Rubio judge Season 3.
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