It’s our penultimate “X Factor” Wednesday, kids! We’re down to just four acts, but because “X Factor” doesn’t have enough juice to boost another show were it to slim down to an hour or 90 minutes, we’re getting a full two hours tonight. Will the remaining acts performance twice apiece? Thrice?
Click through and follow along for the full two hours of fun.
8:07 p.m. Apparently our first song was chosen by America. I’m having East Coast feed problems, so we’ll see how much of this I actually get to watch. We’ll also see how much of this I actually want to get to watch.
Singer: CARLITO OLIVERO
Song: “The Boyfriend”
My Take: America chose a Justin Bieber song for Carlito for some reason. His performance is preceded by an emotional story about his parents scrimping and saving to get him a karaoke machine. And that’s followed by lots and lots of schmaltz. I’m terrified that we’re gonna have to do this before every single performance tonight. I really can’t stomach that. I’m pleased to say I’ve never heard this song before. It’s a track that was designed to accentuate Carlito’s rico suave corniness, which he amplifies by bringing an audience member on stage with him and cooing to every other woman in the house. Is it wrong to suggest that the sentiment of the song seems more genuinely coming from a a teen idol like Bieber, rather than a 20-something artist who we already know is having his last chance at stardom? Carlito is really, really desperate with this one. He even dances with Kelly Rowland to make sure that she says how cute he is. It’s not a performance that’s aimed at me in the slightest and I can see that this is a much better version of the performance that Carlito has been trying and most failing to give all season. It’s not great, but it’s closer. I’d rather hear Rion Paige tonight, but it’s clear that the audience would rather see Carlito.
The Judges Say: The crowd is very enthusiastic. “Carlito, I am so incredibly proud of you. I have been waiting on that all season,” Kelly says, thanking him for making her sweat. “I’m so happy for you,” Demi Lovato says, adding that the performance has both star presence and The X Factor. “So you’re not gonna be messing around tonight,” Simon smiles.
Singer: RESTLESS ROAD
Song: “That’s My Kind of Night”
My Take: This Luke Bryan is a second straight song which I don’t know. Maybe that’s tonight’s actual theme? Songs Dan doesn’t know? More heart-warming stories about our contestants before we’re told that this is the performance that the country community will judge them on. It’s a more up-tempo song than we’ve heard from Restless Road for a while. A couple of the early harmonies are a bit rough, but then the guys lock in reasonably well. Neckbeard Road is much better on his solos than Deep Voice Road or Jason Street Road. See, “X Factor”? You can spend five minutes trying to teach me the names of the Restless Road guys, but I can forget those names just as easily. I don’t know the names of anybody in Emblem3 either. Sorry. That was fine, but it was another performance that wasn’t aimed at me. I’m not in the country community.
The Judges Say: I hear lots of squealing, but I miss whatever Paulina says after her “You know I like you” intro and I miss the rest of the judging. I hope my Slingbox finds a way become a bit more reliable in a hurry. It’s a miracle I’ve caught both performances so far.
Singer: ALEX & SIERRA
Song: “Little Talk”
My Take: Oh, how I love Alex & Sierra. Were it not for them, I’d have quit on this season months ago. It was very smart of FOX to foreground them in the first audition episode. This performance features some of their best chemistry and some of their finest harmonies. I love this performance musically, but kinda wish somebody would tell Alex to dress up. Just a little.
The Judges Say: “I think each week you come stronger,” Paulina says. “I get you guys. You have a huge space in the music industry,” she adds. Simon thanks America for the song and tells Alex & Sierra that they’re important because they’re not performing songs, they’re making records. Simon calls them one of the best contestants he’s ever worked with.
Singer: JEFF GUTT
My Take: Yes, Jeff has a very cute son and this may be his last chance. Finally America chose a song that I know. Of course, they also chose a song that has been sung to death on reality shows and used to death on TV shows and in movies. Because the audience also knows the song, they’re clapping along out-of-synch like the trained chimps that they are. I appreciate that this is Leonard Cohen or Jeff Buckley or any of the other immediately overplayed “Hallelujah” incarnations. If I could ignore the audience’s stupid reactions and the half-baked light show behind Jeff, I might think this perhaps his best basic vocal to date. He managed his limitations very nicely and didn’t try for any notes that he couldn’t hit. There was a sincerity to the basic singing that was undercut by the lighting and by the idiotic audience. But I shouldn’t blame Jeff for that. I really go back and forth on whether or not I like Jeff, but tonight I think he’s pretty good.
The Judges Say: Demi thinks that it will be Jeff and Alex & Sierra in the Finals. She calls it her favorite version of the song. “I love this version. I think you did amazing,” Paulina says. Simon is pleased. “Jeff, one word: iTunes,” Kelly says and Simon and Demi agree.
8:52 p.m. Ugh. For the next round, the singers are “competing” in duets. I hate it when “The Voice” does this and I hate it now. Duets are meant to be… duets. They’re meant to be collaborations. Alex & Sierra do duets. They aren’t meant to be competitions.
Singers: ALEX & SIERRA vs. CARLITO OLIVERO
Song: “Falling Slowly”
My Take: I hate this format and I hate this “matchup.” And you know that I’ve wanted Alex & Sierra to sing this song ALL FREAKING SEASON. Why did they have to save it for a discordant, nonsensical trio-duet. Alex & Sierra clearly dominate the duet, but they’re shouting and trying to “win” the song rather than trying to win the competition. They also struggle each time they have to pick up from where Carlito left off, because under what circumstances would anybody think it would make musical sense to have a soft-spoken, harmonic duo pick up from a solo being sung in an entirely different style? That was dreadful. It was a perversion of what I wanted. Curse you, “X Factor” for ruining what should have been Alex & Sierra’s moment. That performance should have been all about touch and nuance, not artists yelling at each other to win the approval of partisan judges. Blech.
The Judges Say: Now the judges have to choose between them? Paulina predictably prefers Carlito, which is too stupid for words. Simon says that Carlito and Alex did well with the song, but Sierra stole the song. Kelly says it went back-and-forth between the two acts. Demi agrees.
Singer: RESTLESS ROAD & JEFF GUTT
Song: “Every Breath You Take”
My Take: Kelly Rowland says that Jeff Gutt’s secret weapon is his voice. Oh. That’s quite the secret. I hate this. It’s like both sides are trying to sabotage each other and therefore sabotage the song. And just as the first song was rigged for Alex & Sierra, this song is much more obviously in ’80s rocker Jeff’s wheelhouse. But you know what? Jeff’s just doing a generic ’80s rocker take on this song. It’s exactly what you’d predict it would be. Absolutely every original element in the cover comes from Restless Road. They’re a glorified backing act, with Jeff doing the lead vocals throughout, but they’re what’s keeping this from being straight-forward karaoke.
The Judges Say: Kelly thought both performances were really good, but Jeff killed it. Paulina says something or other. Demi and Simon bicker. I’m very glad that’s over. I hope nobody decided to vote for anybody based on those last two performances.
Singer: CARLITO OLIVERO
Song: “I Need To Know”
My Take: Carlito is singing this for his parents, but before his performance, we get yet another heartwarming clip package about Carlito. “I don’t know how to give up and I don’t know how to quit,” Carlito promises. Marc Anthony’s biggest crossover hit is a very smart, but also safe, song choice for Carlito, though the arrangement here makes it sound almost indistinguishable from Carlito’s cover of “Maria” earlier in the season. Probably this is a shoring-up-the-base performance for Carlito and I guess it’ll be successful on that level. He sounds fine and he moves a little bit. But there was never chance this was going to be a breakthrough performance or anything. It’s just not that kind of song. It’s a song Carlito can do without any pain.
The Judges Say: Demi calls it “muy caliente” and struts even more of her Spanish. Well, OK. I miss the other judges because of my ongoing Slingbox nightmare tonight.
Singer: RESTLESS ROAD
My Take: Another Restless Road song that I don’t know. It’s Hunter Hayes, apparently? And it’s the kind of music they want to do? They’re sure they can win and I guess I agree that they, like Carlito, are being smart by playing to their base. It’s another song initially dominated by Neckbeard Road, though there are some really nice harmonies at the midpoint between Jason Street Road and Deep Voice Road. That was what a duet should sound like. Perhaps energized by the duet, both Jason Street Road and Deep Voice Road have valuable supporting turns in the second half. In a full season of performances, nobody has taught Restless Road how to look comfortable on stage. They’re still better on stools. But that was definitely a radio-ready cover.
The Judges Say: Kelly felt like they were singing to her. She also praises the vocals by “Zach” and “Andrew.” “This was comfortable. This was confident. This is what you need to continue to do,” Demi says, also calling it “awesome” and “great” and incredible.” Paulina says they each had their own voices and they also worked well as a group. Simon praises them for all well they’ve worked together and salutes Zach for his enhanced confidence.
9:48 p.m. DARNIT. After a whole night of missing chunks of judging, but catching all of the performances, my Slingbox missed Alex & Sierra. Were it anybody else, I would say, “Forget it” and I wouldn’t bother catching up. However, I’ll watch Alex & Sierra’s performance on Pacific Time and add a blurb after I’ve seen it and heard it.
9:49 p.m. Jeff Gutt calls this the biggest performance of his life and makes sure we remember that he has a cute son rooting for him. We’ll see if my Slingbox wants me to see his performance.
Singer: JEFF GUTT
My Take: Yup. Another appearance from Jeff Gutt’s cute son. They’re milking the heck out of that angle tonight. This is a song that’s simultaneously current and yet slightly retrofitted to sound more appropriate for Jeff’s ’80s-or-’90s-friendly voice. I can’t believe he’s going to end his run on “X Factor” without doing a single Candlebox or Collective Soul performance. That’s just a crazy missed opportunity by Kelly. There are some weird mumbly bits in Jeff’s phrasing and the last note isn’t quite there, but the overall performance is plenty solid. He had a bit more stagecraft in this one and he covered more vocal range.
The Judges Say: “It’s your time now,” Demi says. “What an incredible song. An incredible song. An incredible performance,” Simon says, calling this by far the best show they’ve made. “Your moment arrived this week. You just gave everything,” Simon says. Kelly cries while talking about how much she’s enjoyed being Jeff’s mentor. “I respect you as a man, as a father and I love you,” Kelly says. Jeff calls Kelly amazing, as her cheeks are wet with tears.
10 p.m. I only truly care about Alex & Sierra advancing tomorrow, but it’s a tremendous relief to hear that three acts are going through to the Finals. I’d say Jeff and Restless Road did enough tonight to reach the Finals and while Carlito definitely had his best night to date, he just doesn’t belong here at this stage. If Alex & Sierra, Restless Road and Jeff Gutt advance tomorrow, I’ll be satisfied enough.
10:01 p.m. Speaking of tomorrow, I’m doing some traveling for work and my recap will come late, but it’ll go up. Promise.
10:02 p.m. And I’ll be back after 9:45 Pacific when I’ve had the chance to see Alex & Sierra’s second performance!
12:43 Pacific. Alex & Sierra time!
Singer: ALEX & SIERRA
My Take: Why couldn’t Alex & Sierra just sing “Falling Slowly” again? Or something else from “Once” for redemption? Huh. Who knew that Alex had that upper register? Sierra seems initially a little bit less sure, but her comfort grows and by the time they start actually singing together, I’m completely hooked. They’re playing off of each other like old pros. I’d gladly just listen to 10 Alex & Sierra performances next Wednesday and be done with it. There’s zero chance one of the other three is going to get my support. Now that Rion is gone, the number of acts left in the competition who make me feel *anything* when they sing is “one.”
The Judges Say: “You both sound absolutely incredible,” Kelly says, her voice cracking as she says that she loves watching Sierra blossom and find her own strength. Demi is also on the verge of tears, saying they sang it flawless. “I’m looking at stars. You guys never cease to amaze me,” Demi says.
12:48 p.m. Yeah. That was damn good. Best performance of a so-so show.
Who did you like tonight? And who’s going home?