We're finally nearing the finish line on "The X Factor," with only weeks left before the Season 2 finale. Can I get a Hallelujah? (And I don't mean the Leonard Cohen song that has become a standard on these singing-competition shows, though come to think of it, it wouldn't be a bad song choice for Carly Rose Sonenclar.)
On Wednesday night, the top 6 performed for a shot at next week's semifinals, to which only four contestants will advance. Each sang two songs, one "unplugged" song chosen by his or her coach, and one selected via an online vote.
The unplugged songs, which included moderately toned-down production values and little movement, were meant to allow us to actually hear the contestants' voices, flaws and all, a risky moment some artists (Emblem 3) looked forward to and others (CeCe Frey, not surprisingly) feared.
Also not surprisingly, perhaps, America's selections were often better suited to the performers' styles than the coach picks, which even the coaches couldn't help noticing. In fact, Simon Cowell suggested the show might consult America on song choices more often. Not a bad idea. Just imagine how much better the show would be if they let America take over the judge critiques as well.
Judges aside, if there's any justice in this competition, Sonenclar will take the top prize. She managed to make Justin Bieber's "As Long as You Love Me" far more interesting than the original, and then struck vocal gold again with Beyonce's "If I Were a Boy." L.A. Reid, who played a role in Bieber's rise, praised Sonenclar's restraint and said her twist on the Biebs was the first time he'd heard her show real promise as a recording artist.
Tate Stevens, Sonenclar's closest competition for the win, stumbled with a sleepy take on Jon Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer," prompting Cowell to quip that doing an unplugged version of that song – Stevens' second Bon Jovi cover in the competition -- was "like taking a goldfish for a walk," meaning something that cannot or should not be done. All the judges agreed, though, that Stevens returned to form with his second song, Garth Brooks' "If Tomorrow Never Comes." Spears called it "brilliant."
As far as I can tell, the only other remotely possible contender to take the "X Factor" crown is the boy band Emblem 3, who consistently manage to come off as both genuine and manufactured, if shallow either way. They gamely tackled Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are" – a predictable choice, as Demi Lovato noted – and then performed Alphaville's "Forever Young," equally ably (though they could have ditched the accents at the beginning).
The other three acts in the competition are probably ripe to head home at any point.
Diamond White, in the bottom two last week, showed a little more spark on James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," which we'd heard her sing before, and Rihanna's "Diamonds," which the online voters had apparently requested she sing suspended in a diamond (so literal, those voters), but it's not clear whether that will be enough to carry her forward, especially considering the recycling of material and mixed reviews from the judges.
Insta-girl group Fifth Harmony passed around the vocals on Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain" – which Reid griped had no harmony, suggesting they rename themselves "Fifth Unison" -- and Lovato's "Give Your Heart a Break," a choice Cowell called annoying. That Cowell felt the need to desperately remind voters how nice the group's members are and how they were all about "girl power" doesn't seem to indicate great confidence on his part. But it did prompt Reid to declare, "Simon, this isn't a competition of niceness."
So very true.
Which leads us to CeCe Frey, who has somehow, against all odds, remained in the competition. She sang Lady Gaga's "Edge of Glory" not at all well, but (disappointingly) not as horribly as one might hope, and then shouted her way through Katy Perry's "Part of Me," letting unseen backup vocalists do all the tune-carrying work as she traipsed around the stage in short-shorts and spike heels.
Will the voters finally send CeCe home this week? And if so, who will go with her? Why not weigh in?