The four remaining acts on "The X Factor" -- Tate Stevens, Carly Rose Sonenclar, Emblem 3 and Fifth Harmony -- performed two songs apiece in an unnecessarily attenuated two-hour semifinal show Wednesday night. The first song each act sang was of their own choice; the other was selected either by or with input from the mentors.
In a nutshell …
Family man Stevens, who ended last week in first place, kicked up his boots, plucking at the heartstrings and playing right to his country base. His self-selected song, Craig Morgan's "Bonfire," boasted big production values: bursts of flame, a backing band, and a platform that went up and down.
But Stevens had the energy and vocal strength to stand up to the hoopla. His second song, Clay Walker's "Fall," was another heartfelt ballad dedicated to his wife, with whom he is celebrating his 15-year anniversary. Afterward, Simon Cowell told Stevens there was about as much chance of him going back to his old job as there was of Cowell flying to the moon that night. It's true. Whether Stevens wins or not, his performing career has launched.
Sonenclar, the grown-up-voiced 13-year-old who Stevens knocked down to second place last week, had her first underwhelming night of the season. I blame the high heels, which made her look clunky and awkward as she clumped around the stage. The ungainly shoes distracted from the fluidity of Sonenclar's voice on Elton John's "Your Song" (Cowell said the staging made her look "hesitant"), a salute to her dad, and was one of several elements that didn't quite work in John Lennon's "Imagine," which her mentor, Britney Spears, had selected for her. Spears also pressed Sonenclar to play the piano in the beginning of the song, which seemed to unsettle Sonenclar. Her performance came off as cluttered and overwrought, and the way she showily attacked some of the notes seemed sort of wrong for such a simple song. Oh well. At least Sonenclar has proved she's human. Hope the voters give her a chance to redeem herself next week.
The trio Emblem 3, last week's third-place finisher, stepped things up with two strong performances. They gave a reggae twist to their contestants' choice -- Peter Frampton's "Baby, I Love Your Way," a tune loved by the mom of the band's two brothers -- recasting it as their own. And they did surprisingly well with the Beatles' "Hey Jude," too. Of course, it was a bit much when L.A. Reid said the group's surfer-dude members were "teen heartthrobs like the Beatles." (Thank goodness Demi Lovato called him on that.) Next thing you know, Reid will be saying they're more famous than Jesus.
Show-created girl group Fifth Harmony, entering the week in last place, set out to prove to doubting judges they could actually harmonize and move around the stage. It's hard to determine how well these five young women blend harmonically due to the passel of background vocalists that lurk in the shadows when they perform. I'm not sure how much they proved they could move either, though on their first song, Ellie Goulding's "Anything Could Happen," they left little doubt that they could dress up in cutesy costumes and sit on a whimsical set. On the second, a redo (with Spanish) of Shontelle's "Impossible," which they'd sung previously, during the judges' homes round, they also made it clear to everyone but their own mentor that they'd almost surely be the act going home this week. We may never know why Cowell allowed them to reprise a song we'd all already heard them sing at the very moment they were trying to prove they had the chops to advance. It was, as Reid said, a "lazy" choice -- and likely self-defeating as well.
Who do you hope will take top honors on "The X Factor" this season?
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