Simon Cowell is one shrewd businessman. Last night, when all eyes should have been on X Factor frontrunners Tate Stevens and Carly Rose Sonenclar, he somehow managed to get us fixated on his manufactured girl group Fifth Harmony.
With only three acts remaining, it seemed like a slam-dunk going into the finals that either Tate or Carly Rose would walk away with the $5 million recording contract tonight. But after 5H's strong showing during the final performances, we can't help but feel like the show's setting us up for an upset. Or at least trying its damnedest.
Both Simon and the producers have really thrown a lot of weight behind the girls at the last minute – especially by giving them the vote-grabbing pimp spot both last week and this week (supposedly this time was luck of the draw). And they've done a good job; it's literally anyone's game right now. (Although logic says it will be Tate, as he's topped the leaderboard the most.)
This week, each act sang three songs: first a reprise of something they sang before, next a celebrity duet, then finally a song they thought would hand them the win.
But before kicking into high gear, the show started off with a solemn yet uplifting tribute to the victims of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Past and present Season Two contestants sang Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone." Soon, though, the competition raged on, and Fifth Harmony demonstrated why and how they got to this point.
In the hopes that lightning would strike twice, they reprised last week's "Anything Could Happen" by Ellie Goulding. At first it seemed a little lazy to pick a song they literally just did, but soon they had us eating out of the palms of their lacey-gloved hands. Two words: Flying unicorn.
Yes, it was even more over the top this second time around, complete with bigger hair bows and more bubbles, glitter and confetti than Katy Perry must consume in a year. (Later, in the pimp spot, they did a no-frills version of the Beatles' "Let It Be" to balance out the night.)
But the truly amazing moment came when the girls did a duet with none other than their mentor's frenemy Demi Lovato on the Disney star's own "Give Your Heart a Break." It was a brilliant move on shrewd Simon's part – both as a wink and nod to the love/hate relationship he has with Demi, and as a way to tap into her fans who are wandering around aimlessly with no one to vote for now that Demi is contestant-less. That Simon, he's such a cheeky lad.
Considering how flawless and entertaining the group was all night, we again can't help but think there might be a leaderboard shake-up. Mainly because, for the first time, Carly Rose performed one hot mess of a song. In her defense, though, it wasn't her fault. The blame falls squarely on her duet partner LeAnn Rimes, with whom she sang "How Do I Live."
Rimes' greasy-haired, skin and bones dumpster-diver look was a total distraction. We couldn't take our eyes off her. She's only 30 – what in the hell happened to her? However, even if we had covered our eyes, the song was still a disaster. Their voices didn't jell, and LeAnn's raspy vocals just seemed to drag Carly's usually flawless sound down in the muck.
If Carly doesn't win – or even, gasp, places third – this song is the Number One reason. Why in the world didn't mentor Britney Spears move her lazy ass out of the judge's chair and push her girl to the win? That's the $5 million question.
Still, if winning were based on vocals alone, Carly should have it in the bag. She completely nailed the reprise of her audition track, "Feeling Good," and an angelic version of "Hallelujah." But this competition isn't about just vocals.
And that's why we still think Tate is going to make headlines tomorrow night. He's sat atop the leaderboard three times to Carly's two, while Fifth Harmony has never even gotten close. Plus, the show just keeps hammering away at what a "deserving" family man he is and what a pity it would be for him to go back to working a day job. And never, ever underestimate how zealous country music fans are.
Last night, he had no major fumbles. All his performances were decent – from his reprise of Randy Houser's "Anything Goes" to a "Pontoon" duet with Little Big Town (where he looked a little too excited to be so close to pretty women) to Chris Young's "Tomorrow." That’s said, did anyone else think it was strange that, for a guy who's supposedly such a devoted family man, all his songs were about partying and being in a toxic relationship? But that's neither here nor there, 'cause who pays attention to lyrics, right?
We gotta admit, it's a little tough deciding whom we should bet on to win. Fifth Harmony certainly had the strongest showing of the night, while Carly Rose has been nearly flawless all season. But America likes to vote for the underdog, someone who "needs" the win. And no matter how many times Simon calls Fifth Harmony underdogs, the real dark horse is 37-year-old Tate, who rose out of the decrepit Over 25s category to become a fan favorite. Still, as the song goes, anything could happen.