Oh, X Factor, always swimming against the tide. The producers didn't take the hint when The Voice wisely pared down to a one-hour performance show this week. So, lucky viewers were treated to three rounds of performances by the top four. Kind of like experiencing your own personal Groundhog Day hell in your living room – especially since it meant Carlito Olivero just wouldn't go away.
However, there was a silver lining: getting to see Alex and Sierra over and over again. "I'd put my money on me," mentor Simon Cowell said when asked which team will win next week's finale. And for once, he's not just being pompous.
Alex and Sierra have elevated this season of The X Factor to a level of watchability it didn't seem like it could achieve just a few weeks ago. Plus, they're so cute, you just want to put them in your pocket and carry them around.
In two hours they did three songs – one that America chose, one they thought could win them the competition and one duet with another contestant. For them, viewers picked "Little Talks" by Of Monsters and Men, which seemed so obvious it could have been boring. But they did a good job with it, "making it their own," as the judges like to say. Even more succinctly, impartial judge Demi Lovato said, "I think I'm looking at the winners."
But they really hit it out of the park with Sara Bareilles' "Gravity," on which Sierra soared. In fact, for the very first time, she sounded better than Alex. Standing amid simple staging – a few strands of dangling lights and soft, billowing smoke – the performance was perfect. So good, in fact, it brought almost everyone to tears. A crying Kelly Rowland praised Sierra for "blossoming" into a "strong woman." Meanwhile, Simon said, "It was raw, it was subtle . . . I would like to bottle the last 10 seconds of that song and keep it for the rest of my life because it was absolute perfection."
Of course, the show then went on to pair that perfection with tone-deaf Carlito for a duet of "Falling Slowly" (from the 2006 movie Once). And, as usual, the judges lavished unwarranted praise on Carlito. "He did it much better," Boys mentor Paulina Rubio said, leaving host Mario Lopez to raise his eyebrows and say, "Oh, OK." As for Kelly and Demi calling Alex and Sierra "pitchy" – pffft is all we have to say.
For sanity's sake, we're not going to waste much time talking about Carlito's performances – he was pitchy, reaching a comically bad new height on the viewer-voted choice of Justin Bieber's "Boyfriend." And the most interesting part of his performance of Marc Anthony's "I Need to Know" was the "magic act" that unfolded around him as woman after woman popped out of giant speakers.
Also running into some problems over the course of the night was Restless Road, who still haven't quite found their groove. But hopefully they'll edge out Carlito in the finals – call them the lesser of two evils. America will surely eat up their rendition of the pure-country song viewers chose for them, Luke Bryan's "That's My Kind of Night," even though it got mixed reviews. They also did an OK job on Hunter Hayes' "Wanted." It's almost like, you want to like them, but they always fall a little short. Still, they'd be much better suited for the finals than Carlito, because they may be out of sync sometimes but at least they're not off-key all the time.
One person who has nothing to worry about is Gutt, who had the deck stacked in his favor all night – including landing the coveted pimp spot that almost guarantees his safety. Also lopsidedly slanting things in his favor, America chose the contemporary classic "Hallelujah" for him, which always does well on these types of shows. Plus, it was the song he sang during the Season Two auditions, so America is clearly trying to hand him redemption. And he grabbed it, to some extent.
Compared to Carlito and Restless Road, Jeff shone like a diamond. But if he were up against stiffer competition, he probably would have fallen by the wayside again long ago. (He basically walked all over Restless Road during their duet of the Police's "Every Breath You Take"). His biggest problem, aside from the whole aging rocker act, is he sometimes garbles his words and sings through his nose.
"Hallelujah" has been done to death on reality singing competitions – and done much better, even on this season of The Voice (see: Matthew Schuler's iTunes-dominating take). So Jeff isn't offering anything new. Especially since he also did another song that was previously used on this season of The Voice: "Demons" by Imagine Dragons. Anyone see a pattern here?
But what he does offer is a good story: he's "old" (a ripe, one-foot-in-the-grave 37) and willing to parade his adorable little kid out every chance he gets in order to talk about "a better life." That one-two punch had coach Kelly crying yet again: "I have enjoyed being your mentor. I respect you as a man, as a father . . ." she trailed off while wiping away tears.
So, while Jeff and Alex and Sierra seem like sure things for the finale, only one real question remains: Will Carlito finally get the boot this week?
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