On the night before Thanksgiving, X Factor's top 10 finalists gave thanks to the people who mean most to them -- in song.
It was an emotional evening with even more heartbreaking stories. The touching story of CeCe Frey’s sister Kelsey, who died of cerebral palsy when she was seven years old, was a tearjerker, and Frey’s touching tribute nearly reduced the entire judging panel to tears. Vino Alan, meanwhile, may have elevated himself to the top of the leader board with his sincere dedication to the United States military, but has fierce (and we do mean FIERCE) competition from Carly Rose Sonenclar, who just about decimated her fellow contestants with Judy Garland’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” a song that nobody has been able to touch in reality show contests since Katharine McPhee slayed it on American Idol in its fifth season.
Fortunately for viewers, there were few vocal turkeys, unless you count Paige Thomas completely breaking down mid-song in front of Britney Spears.
One quibble: when did Khloe Kardashian become a fifth judge on the show? On several occasions, the co-host offered critiques, and, in a backstage interview, just about ordered the entire audience to move Sonenclar to the top spot. Ad-libbing is not your friend, KK.
To wit: after Tate Stevens performed Lonestar’s weepy ballad, “Already There,” a song about a father calling his family from the proverbial country road, Demi Lovato argued that it “wasn’t his best performance.” Simon Cowell pointed out that Stevens had cracks in his voice, to which Kardashian actually argued with the judge, defening Stevens for "bearing his soul." After Diamond White’s take on Celine Dion’s “Because You Loved Me” for her mother, Kardashian remarked “you literally gave me chills.”
Ok, we get banter, but wasn't she was getting dangerously close to the judging table? In fact, at one point Kardashian did actually take a seat there -- on Simon Cowell’s lap in what was undoubtedly the creepiest moment of the night.
So who fared best on The X Factor? Here's how it played out:
Song: “Already There” by Lonestar
Dedicated to his father, Steve, Stevens played to the country music-loving voting bloc with talk of familial devotion. His mother pointed out that young Tate always wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps, be it playing the drums or being an upstanding family man. Of course, having already succeeded in the patriarch department, his love for his wife and children are evident, and it shows in his delivery. Stevens is a catch, that’s for sure. Spears called the performance “special” and said she was touched. Lovato did not feel it was the best performance, while Cowell said he felt Stevens lacked confidence of previous weeks, but there’s not a “cat in hell’s chance” of him going home. L.A. Reid was proud of Stevens, noting, “America loves you.”
Song: “Because You Loved Me” by Celine Dion
If you didn't shed a tear as White’s mother talked about how her little girl ached for her father, who abandoned his child at a young age, then you have no heart. As the story goes: young Diamond kept begging her mom to find him and let him know that she’s a “good little girl.” White is just a pure delight, and the fact that she is so happy and well-adjusted, despite nearly losing her mom at the age of nine, is inspiring. It came through in her performance, as the teenager suddenly sounded like she was Celine's age. It’s almost startling how she handles herself with such composure on stage. Reid loved it, and gave her the Chris Rene critique: “You are the truth.” Lovato was in tears, complimenting White for bearing her “heart and soul.” Cowell noted that White sounds better than some 30 or 40-year olds he has seen, and Spears was clearly bursting with pride, telling the 13-year-old, “Your story broke my heart.”
Song: “Secrets” by One Republic
Who knew the California surfers were such sensitive dudes? All three guys dedicated their performance to their youth leaders, Ben and Sean, who pointed each of them in a positive direction. In Drew Chadwick's case, he's hoping to inspire any young boy struggling in school and desperately needing a purpose. His spiritual guide led the shirtless singer to the Dominican Republic where he helped rebuild destroyed areas in Haiti. The Stromberg brothers, Keaton and Wesley, also honored their guide, who taught the boys survival skills and other life lessons. Their take on “Secrets” was sincere enough, but Wesley’s big smile on such a somber song kind of gave a mixed message. No matter, the audience loved them. Reid didn’t feel there was enough emotion on the song, but the other three judges disagreed. Spears said it was a “nice change,” Lovato thought it was a “great job” and Cowell called Reid “the Grinch” (wrong holiday, we’re still on Thanksgiving).
Song: “Hero” by Enrique Iglesias
Ray dedicated "Hero" to his brother, who served as a father figure after their parents got divorced. The backstage interplay with the two siblings backstage was adorable, but why would Arin picked a song that sounds like it's meant to seduce women (“I can be your hero, baby!”)? It's the latest in the teen's struggle to find his place. Still, Ray sang it with conviction, but Lovato was “bored,” while Reid didn’t feel it was a $5 million performance. Cowell was kinder, attributing Ray’s troubles to being “trapped in a cage with these songs,” while Spears stood by her team member, calling him a “pro.” Ray promised he will dance next week if he is back-and that is a big IF.
Song: “Wind Beneath My Wings” by Bette Midler
Who else bawled their eyes out after watching Frey’s video package honoring her big sister, Kelsey, who died of cerebral palsy on Christmas Eve at the age of seven? Just the image of Frey as a baby in Kelsey’s arms reduced this blogger to a river of tears, right along with Lovato. My gosh, how could Frey, dolled up in an evening gown and sparkly earrings, even sing after that, especially with Christmas coming up and a tree to decorate in purple ribbons in Kelsey’s honor? She had trouble hitting notes in the beginning, but by the second half, Frey was soaring higher than an eagle. Reid nailed it when he said, “when you choose a song like that, you hope for real emotion and I have to praise you.” Spears said it was “amazing” and Cowell admitted to having a heart, as his was broken. Lovato and Frey obviously have a deep friendship of some sort developing, because she talks about Frey like a sorority sister would. “I’m so proud of you,” said Lovato. In a way, I’m pulling for Frey for Lovato’s sake. After the performance, Frey was still teary, telling co-host Mario Lopez that she feels Kelsey is “always with me.”
Song: “I’ll Stand By You” by The Pretenders
Like many performers at awards shows, Fifth Harmony wanted to thank God for all of their blessings. Ok, this was not as moving as Frey or White -- not by a long shot -- still, it was nice to see a family reunion backstage and Ally’s story of being a premature baby was inspiring. But where were Dinah’s the 30,000 family members she mentioned back in auditions? Don’t they all live in the same house? Their performance was perfectly lovely, however, with a professional delivery. They really are gelling each week, and Reid said it was “great,” while Spears called the melded vocals “touching and beautiful.” Lovato wasn’t crazy about the song choice, but loves watching them together. Cowell was “crazy” about the performance.
Song: “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol
Beatrice Miller is 100 percent teenager and it's adorable. Case in point: her devotion to her little sisters, who were adopted from Vietnam at the age of three suffering from scabies and fighting learning disabilities. To hear both girls call Miller the “best sister ever” made me smile. Still, I wish Miller would step out of the mopey, brooding songs just a bit and have some fun. She seems like a cool kid, and would benefit from upbeat material. Reid said she is “so cute” and an “inspiration to every little girl your age.” Lovato said she is “so adorable” and wishes she would progress, because it seems like she is singing the same song every week. Cowell felt “Chasing Cars” meant something to Miller, and liked that she was “choking up in the middle.”
Song: “God Bless The USA” by Lee Greenwood
Yes, I am beyond tired of hearing this song every Fourth of July or each time a country contestant competes on a singing show. However, Alan is not a country artist, but a soul singer who earnestly loves the military so much he wanted to join its ranks after the 9/11 attacks, but was rejected because of his tattoos. He served in another way, singing for the troops on a military base. There is a reason he is getting so many votes, and one of them is voters are really connecting with his deep vocals. Many women are also finding him smoking hot (just look at the comments on Twitter), and his fan base is propelling him to the top three every week. Even Spears and Lovato changed their minds about Alan this week, with Spears telling him he was “spot on” and Lovato saying she was “wrong” about him. Cowell predicted Alan would emerge in the top spot. It is also noteworthy that Alan got a standing ovation and salutes from the audience.
Song: “Everytime” by Britney Spears
Paige Thomas also lost a loved one on Christmas Eve, and was overcome with emotion as she sang one of Spears’ biggest hits, the emotive “Everytime.” Thomas started out strong, but lost it as she struggled to hit some of the bigger notes, eventually devolving into a crying mess mid-song. Spears was kind, telling Thomas she sang it “beautifully,” but Lovato knew she has a problem, explaining that Thomas sang the song better in rehearsal. Reid, who repeatedly compares Thomas to Rihanna, said, “You know I’m a fan.” Still, Thomas may be singing for her life once more on Thanksgiving, especially given the competition on Wednesday night.
Carly Rose Sonenclar
Song: “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” by Judy Garland
Carly Rose Sonenclar had something very scary happen when she was nine: her mother suffered a severe stroke, leaving young Carly with the responsibility of calling an ambulance. The story's connection to the song, I didn't quite get, not that it mattered on Wednesday night because Sonenclar just about outclassed every vocalist in the competition, hitting notes that seemed too perfect to be true and sounding way beyond her teen years. Or as Lovato succinctly put it: she’s an "alien." Cowell declared that he may have spoken too soon, and Sonenclar should take the top spot.
Watch Sonenclar's performance below:
We have a race at the top, X Factor fans! Lopez revealed that Thursday was a double elimination night, with Cher Lloyd performing (unless the judges issue a Thanksgiving pardon, which is not out of the realm of possibility), Who do you think is going home? Let us know in the comments...