The X Factor Semifinals Performance Recap: Turn the Beatles Around [Updated]

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Tonight, 911 hotlines across the nation experienced system overloads as L.A. Reid committed first-degree blasphemy on The X Factor, lying to boy band Emblem3 that “you actually are teen heartthrobs like the Beatles.”

At the exact same moment, John Lennon and George Harrison pressed the “auto rotation” buttons in their graves (sponsored by Pepsi, Verizon wireless and Sony X Headphones). Hey, if Britney Spears doesn’t need to write her own critiques, why should two dearly departed members of the planet’s all-time most influential rock band have to spin themselves around when their names get taken in vain on Fox’s second-tier reality singing competition?

To put it another way, my long-suffering hubby, after hearing L.A.’s ridiculous critique, looked up from his Saucer Country comic book and hissed: “This is why the Mayans were right: They just got 12/21/12 confused with 12/12/12.”

Me? I can’t rightly say if Simon Cowell is responsible for the demise of our beautiful planet. (Check back with me next week — if the Internet still exists.) And so I’ll just get on with critiquing tonight’s four remaining acts:

[We interrupt this recap with a message from Mario Lopez, who says you can use a special app to vote for The X Factor using only the contestants' images. No need for pesky literacy anymore, people! And now back to your regularly scheduled critiquing.]

Tate Stevens: Craig Moran’s “Bonfire” | “I don’t think it was your best,” said Britney, as the X Factor live audience booed their disapproval. But the Lady Spears was completely right, even if it wasn’t entirely clear if her comment was a genuine reaction to Tate’s decent but hardly memorable performance or something she read on one of the magic index cards that sometimes appear before her. ["Wait, Britney! This time you're not going to say 'amazing' or 'superstar performance!'"] Tate’s vocal seemed to get intermittently swallowed up by the blast of the band, and while I appreciated the simplicity of the everydude-oriented lyrics, the song itself wasn’t particularly memorable, not did it give Tate a lot of opportunities to show off his chops. There certainly were a lot of firepots on the stage, though, and L.A. even showed his “support” (or was that condescension?) by wearing a black cowboy hat. Grade: B

Carly Rose Sonenclar: Elton John’s “Your Song” | After finally surprising us last week with a slick, inventive Justin Bieber cover, Carly Rose retreated this week by presenting a pair of overbaked renditions of classic pop melodies from the early ’70s. As usual, Carly didn’t really miss a single note, so I probably shouldn’t be kvetching. And yet the arrangement featured a bit too much vocal grandstanding and not enough of the quiet introspection needed to breathe life into admittedly gorgeous lyrics we’ve all heard a thousand times before. It didn’t help, either, that almost all of the ancillary details were off-putting: That weird lit-up sci-fi runway; the distressed leather capri pants that looked like they’d been pulled from the set of The Real Housewives of Who Gives a S***; the obviousness of an angelic children’s chorus. Simon suddenly (and very oddly) declared this was the first time Carly Rose had genuinely shown any emotion, even though I’m almost 100 percent certain that his litany of positive critiques over the past few months would prove he felt otherwise. Sometimes I really think the cranky British judge is even less invested in his critiques than Britney. Grade: B

Emblem3: Peter Frampton’s “Baby I Love Your Way” | The opening shot of Emblem3 laying on their backs in extreme closeup — with Blondie feeling his own bicep and sticking out his tongue — was as embarrassingly boy-band cliché as anything Simon’s made them do all season. Perhaps even more egregious, though, was that even here in the contestants’ choice round, they were relegated to a vaguely reggae cover of a mid-70s rock jam. Aren’t these the kids who’ve repeatedly expressed an interest in getting back to performing their own material (which, as most of us still remember, was solid enough to generate some good buzz back in the audition round)? Why wouldn’t Simon have used the penultimate week in the competition to break out another Emblem3 original — especially when there’s no guarantee they’ll still be in this thing after Thursday night? It doesn’t make a lick of sense — in terms of the competition or in positioning themselves for a post-show career — especially considering that the boys are never going to wow us vocally; lead singer Wes’ tone gets wafer-thin whenever he has to hold a note for more than three seconds, and you could barely hear the other two over the din of the six background singers who brought some harmonies to the shindig. But wait, what did judge and cultural critic Mario Lopez thing? “A little rasta feel to it! I was feelin’ it!” You guys missing Steve Jones yet? Grade: C+

Fifth Harmony: Ellie Goulding’s “Anything Can Happen” | Will having the week’s best performance be enough to save the underdog girl group from elimination? I’m really hoping so, but it would’ve helped if “Anything Can Happen” had been their second performance, not their first. Whatever the case, the little known Ellie Goulding track turned out to be a bold, very fresh choice in a sea of ho-hum covers. (Maybe these five girls know themselves better than the mentor who only communicates with them by speakerphone?) The staging — which had the pastel-dressed gals at a giant princess banquet table, being served by butterfly waiters — was sumptuous fun. The vocals were solid (and featured plenty of harmonies). And best of all, the end product felt like something that could exist in the real world — not just a reality singing competition. Grade: B+ A-

Tate Stevens: Clay Walker’s “Fall” | It doesn’t hurt Tate that he gets introduced as “the family man from Belton, MO,” or that when he talks about dedicating a song like “Fall” to his high-school sweetheart wife, he seems as genuine as your grandmother’s apple pie recipe. Even the way he sometimes fails to knowingly play to the camera makes him seem somehow more “real” than the average “reality” singing contestant. True, Tate’s vocal on “Fall” was more solid than spectacular — I can’t honestly say that this time next year, I’m certain I’ll remember it — but there’s something impressive about his assembly-line efficiency: While other acts struggle with vocal consistency and/or artistic identity, he delivers the same straightforward “country everyman” ditty — from factory to store — week after week after week. His leadoff position and Simon’s “you have as much chance of going back to your [day job] as me flying to the moon” comment could cause unexpected complacency in Tate’s voting bloc, but at this point, I’ve got to admit it would be kind of a travesty if dude fell short of next week’s finale. Grade: B+

Carly Rose Sonenclar: John Lennon’s “Imagine” | Has there been a more smarmy intro this season than Mario Lopez teasing Carly Rose’s performance by noting, “The competition is about to get even hotter, because coming up next is the youngest contestant left on this show!” (Side note: Who writes his and Khloe’s teleprompter copy? And is this person consciously trying to make them sound like complete dolts?) Anyhow… Carly Rose began “Imagine” as Young Artist Plinking Away at the Piano then did the “getting up from piano/entering the land of vocal bombast” move we’ve seen 100 times over on these types of shows. And as Simon — paying attention! — pointed out, that approach ended up making a beautiful, simple song seem downright fussy. In other words, instead of pulling back and making us all really consider a world that “can be as one,” Carly Rose went all “One-uh-UH-UHNNNN” with unneccessary riffs and embellishments. It’s as if she had no idea what she was singing about. And at 13, you can’t really hold it against her if that was the case. Grade: B- (Maybe even a C+?)

Emblem3: The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” | I love the way X Factor introduces random “overcoming obstacles” story arcs to help us connect with individual contestants. This week it was all about “Keaton” (aka the little brother) needing to “step up” and deliver the “Jude-y, Jude-y, Jude-y Jude-y Jude-y!” refrain on a song that the band never, ever should’ve even considered singing (like, ever). And while I suppose I should just be glad that no one pushed Blondie to sing — or “upgrade” the original with a customized rap — isn’t it strange that when Keaton finally reached the critical stage of the song that his delivery was at once muted and spastic? The whole performance was nothing more than middling karaoke, rendering Wes’ “INSPIRE” hat patently ridiculous. And note to Simon: You can’t spend the whole season trying to turn these boys into One Direction, then expect us to swallow it when you start drawing comparisons to the fracking Beatles! Also: Please, let’s forget we ever saw the “Hey Jude” dancers at the end of the performance. So much horrible packed into one paragraph. I’m so sorry I wrote all this and made you remember. Grade: D+

Fifth Harmony: Shontelle’s “Impossible” | It was a bit of a cop-out that Simon saddled the girls with the same song they covered at Judges’ Houses — probably because if he can only take on group to the finale, he’d rather it be Emblem3, and he saw what a repeat did for Diamond White last week. Still, I enjoyed both the tone, the delivery, and the emotional intent of this performance as much or more than anything from the second half of the show — even if the Spanish-language verses weren’t as revelatory as the girls had hoped — and combined with their best-of-the-night “Anything Can Happen,” I’m holding onto the hope that Fifth Harmony can beat the odds and live to fight it out in next week’s finale. Grade: B+

Should go home: Emblem3

Will go home: Fifth Harmony (or maybe Tate)

And with that, then, let me turn things over to you:

Who were your favorites from The X Factor‘s Top 4 performance telecast? Who’s most likely to get booted come Thursday night? Hit the comments with your thoughts! And for all my X Factor news, interviews, recaps, and exclusives, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!


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