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Earlier this week I spent a couple of hours going through all my old X Factor recaps and a season's worth of YouTube clips to pick my top ten best performances of season three. Putting together that list made me realize how few and far between the really superb performances were but, when they did appear, how magical they seemed. Take Khaya’s “Distant Dreamer” or Lilie’s “Alabaster Box.”
But the list also proved how far ahead of the pack Alex & Sierra are. Last night, each remaining act had three songs to sing to prove why they should be the rightful winner of season three. Will A&S keep their lead or will Jeff or Carlito make a surprise dash for the finish line?
For their first song, each act will sing what the producers are calling their “Song To Win.” What this actually means is beyond me, but basically it’s a new song they choose to showcase their voice. After that, they’ll sing a duet with a “hero” and then they’ll reprise a song from earlier in the season (called the “Song Of The Series”).
Oh but first there’s a dopey, overly dramatic short consisting of each contestant traveling to the venue in extravagant ways and a group number, Queen’s “We Will Rock You,” featuring back-up dancing stormtroopers!
Song To Win
Carlito Olivero: * * * *
After a teary, Vaseline-smeared package that reminded me of a trailer for Tracy Jordan’s Hard To Watch, Carlito took the stage to perform “Impossible.” The Shontelle track was a great choice for him as it stripped Carlito of the distracting and goofy production values that have dogged him throughout his X career. I said above that I recently looked back over the season and it really showed me how far Carlito has come in the competition. He’s gained a ton of confidence and stage presence and really improved his voice too. But while all that was true and he performed “Impossible” with a lot of passion, it was still just a few shades above average. I mean, I just finished watching The Voice and I’m pretty confident that anyone in their top ten could beat Carlito vocally.
Alex & Sierra: * * * * ½
Ed Sheeran’s style fit Alex & Sierra like a velvety glove. “Give Me Love” was sung simply and beautifully, as always. It lacked a little bit of the emotional oomph behind “Gravity” or “Say Something,” but that’s digging for criticism. This is exactly the kind of record I’d expect A&S to make and the kind of album I’d easily imagine buying.
(Side Note: Why, when the camera cut to both Carlito’s and A&S’ hometown was there a man with an amazingly large tray of food in the front of the crowd?)
Jeff Gutt: * * * *
Jeff’s “Dream On” was no Danny Gokey, but it wasn’t exactly Amanda Brown either. “Dream On” is a tough song to sing and Jeff, somewhat surprisingly, conquered it with few slip-ups. That being said, I’m not sure what separates Jeff from hundreds of other rock singers out there. This was a solid version, but it did nothing to make Jeff really stand out.
Duet With *Hero
*and by “hero” we mean artist that the X Factor producers are trying to promote
Carlito Olivero with Prince Royce: * * *
Carlito – wait. Before we get to talking about Carlito, can I take a moment to acknowledge Paulina’s bizarre performance, filled with Aunt Pow Pow humping back-up dancers, wearing a headdress that looked bought from Lady Gaga’s tag sale and vocals that were about 90 percent auto-tuned? Ok thanks. Back to Carlito, or should I say Carlito and Prince Royce (who, for the record, I’ve never heard of).
Their bilingual cover of “Stand By Me” was sung serviceably but lacked real substance or spice. Prince Royce didn’t overshadow Carlito, but I’m not sure if that’s a compliment to Carlito or a dig to Prince Royce. So, fine but forgettable.
Alex & Sierra with Leona Lewis: * * ½
Leona Lewis, although a talented vocalist, is a strange choice for a duet partner for Alex & Sierra. I’d have gone with someone like Ingrid Michaelson, Jason Mraz or Sara Bareilles – an acoustic artist with a jazzy, contemporary vibe. But that’s implying that these pairings had something to do with style rather human product placement. Perhaps because of this uneasy pairing, their “Bleeding Love” trio never really gelled. A&S seemed uncomfortable and Leona felt pitchy and disconnected. I still love Alex & Sierra, but this was a misstep for them.
Jeff Gutt with John Rzeznik: * * * *
Fun fact: I once interviewed Mr. Rzeznik as an intern at a local news station a few years. OK, by “interviewed” I mean I stood behind the camera with a stopwatch while the real reporter interviewed him. The pairing between the Goo Goo Dolls front man and X Factor’s resident rocker was the best pairing of the night. Their voice meshed well on the Doll’s iconic “Iris,” despite some audio flubs, but I kept feeling like it was like watching a strange night of celebrity karaoke rather than something contemporary and marketable.
Song Of The Series
Carlito Olivero: * * * *
Carlito reprised “Maria, Maria” from the top 12 episode. Earlier in the competition, I compared Carlito’s performance to a microwave burrito – cheesy, artificial but yummy in a guilty pleasure sort of way. This performance proved that, although a few weeks had gone by since I wrote that terribly analogy, it still proved true.
I think Carlito’s problem is that there’s a disconnect between the humble, vulnerable guy we see in the packages and the corny Latin ladies man we see on stage. I wish Carlito would have shown a softer side on the X Factor stage, so that America could see who he is behind the dance moves and drum beats.
Alex & Sierra: * * * * ½
While I choose “Gravity” as not just A&S’ best song but the best of the whole competition, Simon chose “Say Something” from the Divas/Unplugged episode for them to reprise. It was beautifully sung, nearly flawless, but I can’t say it affected me the same way “Gravity” did. But maybe that’s just purely personal opinion.
Alex & Sierra are clearly the front-runners of the competition and the only act I can see having a profitable career outside of TV land. They have amazing chemistry, smart musicality and great voices. I’m a big fan.
Jeff Gutt: * * * * ½
We didn’t get to see all of Jeff’s “Creep” the first time since it was his audition song. The Radiohead track was a perfect fit for Jeff and he delivered his strongest vocal in weeks. Although, I must add, did Jeff get pronunciation lessons from Paulina this week?!? How exactly is there a T and Y in “weirdo?”
Jeff is a very talented guy, but I’m not sure he’s marketably unique enough to go all the way. I’m happy he made it to the finals, but, again, I think he needed to show more authenticity and vulnerability if he was to really emerge as a contender.
Image Courtesy of Fox