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I usually do a little song and dance act of my own before starting these X Factor recaps, but tonight we had 10 numbers crammed into the broadcast which means that I’m gonna skip my usual blabbering and just get right to the singing, OK?
Tonight each act sang three different times. From Simon’s team (the groups) we have Restless Road and Alex & Sierra, from Kelly’s team (the over 25s) we have Jeff Gutt and from Paulina’s team (the boys) we have Carlito Olivero. With Rion’s exit last week, Demi is out of the competition. For this penultimate performance show, each act will sing a song chosen by the audience, a duet with another contestant and one of their own (or maybe their mentor’s) choosing.
Carlito Olivero: * * * ½
I was hoping Carlito would bring some of his usual Spanishness to the table while singing Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” but the arrangement stuck closely to the original track, a vapid, computer-generated piece of pop music. He sang it fairly well, if not unremarkably, but the whole screaming girls and picking a “random” audience member to serenade routine just seemed a bit much. In her critique, Demi gushed that he “played the heart throb role well,” but, to me, it felt like just that: a role rather than something totally genuine. That being said, he did have plenty of confidence and swag on stage. Darn. Did I just use the word swag in print?
Restless Road: * * * ½
Luke Bryan’s “That’s My Kind of Night” was a great song choice for the boys of Restless Road. It’s a rock/country hybrid with a very reasonable vocal range. They sang it well, but there was something oddly bland and soulless about it. If you had told me it was the jingle for a new line of frozen catfish dinners I would have believed you.
Alex & Sierra: * * * * ½
America chose right for A&S as “Little Talks” by Of Monsters and Men is the kind of track I’d expect to hear on their freshman album. They took this great song and, surprisingly, made it even better with a slowed down arrangement and thankful lack of those annoying HEY! utterances in the middle of the chorus. Plus, A&S allowed me to actually understand the lyrics, which I’ve heard many, many times, and follow its story. Some of the harmonies were a tad iffy, but I really don’t care. I love Alex & Sierra. I love this song. It was beautiful and, more than anything else, it was authentic. That’s saying a lot for X Factor.
Jeff Gutt: * * * *
Jeff sang one of the most over-sung tracks, “Hallelujah,” which was ironically his audition song last season. Make no mistake, “Hallelujah” is one of the best songs ever written, but it has been sung so many times by so many people the song has generally lost its teeth. Jeff’s version wasn’t as strong as Matthew Schuler’s version on The Voice or, my personal favorite, a version by current SVU ADA Raul Esparza. But like both Matthew and Raul, Jeff imbued his version with his whole heart and soul. The result, while not quite something to rave about, was an undeniable success.
Carlito Olivero vs. Alex & Sierra: * * * * ½
This battle was definitely slanted in A&S’ direction as “Falling Slowly” was much closer to their style than Carlito’s. In fact, they could record that song tomorrow and it’d be a hit. The first half of the song was beautiful, but when all three starting singing together their voices never quite meshed. And while Carlito’s vocals were surprisingly solid without a drumbeat behind it, it was a tad overacted given the song’s subtle vibes.
Jeff Gutt vs. Restless Road: * * * *
Once again, the song choice was slanted towards one performer, this time Jeff. That being said, “Every Breath You Take” suited both acts pretty well. Restless Road sure have come a long way musically, but definitely lack the vocal polish they need if they want to be a major pop act. I’m no One Direction fan but at least they have really tight harmonies and strong solo singers. While Jeff’s vocals didn’t quite stand out as much as they did in “Hallelujah,” they were brimming with real life pain and disappointment. Restless Road could only muster the pain of wearing such tight pants.
Carlito Olivero: * * * * ½
While “Boyfriend” lacked real personality, “I Need to Know” brought the Latin fire back to Carlito. I’m not sure why the leather-clad, futuristic-looking back-up dancers were popping out of speakers, but, other than that, this was an incredibly strong performance. I guess better late than never and, in this broadcast, Carlito finally proved why he belongs on the show. This was his best performance without a doubt.
Restless Road: * * * ½
Yes, they seemed more comfortable than on their first two songs but I couldn’t quite get over how terrible their song choice was. I don’t mean it didn’t suit their style, I mean it’s just a terrible song. Hunter Hayes’ “Wanted” is the worst kind of mind numbingly bland, insipid, pandering pop song that I just can’t take seriously. Is it wrong to hold that against them? Maybe.
Alex & Sierra: * * * * *
“Gravity” has been one of my favorite songs ever since So You Think You Can Dance took it on a few years back. Well, the stars aligned when this amazing song was given to these amazing performers. Their “Gravity” was pure and pristine and gorgeous. By far the best of the night and, for my money, the second best performance of the whole season.
Jeff Gutt: * * * * ½
“Demons” sounds like the music I’d expect Jeff to make post-X and it was sung very well (except for a few spots that were as uneven as that weird, raked stage he stood on). I’m not sure Jeff will make it after the competition as there’s not a ton to differentiate him from a million other rockers, but he put in a very solid performance for, what I can only guess, is his last time singing on The X Factor.