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

emblem3Tonight, 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!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. julie says:

    I have heard Imagine and Hey Jude sung by several reality show contestants (in fact too many times — the songs should be retired from singing competition shows) and I have to say that Carly Rose’s and Emblem3’s versions were easily the worst I have ever heard from anyone who competed on XF, AGT, Idol or The Voice. So forget about living up to the Beatles, they couldn’t even live up to other reality show contestants.

    Tate was his usual fine but generic country musician self. Fifth Harmony was really good on the Ellie Goulding song (although I was distracted by that enormous hair bow the one girl was wearing), and ok on the second song.

    If life was fair, Emblem3 would be the ones going home tonight. They have yet to give a performance that was as good as their audition, and I’m tired of their attitude. They aren’t nearly as good as they think they are. And they keep whining about how they aren’t allowed to perform an original song, yet when they had the chance to do so last night, they instead cover a song from the mid-1970’s?

    But of course life has never been fair, so I’m guessing Fifth Harmony will be the ones voted off.

  2. RD says:

    Merely mentioning The Beatles and The painfully horrible surfer dudes in the same sentence is sacrilege.Get them out of here!

    • HitTheGroundRunningWonderlandHaleyOhMy says:

      That was pretty ridiculous. E3 might become quite popular and get some crowds of screaming girls but I can’t remotely see any sort of Beatles-like thing going on. I mean they were well before my time so I don’t really know what it was like when the Beatles were taking the world by storm but everything I’ve ever seen or read or been told makes it sound like they had the impact of Michael Jackson, Madonna, U2, Whitney Houston combined. I can’t remotely fathom E3 suddenly utterly taking over the entire pop music world and being a total world-wide utter hysteria even if they do end up becoming very popular. Who says they will ever pull so much as a One Direction?

    • teatime says:

      The Beatles was a group with 4 white guys. Emblem 3 is a group with 3 white guys. So it is basically the same thing.

      • HitTheGroundRunningWonderlandHaleyOhMy says:

        Damn, that is a good point. I never thought of it in that way before. It actually makes sense.
        Wow, whoa, whoooaa, it really, really does.


  3. Sinclair says:

    Another hilarious – and right on the money – recap from Michael Slezak! There isn’t anybody better at slicing and dicing the baloney X Factor serves up each week. My favorite sentence from this week’s critique: “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?” I noticed the same thing! They made a big deal about his “emotional delivery” (I think Simon said “you’ve really got to nail it”) and then it was almost like it was edited out! And I HATE the way Simon says “Em-blem Three”! Let’s hope these Boy Blunders get sent packing tonight!

  4. Babar Suhail says:

    Okay, I have been waiting and waiting for Tate to go home. I don’t know why he is such a big deal.

    • jd says:

      Demographics. You don’t think the people voting are actually grading performance to performance? Tate just needs to not suck, which I’m not sure the other acts pulled off.

  5. wyodad says:

    I didn’t notice if anyone has pointed this out yet but when Khloe (Clowee, Clhoe, ? whatever) pointed out that LA was wearing a “country hat” no one seemed to find that ridiculous. Then LA, being the man-about-town that he is, agreed that he was wearing a “country hat”. Hollywood folks are strangely naïve and uninformed.

  6. Tessa says:

    I really think that Tate is the only commercially viable artist on the show, and then sadly, maybe Emblem 3. What in the world would Carly sing? Adult contemporary? Tate is also so darn likeable. I think he will be successful in the country market. I think that is the problem on these shows; people are clearly talented, but most are not marketable. See American Idol for most years, and The Voice so far. That is why The Voice is pushing Cassidee Ugh. She sadly has the best chance of being marketable. Again, Nicholas, adult contemporary, and Terry, 80’s throwback rock?

  7. T_T says:

    On the contrary to most of you, I don’t get the hate E3 is getting. I’m not a teenage girl nor a young woman looking for some cute guys. I also disagree about the Beatles comparison. But I’m not hating on them just because LA was wrong about that. In fact, “hey Jude” is the only performance I wanted to watch (and watch) again. 5th H also did good with the EG song but Im not wanting to watch it again like how E3 does. Please don’t hate. I think many of you are being biased and prejudgemental, including Michael. So disappointing.

  8. John says:

    First…coincidence that “Impossible” is the same song that James Arthur won with on the UK version? I think not. Second, “Keaton” wasn’t muted himself, his mic was turned down. A nod to the fact that vocal groups DO NOT NEED BACKUP SINGERS. Bah.

    • Eric says:

      Fifth Harmony sung impossible first

      • John says:

        Agreed, but Simon could have picked any song, but instead picked the song that the winner of his UK version just released as a single. There’s some type of kickback going on there, because this happens often with Cowell (ie A Moment Like This).

  9. Harry says:

    This just bothers me so much even though it shouldn’t because I’m the hugest Ellie Goulding fan. It’s “Anything Could Happen” not “Anything Can Happen.”

  10. connerc says:

    Forgive me, but I actually liked Baby I Love Your Way. Hey Jude, however, was hide-under-the-bed frightening.

  11. yaya says:

    I wish Emblem3 was only Emblem2(the two brothers only) that third guys is so annoying and can’t sing for sh***t!!!!!

    • dj says:

      Yeah, the two brothers are definitely better singers. I think the blond wrote their audition song, “Sunset Boulevard,” if I remember correctly. Maybe songwriting, rap, and exhibitionism are the talents he brings to the group.

  12. socalgal says:

    Each act was better in the first round than the second–the best being Fifth Harmony. My problem with all the acts is that some songs sound better with an edge that should not be nice singing–sing-song presentations take the meaning out of the lyrics. That being said…Tate is solid and will do well whether he wins or not because he is consistent and knows his place, however, he has yet to sing a song where he sings on more than one voice level. Carly is technically perfect but I’d like her belt out a show-stopper like “Don’t Rain on My Parade” in the manner of the supreme original–that would turn this competition on its head. Fifth Harmony reminds me of Wilson Phillips but needs to cover a song like Seven Bridges Road a capella which would shake everything up. Even so, there is room for a girl group in the marketplace if there is enough material available–otherwise they’d go by the wayside. Emblem3 is mostly flash and OK vocals, but their true deficiency is they have no stage gravitas. Tate will probably win because he is the most marketable and the demographics for the show’s audience this season appears to not be the young crowd. Have to say, the judges who selected downer Beatles songs that require overreaching to make them sufferable should be taken out and flogged. Same holds true for all the other downer songs during the season (case in point, All by Myself). What are these mentors thinking?

  13. teatime says:

    I think people overestimate Tate’s marketability.

  14. tt says:

    What is with 5th harmony flashing all of the illuminati signs? How cheap. If the spent as much time working on their dance moves and vocals they might have a slim chance of winning. How silly what are they puppet wannabes? How sad.

  15. Max says:

    Fifth Harmony probably didn’t know what those illuminati signs mean! Anyway, Anything Could Happen is the my pick for Best performance of the season! Fifth Harmony might not win but I sure do hope that they beat the ‘chosen’ final two….

  16. gdj says:

    It was obvious fifth harmony was lip singing tonight. The girls were mouthing words way off the track. Have a look

  17. Karly says:

    um…. Tate won! And 5th Harmony got 3rd…..