From the opening seconds of The X Factor‘s Season 3 performance finale, you knew it was going to contain more hot air than a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float.
Alex & Sierra hovered above Los Angeles in a helicopter, like contestants on The Bachelor (albeit ones with an actual talent beyond dramatically declaring “He/She isn’t here for the right reasons!”). Jeff Gutt mounted a motorcycle on a mountaintop, put on his helmet and zoomed into the sunset. Carlito Olvrrrrr (Paulina’s pronunciation, not mine) strutted out of a chic hotel and into the back of a limo.
Season 1 winner Melanie Amaro, meanwhile, shook her fist at the television and cried, “Simon Cowell spent more on that ridiculata than he did to promote all three of my singles combined!” (No, Melanie, three times zero still equals zero.)
Still, none of this Theatre of Inflated Self-Importance could’ve prepared me for a “live” “performance” of a “song” called “Boys Will Be Boys” “by” “Paulina Rubio.” The woman who thinks sensible feedback includes statements like “you are the perfect artist that bring a son into your story” — newsflash: Jeff’s child was born long before he auditioned for the show! — lipsynced for her
life paycheck one last meal from craft services, writhed among a gaggle of sweaty shirtless dancers and finished off the spectacle by collapsing backwards into a heap — in much the same fashion X Factor fans want to do at the end of every episode.
Amazingly, though, two of the final acts managed to transcend the silliness and give off the impression they might actually have real-world potential, the kind Simon keeps insisting is the hallmark of his reality singing franchise. (Maybe in the UK, dude, but here…there’s still work to be done!) The third act, bless his heart, didn’t stand much of a chance after PowPow outfitted his jacket with red LED lighting stips and a collar fashioned out of Simon’s discarded car-floor mats. (More on that in a bit.)
Other crazy highlights:
* All the drunk people at Jeff’s hometown Detroit celebration attempting to score a few seconds of screentime.
* The fact that pretty much every intro package lasted longer than the musical performance that followed it.
* The scary, X-shaped pizza prominently featured in Carlito’s hometown celebration. (OK, I still would’ve gone for a slice.)
* Demi telling Jeff his “Dream On” was awesome, but she couldn’t hear it. (Alrighty then!)
* Simon’s bemused expression during Paulina’s lipsynch interlude.
* Demi, mangling a compliment to Alex & Sierra (or maybe throwing subtle shade?): “You never cease to not blow me away.”
Now, let’s get to letter grades for the night’s performances:
Carlito Olivero: Shontelle’s “Impossible” — Grade: B- | Carlito certainly looked the part of a pop star in his black shirt (buttoning technique from the Simon Cowell School of Plunging), but the verses seemed pitched way too low for his comfort level — resulting in a combination of flat notes and muffled whispers. The staging — hoisted above the stage on a lit-up platform — and the big glory notes were kinda cool, but the end result left me thinking it’s “im-poss-i-bulllll” for the guy to finish anywhere other than third place. Kelly, trying hard to be nice, praised Carlito’s “heart,” and then noted “that’s half of what it takes” to make it in the business. Vocals, on the other hand, got conveniently left out of the conversation.
Alex & Sierra: Ed Sheeran’s “Give Me Love” — Grade: A- | One of Alex & Sierra’s greatest qualities is their ability to infuse their songs with a palpable urgency — and that was on full display in their second rendition of “Give Me Love” this season. (The first attempt came on Top 13 performance night redux back in November, after the show gave out erroneous phone numbers for several contestants during the Wednesday show.) Alex’s gruffness — especially on the shouted “Love me! Give me love!” — juxtaposed perfectly with Sierra’s warm, silky tone. Please tell me these cats are already halfway through recording their debut album?
Jeff Gutt: Aerosmith’s “Dream On” — Grade: B | “Dream On” isn’t an easy song to cover (ask Danny Gokey!), and Jeff — whose voice oddly reminded me of Neil Diamond during the verses — did a better-than-average job for most of the song. Nevertheless, his performance never fully reeled me in. Maybe it was Jeff’s heightened pronunciations of certain words (“true” = “tr-uhhhh,” etc) or the way he cut just a tad short the big howling note. (Certainly, the laser show from hell and the way the director kept cutting to a pan shot from the back of the theater didn’t help, either.) But on a song this big, I expected more intensity, more stage presence, more swagger — and it all fell just millimeters short. Could Paulina have been right that instead of being jacked up on a giant “gadget legs” pedestal, he should’ve come down to the stage and engaged with the band?
Carlito Olivero (with Prince Royce): Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” — Grade: C | Uff da, the arrangement here sounded like something the Dancing With the Stars band would concoct to accompany a Samba. I didn’t dig it the first time around — during Top 6 week — and having supercute Prince Royce join in the festivities didn’t really help much.
Alex & Sierra (with Leona Lewis): Leona Lewis’ “Bleeding Love” — Grade: C-/B | I think, if my ears weren’t deceiving me, that Leona hit a series of sharp notes throughout the performance — that big glory note was especially off the mark — and that provided the first domino that knocked this collaboration to the ground. It didn’t help that Sierra didn’t seem to know where to look — at the camera? at Leona? at Alex? — or that the song was slowed to a plinking dirge. I’m just glad it wasn’t the final bullet in the future chart toppers’ arsenal.
Jeff Gutt (with John Rzeznik): Goo Goo Dolls’ “Iris” — Grade: B+ | The Goo Goo Dolls’ frontman seemed a little disengaged from the proceedings, missing at least two cues and possibly tripping up Jeff in the process. What’s more, the whole number seemed pitched in a way that suited Rzeznik’s range more than it did Jeff’s. Still, the last remaining Over 25 (lord, how is that considered old by major-label standards?) infused the song with his usual brand of grit and passion, and fared the best in the “superstar duet” round. That said, did anyone do a spit take when Simon thanked the established artists for “bothering to give up their time” and show up for the finale? I mean, it’s not like Goo Goo Dolls, Leona and Prince Royce don’t have current projects to push. Sheesh.
Carlito Olivero: Santana featuring The Product G&B’s “Maria Maria” — Grade: B- | No, no, no, no, no, Carlito! Anything but the jacket — which looked like a losing Project Runway design from the “Hardware Store Challenge” or maybe something that fell off the set of The Great Christmas Light Fight (yes, that’s a real series). Maybe Carlito knew he’d been saddled with a fashion “don’t,” because there was something a little self-conscious in his demeanor, a sense that he knew this wasn’t turning out to be enough to catapult him from underdog to champ. But the winded quality at the ends of phrases and the slightly wonky transition during the key change put this well below the work he turned in during last week’s semi-finals.
Alex & Sierra: A Great Big World (featuring Christina Aguilera)’s “Say Something” — Grade: A+ | I ususally hate retreads on reality singing competitions, but I can’t lie and say I didn’t adore Alex & Sierra’s encore of their iTunes topping cover. There was such a haunted quality to their vocals that i felt like they more successfully captured the melancholy emotions of the lyrics than they did the first time through. Yeah, I still wish mentor Simon had given them a final opportunity to completely reinvent a song (a la “Toxic” or “Say My Name” or “I Knew You Were Trouble”), but on the other hand, how do I give less than an A+ to perfection?
Jeff Gutt: Radiohead’s “Creep” — Grade: A- | If Jeff was going to pick one number tonight in which to come out looking like, sounding like and truly believing he’s a rock star, then his timing was impeccable. Staged simply with copious wind and twin blasts of steam behind him, Jeff tore into his audition song with a terrific grasp on pitch and a nifty bit of falsetto, leaving a very strong impression right before the final vote of the season. Yeah, it might’ve been nice if the guy had deviated from the wide-stance, hands-intermittently-in-the-air theatrics, but that’s a small quibble, really…
And on that note, I turn things over to you. What did you think of the Season 3 performance finale? What were your favorite numbers? Who should and who will win it all? Take our polls below, then hit the comments with your thoughts! And for all my reality TV-related interviews, recaps, news and videos, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV! Follow @MichaelSlezakTV