The X Factor Top 4 Performance Recap: Raise Your Hopeful Voice, You Have a Choice

Alex Sierra GravityDear Diary,

I’ve been a real Negative Nancy with my recapping of The X Factor throughout Season 3, and dare I say, I’m starting to feel a little bit bad about it.

Oh, sure, I could blame my lousy attitude on the hysterical hype over Restless Road, three guys whose jeans are guaranteed to be tighter than their harmonies.  Or I could point a finger at Paulina “Words: In no particular order!”* Rubio, the least effective singing-competition panelist since Paula Abdul woke up in the midst of Season 7 Top 4 performance night, looked at her producer-generated notes, and began critiquing a number she hadn’t actually seen (not in the widely accepted timeline of human reality, anyhow). (*Hat tip to Twitter follower @JeannieLeeCBC for that joke; so good, I had to steal it!)

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Keeping it really real, though, just because a shark (one letter away from “snark,” you’ll note) smells blood in the water doesn’t mean said predator shouldn’t separate the lean dolphin meat from the chum. And as Season 3 has been whittled from the 40 acts of the long-since-forgotten Four-Chair Challenge, Simon Cowell’s singing competition has wound up with four acts who, while they vary pretty widely in quality, all have a legitimate shot at post-show chart success.

And so, Diary, I’m not gonna mention Demi Lovato’s hair color (Clairol Unnatural Instincts: Plutonium Lake), and Kelly’s not-quite-Emmy-worthy crying jag and even that standing ovation for Restless Road’s final (hopefully in the larger sense) number, and cut to letter grades!

Yours truly,

p.s. I’m keeping my critiques short tonight, because tomorrow’s an earrrrrly morning thanks to Golden Globes nominations.

Carlito Olivero: Justin Bieber’s “Boyfriend” — Grade: B+ | Is there a direct correlation between the shortness of Carlito’s sleeves and the successfulness of his performances? Perhaps. But “Boyfriend,” even with the unabashedly cheesy “brings one chica up on stage” interaction, was loose, fun and well-sung — with solid choreography, to boot.

Restless Road: Luke Bryan “That’s My Kind of Night” — Grade: C+ | Demi was the only one who spoke truth to tunelessness: Zach, Colton and Andrew displayed none of the stage presence or natural sex appeal that’s woven into Luke Bryan’s DNA. Heck, we didn’t even get a decent booty-shake (something Colton proved he could do back in that Fifthy Harmony-themed hair-product ad the contestants were forced into filming a few weeks back). That decision made, we were left to focus on the vocals, which could only be heard about a third of the time over the blare of the band.

Alex & Sierra: Of Monsters and Men’s “Little Talks” — Grade: A- | This might only rank as A&S’s fifth or sixth best of the season — it was a tad too close to the original, and lacked their brazen brand of individuality, if I’m being picky — but Sierra’s heretofore unheard power notes + some tremendous harmonies made this a winner nevertheless.

Jeff Gutt: Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” — Grade: A- | You’d think Kelly — or at least the X Factor producers — would pay attention to their rivals, realize that a Voice contestant had a huge “Hallelujah” moment just a few weeks back, and not pick the song as one of three ditties America could choose for Jeff. (I know, I know, the definition of insanity and all that…) Nevertheless, I liked the power-rock slant Jeff gave the tune — a gruff middleground somewhere between Neil Diamond and Daughtry — and as Simon noted, there was real passion and sincerity in the performance.

Alex & Sierra Vs. Carlito Olivero: “Falling Slowly” — Grade: A-/B | Maybe Alex hit a rough note or two, but Sierra’s glory note (Rated W…for Whoa, Mama!) and their emotional approach really connected with me; Carlito, meanwhile, weighed down the sweet, simple melody with too many runs and too much affected phrasing. Not every line of a song needs an outstretched hand or a hip swivel, y’know?

Jeff Gutt Vs. Restless Road: “Every Breath You Take” — Grade: B/B-C+ | Restless Road sounded OK-ish — until Colton’s reindeer-colliding-into-the-Nativity-scene final run. Jeff was slightly better, but kinda overbaked his solos in an effort to crush his ManBand competitors. Bottom line? I’ll have forgotten this by the time I have my first seasonal spiked eggnog. (Spoiler alert: That’s happening this weekend. Mmmkay?)

Carlito Olivero: Marc Anthony’s “I Need to Know” — Grade: B- | Carlito sang this number reasonably well — although dude made some weird choices to bring down the melody in the opening verse — but my focus kept getting pulled by those lady dancers popping out of the stacks of lit-up speakers/dominoes behind him. It was like a fantastical, mid-budget game of Hide & Seek, except Carlito never tried yelled “Ollie Ollie oxen free!” Paulina, in her usual bout of ridiculousness, shrieked, “Carlito is INNNNNNN this competition.” Well, yeah, but so is everybody else — at least till Thursday’s results!

Restless Road: Hunter Hayes’ “Wanted” — Grade: C- | I understand the commercial appeal of Restless Road, and I am sure there are less talented people making six- and seven-figure salaries in music right this second. But for the love of the 18-49 demo, how the heck did the boys’ cover — complete with wince-inducing harmonies and a treacherous solo from the deep-voiced one — earn a standing ovation from all four judges? It all made about as much sense as anything spoken by PowPow in the last three months.

Alex & Sierra: Sara Bareilles’ “Gravity” — Grade: A+ | With a sparse piano arrangement that left the focus entirely on their voices, the Season 3 champs — oh come ON, even if they don’t “win”-win, they’ve already won — proved they’ve got the kind of magical vocal chops that will make them a threat in the real world and ensure they never have to scrounge for change to buy tacos again. The look Alex gave Sierra as the melody slid over his sandpapery voice at the top of the number, the way Sierra got lost in the music on her lilting falsetto notes, the way she extended the word “downnnn” in a way that would make even Lillie McCloud shake her damn head, and the way that led into Alex’s plaintive falsetto…I could go on and on and on. But instead I’m gonna go download this on iTunes.

Jeff Gutt: Imagine Dragons’ “Demons” — Grade: C+ | I know Jeff was struggling with staging that had him desperately trying not to fall off a slanted platform, but he picked an unfortunate time to give his weakest vocal of the season. The entire chorus seemed set in a key that stretched his voice well above his natural comfort zone — transforming the final third of the tune into a screamy mess. The whole “Eye of Sauron” and “Giant Jeff Projection Screens” did little to enhance the experience, but hopefully the misfire won’t be enough to put him behind Restless Road in the voting.

Should Go Home: Restless Road
Will Go Home: Carlito Olivero

And with that, let me turn things over to you. What did you think of Top 4 performance night? Who absolutely must make the finale? Who will and should get booted? Take our poll below, then expand on your thoughts in the comments!