‘The X Factor’ USA review: Carly Rose Sonenclar, Fifth Harmony up their game

The X Factor Logo“The X Factor” USA has for much of a season been a bit of a letdown, as the singers, the judges, and (obviously) the hosts have all really done much to make us excited week after week. However, at least one of the aforementioned three changed things up Wednesday night: the vocalists. No one had a bad night, and all of our comments below are really just nit-picking what were by and large good performances.

So who were your favorites on the night? Be sure to vote in the poll at the bottom of this article, and you can also compare these performances to our rankings over at the link here.

Round One – Contestants’ Choice

Tate Stevens – Is anyone else bugged slightly by the way Britney Spears leans in to the microphone when she talks? You can almost feel the “let’s get this over” in her face, just as we felt a giant amount of “wtf?” the moment she started railing on Tate’s “Bonfire,” which was arguably one of his better choices of the entire season

Carly Rose Sonenclar – For anyone wondering, this was more the Emeli Sande version than the Elton John one. Janet Devlin also auditioned to it on the British version of the show last year. The problem with this performance for Carly is that it really showed off exactly what her flaw is in this competition: the lack of emotional connection to the lyrics. This is a tune that functions better with emotional tenderness than big notes, and we’re not quite sure that Carly grasped that with this gigantic arrangement that turned the song into something that it shouldn’t be.

Emblem3 – Wait, a Peter Frampton song? This is one song choice that we were genuinely stunned by, and ironically it turned out to be the closest thing to genuine Emblem3 we have heard in several weeks on the show. The genuine pop / ska feel was back, and this is really their musical vein more so than just some slow ballad. There was also some originality thrown in here courtesy of a rap. They’re still not great singers, but this proved that they are great performers.

Fifth Harmony – For whatever reason, it’s a pet peeve to us when the girls choose to call themselves the “girls next door.” However, the was literally the only bad thing that we had to say about this entire performance. The girls were all incredible during this take on “Anything Can Happen,” whether it was via the staging or the vocals. Simon has not always done a great job with his acts this week, but he and choreographer Brian Friedman deserve quite a bit of credit here.

Round Two – Judges’ Choice

Tate Stevens – Strange as it may sound, Tate could be in a little bit of trouble this week. He’s got a huge fan following, but he also went in the dreaded first spot on the night. In addition to that, he really failed to really bring us anything that we have not seen from him already, including with this slow ballad “Fall.” After Fifth Harmony completely upped their game with “Anything Can Happen,” this felt like more of a step back than a challenge right back.

Carly Rose Sonenclar – Remember what Demi Lovato said about Carly’s first performance, about it being so good that it didn’t matter that it was predictable? This is really the best way to describe her take on John Lennon’s “Imagine.” It’s funny in a way that we were ragging on “The X Factor” for their lack of stars for most of the season, but everyone is really bringing it tonight. This was by far the best rendition of “Imagine” on a reality show since David Archuleta did it back on “American Idol” season 7. (The irony here is that Simon Cowell didn’t like this performance and loved the first one. Agree to disagree, Simon?)

Emblem3 – When you perform “Hey Jude” by the Beatles, you have to prepare yourself to go completely crazy at the end of it since you’re basically throwing one giant musical party. We are still not 120% sure that the boys managed to get there completely with this take on the classic track, but they still did a heck of a job with a song that we honestly felt was going to be a dud when they first said they were singing it.

Fifth Harmony – The girls sang “Impossible” beautifully, so really are issues here are just with the choices made here. First, why in the world is Simon ¬†giving these girls a song that is supposed to be James Arthur’s winners’ single overseas to do, especially when they have already done the song before. Plus, the Spanish felt gimmicky and just a ploy for the Spanish-speaking vote. As for the positives, those vocals! The harmonies! The improvement! There was also some genuine fierceness out there on stage … and we do love that very much.

Our final opinion here is simple: we really think that if the contestants’ choices were second, we could have seen a surprise in the voting tomorrow. Unfortunately, the elimination may instead be a tad predictable thanks to the final performance.

Photo: Fox

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