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X Factor Recap: They Have Got to NAIL THIS ONE

THE X FACTOR: TOP 4: Fifth Harmony performs live on THE X FACTOR, Wednesday, December 12 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: Ray Mickshaw / FOX.

It’s the semifinals! There are four acts left in the running for the $5 million prize! You would think that they could get this done in one hour and then show us a couple episodes of Ben & Kate or “Psy’s Down-Home Korean Khristmas” or something, but no. Two full hours of our lives will be spent this way tonight. They begin by telling us how important this show is, and all I can think is “Can you imagine if that were true?” Honestly — what if we were in the U.K., where people talk and place bets and care about this, rather than in the U.S., where there are more reality singing competition shows than there are major airlines? Really, the main thing this show is missing is relevance, and if it would spend 90 percent less time telling us how relevant it is, it might accidentally gain some.

Tomorrow, we will go from four acts to three, and it will all be based on the votes. As Khloe says: “The judges won’t vote on who to send home, but they will do what they do best: judge.” That’s gotta hurt. How would you like to be told that leaning forward and sleepily drawling “ameezeen” is the thing you do best?

While we’re on the hosts, let’s get this out of the way: Wow, does Mario give some expert dead-eye. I’m going to have to reach back to some mid-career Olsen Twin red-carpet footage to find a less-convincing smile.

Anyway. The show begins in Bumpkintown, USA. LA wears a cowboy hat, which everyone makes a huge deal out of because he is clearly African-American, and says “In support of my man Tate Stevens, please welcome to the stage Tate Stevens.” Okay! Tate sings “Bonfire,” one of those hundreds of country songs that people can listen to at parties because it’s about exactly what they’re doing right then. Country does this well. It makes you wonder what would happen if Adele’s next album were all about brunch items, or if the Avett Brothers recorded a song called “Wine and Prosciutto Tasting.” The song is up-tempo, it’s fun, it doesn’t mention his wife even once, it’s a whole new Tate! One can easily see him performing this song on any of the dozens of country awards shows that are sprinkled throughout the year. It’s a smart move, though for a song about drinking beer by a fire, he is pushing it just a little too hard.

Britney says it wasn’t his best (which is objectively wrong) and nobody can make eye contact with her. If Simon had said that, Demi would immediately have him in a half-nelson, but when Britney voices an unpopular opinion, all anyone can do is grimace into the middle distance. Every other judge loves it. Mario says to the behatted LA: “You look like somebody, and I’m-a tell you who it is when I think of it.” Well, great! I’m glad you brought that up.

And then it’s time for Carly Rose Sonenclar, who Britney introduces as “my little 13-year-old dita.” I hope she means diva, because if I wanted to watch a Dita von Teese burlesque thing from a child, I’m sorry to say I have literally dozens of other television options. Backstage footage from last week shows her getting a pep talk from the recently eliminated Diamond White, who is her best friend all of a sudden, and we know this because she says “I am your best friend” 500 times. Diamond urges her to “do it for me.” She is the Goose to Carly’s Maverick. And there’s video of Carly performing as a toddler, which was probably shot on an iPhone.

She sings Elton John’s “Your Song,” replete with a grim-faced children’s choir whose lips don’t move. And it’s fine. It’s flawless, really! I can’t help but think how much better it would be if she were not a child.

Emblem3 goes for Peter Frampton’s “Baby I Love Your Way,” but you already know it’s really more the Big Mountain version. You can fill this in on your own: It’s mildly reggae-flavored, the way a Pringle might be, they do the arm move like they’re in the Maury audience and they’re saying “oh HELL naw,” Drew is not wearing sleeves. It is boilerplate E3. LA calls it their $5 million performance, and they answer, “that was so rad of you to say.” I personally think they sleep-walked through it, and that they are coasting on charisma at this point. Britney lauds them for growing “through this whole situation,” and that’s what this show feels like. A situation. A condition. A predicament.

The surprise of the night is Fifth Harmony’s take on Ellie Goulding’s “Anything Could Happen,” which takes place at some kind of David LaChapelle quinceañera. It’s weird! It’s a little artsy! There are harmonies! One of the girls has a hair bow that is three times the size of her head! I kind of love it, and I am actively trying not to notice the fact that there are six backup singers in addition to the five girls in the group! The judges love it! Fifth Harmony inspires exclamation points!

As does this sentiment: I honestly wish they would end the show right here, as we have seen all we need to see, and like the superstar millionaire judges, I am dozing off and losing interest!

But they do not.


Off we go into round two! LA has chosen “Fall” by Clay Walker for Tate, and because it is a sappy ballad about a stoic, put-upon wife, it plays perfectly into the narrative they’ve selected for this guy. Turns out it’s Tate and his wife’s fifteenth anniversary, so they go out for a nice, romantic dinner — just the two of them and three cameramen and a few grips and audio guys and a production assistant to get releases from all the other diners — where he tells her how much he wants to provide for her, and how nervous he is he’ll lose. Simon says it best: “I know this is supposed to be a reality show, but let’s be honest: There is as much chance of you going back to your old job as there is of me flying to the moon.” The performance is what you’ve come to expect: He looks like he’s going to @tatestevenscry through the whole thing. We have seen this side of him a lot. Who do you think will play him in the movie? I’m going with Dennis Quaid.

Britney promises a whole new side of Carly Rose, then reveals that she has chosen John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and I sigh so loudly I set off car alarms throughout my neighborhood. Carly has doubts, because she will briefly be playing the piano, but her dad tells her it’s going to be okay. There is a tender moment out by Hollywood & Highland, where the gorgeous and talented child is comforted by her very wealthy father about the slight possibility that she might not win the $5 million TV prize and the danger that she may have to go back to her lucrative Broadway career. I mean, it’s hard not to get caught up in the drama.

Let us now praise X Factor choreographer Brian Friedman. We see him three times tonight — and countless other times throughout the season — sitting at the judges’ table during rehearsal, gravely whispering “He/she/they have really got to nail this one.” We also see him in what look to be long dance rehearsals with the top four, even though one is a lumbering country bear and another act did their entire performance sitting at a table. What I’m saying is that this is a job I covet. Good lookin’ out, Brian Friedman.

So yeah, it’s a fine rendition, if — as Simon points out — a little busy. She’s at the piano, she’s up and pacing and making her stank face, she’s back down at the piano. Listen: I like this kid. It’s impossible not to. But there is nobody on this planet who needs $5 million and a Pepsi commercial less. Let’s leave her alone for a couple of years, secure in the knowledge that she will ascend to the throne all by herself.

Emblem3 are assigned the Beatles’ “Hey Jude,” which is a thing they have quite simply not earned. For the Beatles — the actual Beatles, who spent 10,000 hours honing their craft in Hamburg rock clubs and pushed music and culture forward roughly a dozen times over the course of a decade — “Hey Jude” was a career-capping magnum opus. Emblem3 are not fully through puberty, they just learned their third chord, and they decided to audition for a competition show in between whip-its at their local skate park. The judges heap praise on them for walking around the stage. I’m a little over Emblem3 at this point. Forgive me, Drew. Don’t withhold your shoulders out of spite.

Fifth Harmony end the show with their version of Shontelle’s “Impossible,” which you may remember from their first performance at Simon’s home, which was maybe a month ago. Boy, though the seconds drag in these live shows, they’ve really whizzed us through them, haven’t they? These ladies have gelled as a unit in that short time, and I think the stage is set for a girl group to have a nice, long run on the charts. The Spice Girls can’t happen twice in my lifetime, but Girls Aloud sure can.

So now it is up to America. Only three acts can make it into the final, and I have a bad feeling about Emblem3. Tomorrow, we find out! Plus performances by Bruno Mars and Bridgit Mendler. The Bridgit Mendler! I am now going to take a very hot shower and scrub my body vigorously, because Mario Lopez has been smiling at me for two hours.