It was do-or-die time on "X Factor" Wednesday night, as the top six faced a double jeopardy: singing unplugged and then taking on a viewer's choice of song, wardrobe and performance style for a chance to advance to next week's semi-final
Once again, teen Carly Rose Sonenclar and boy band Emblem3 got the biggest reaction, while country dad Tate Stevens had an uneven night and CeCe Frey continued to split the vote.
Demi's Young Adults:
CeCe Frey: Admitting she needed flash to "cover up" her sub-par vocals, Frey perched on a piano for a torchy take on Lady Gaga's "Edge Of Glory." Mixing bum notes with some of her most solid vocals to date, she-who-cannot-be-dinged actually pulled it off, coming across as somewhat relatable.
"You know what you've proven? That sometimes we get it wrong," said a surprised L.A. Reid, who is starting to be a fan. Simon Cowell (dropping the dreaded "cabaret" bomb) still doesn't see her as worth the $5 million prize. Lovato, of course, thought it was stellar and noted that Frey is still in it because of her fans at home. "Well, I'm still here," CeCe said coquettishly when asked how she felt about the judges' comments.
Frey's Pepsi challenge song was Katy Perry's "Part of Me," which took her back to kitchen sink land, complete with a flashing "CeCe" sign, disco lights, day-glo top and teased out blonde hair. The vocals were all over the place and the whole thing reeked of cheap perfume. Spears and Cowell found it very entertaining and appreciated the look of joy (and defiance) on Frey's face. "Now that was karaoke," jabbed Reid, who did a 180 from his earlier praise. "If the princess of pop is sitting right here saying that you did a good job, I think you did a good job," countered Lovato.
Carly Rose Sonenclar has been cruising through the competition in the #1 slot for two weeks. But would a stripped-down take on Justin Bieber's "As Long As You Love Me" trip her up? With a heartbeat percussion thrum and Spanish guitar behind her, Sonenclar made the song her own, transforming it into a diva showcase with towering vocals and her typically amazing breath control.
"I love it when I hear unplugged versions of songs that are better than the actual song," Lovato gushed. "You sang it better than Justin did." It was another home run as far as Reid (who signed Bieber) was concerned. Cowell also raved, giving Sonenclar the biggest compliment, calling her "cool" and a potential star.
Beyoncé's "If I Were A Boy" was Sonenclar's second song and she started off in what sounded like too low a register, but corrected midway through, climbing into her higher power range. It was across-the-board raves, with Lovato calling it a "phenomenal" vocal, but wishing for something uptempo.
Diamond White: Again singing James Brown's "It's a Man's Man's Man's World," White was looking to get out of the cellar. Her vocals were bluesy, strong and confident, but came off a bit talent show-y and shouty at times. Reid loved the showbiz attitude and swagger and Lovato said it was good, if repetitive. "It was a little bit screechy in parts," Cowell complained, agreeing with the others that the mic stand toss at the end was a nice bit of flair. "You not only nailed it, you destroyed it," Spears crowed.
In a total coincidence, White sang Rihanna's "Diamonds," from inside a giant floating diamond! The marching band drum track was nice, but White sounded stilted and seemed to be shouting to be heard over the background singers and track. Lovato said White looked like a star and Cowell praised the production and performance. He likes her and the song, but Reid didn't love the teen's rendition. "I feel like the song was made for you," Spears corrected.
Emblem3: One of two Cowell acts left in the running, the bro-thers stripped it down to acoustic guitar and whisper-sung Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are." Judging by the non-stop audience squeals and their super-polished harmonies, these guys are a lock for the semi-final. Spears dubbed it their best effort to date and Lovato grudgingly admitted it was "great," but not their best, slagging them as a "downgraded version" of the Jonas Brothers from five years ago. "That was incredibly dumb," Cowell retorted to his judging rival, alluding to the pressure the teen trio are facing, and, in his opinion, rising above.
The fellas got stuck with Alphaville's sappy new wave hit "Forever Young," which drained the fun out of them as they mostly stood still, clearly straining to hit some of the notes. "I am a fan, but I just want to see you command the stage more and work it," said Lovato. Reid and Spears felt they nailed it and Cowell confidently predicted, "Emblem3 have landed."
Fifth Harmony: After jumping up to fourth place last week, the girl group felt the pressure to actually harmonize, on Adele's "Set Fire to the Rain." They pretty much killed it, with each singer putting her own slightly different soulful mark on the tune.
"I think you have the wrong name, they should have called you Fifth Unison," sneered Reid, again slamming the girls for their perceived lack of harmony. Spears called it "nice," but said she doesn't hear anything that separates them from other girl groups. "It's pick on Fifth Harmony week again," Cowell complained, saying there actually aren't many girl groups out there, despite Spears' and Lovato's criticism.
To Cowell's annoyance, fans chose Lovato's "Give You Heart a Break" for Harmony's second track. The arrangement was a bit tinny, and while the girls did a nice job on the vocals, it all felt a bit predictable and (fittingly) Disney Channel. "I think this song should have been your song," Lovato enthused, calling it their best effort yet. Shocked, Reid said he finally heard harmony, and it was good.
Reid's Over 25s:
Tate Stevens: The formerly high-flying cowboy took a chance with Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer," slapping an earnest, aw shucks twang to the Jersey rock classic. "I feel like you're getting away from what you do best and that's down-the-middle country," Spears complained. Though she was certain she'd be buying a Stevens album one day, Lovato called the performance boring and lamented that Tate skipped the signature high note, even as Cowell slammed the song choice and compared the effort to someone trying to take a goldfish for a walk.
Looking for redemption, Stevens sang Garth Brooks' "If Tomorrow Never Comes" as the weepy, sincere arena ballad that it is. "Now that felt like a Tate Stevens performance. That was brilliant," Britney raved. Lovato is certain Tate has a huge future, but had trouble staying awake while Cowell praised him for returning to his sweet spot.
Ke$ha and season one champ Melanie Amaro will perform on Thursday night's (December 6) results show.
Who do you think killed it Wednesday night? Who should go home? Let us know in comments below!