As Wednesday night's very intense intro package on "X Factor" indicated, everything was riding on the evening's performances. As such, you could feel the sense of urgency and extra work put into this week's song preparation from the top four contestants, who are battling it out for only three finalist spots in the season finale.
Current leader Tate Stevens brought the crowd to its feet with two different, emotionally charged performances, teen queen Carly Rose Sonenclar continued to impress the judges and especially the audience with her talent, and boy band Emblem3 showed serious signs of vocal maturity, and underdog group Fifth Harmony turned in a surprise stellar number that showed they've got fight left in them. On any other night, against different acts, the five spirited ladies would have been shoe-ins to move forward, but the strength of their competition's fanbases and talent have us thinking they will likely be saying goodbye this week.
Here are the highlights:
L.A. Reid's Over 25s
Tate Stevens' first performance was his own selection, Craig Morgan's upbeat, fiery crowd-pleaser "Bonfire," which showed off a different side of the country crooner that had most of the judges very pleased. Stevens' mentor L.A. Reid donned a black cowboy hat to show his support and thought his contestant "lit the stage on fire." Demi Lovato said the performance made her feel like she was back in her home state of Texas (in a good way), and Simon Cowell praised Stevens' decision to step outside his comfort zone and prove he deserves to be in the finals. Britney Spears was the holdout: "At this point in the competition, it has to be your best and I don't think it was your best."
Stevens' second song was the sweet and sentimental ballad "Fall" by Clay Walker, which Stevens dedicated to his wife as part of their 15th wedding anniversary. "We are supposed to be a reality show and there is about as much chance of you going back to your old job as me flying to the moon tomorrow," Cowell said. "Let's be clear, you've made your mark here, I think you've done enough to get into the final and I am really happy that you decided to enter our competition."
Carly Rose Sonenclar: Superstar-in-the-making Sonenclar chose to perform a jazzy stripped-down take on Elton John's classic "Your Song," a song her dad used to sing to her when she was younger. The judges praised Sonenclar for finally showing some genuine emotion during her always-perfect performances. "You did things with that song I've never heard before," Reid said.
"I thought that was a beautiful version of a fantastic song," agreed Cowell. "This is the first time genuinely I've seen any emotion throughout the competition from you and it's nice to see that. I don't think it was your best performance, walking across that thing made you hesitant. I think you can do better than that."
The 13-year-old's second song, as selected by Spears, was another risky classic, John Lennon's "Imagine," which involved Sonenclar showing off her piano-playing skills at the beginning and end of the song. "The only predictable thing about that performance is that it was going to be amazing," Lovato said. Cowell, however, wasn't as convinced, saying the arrangement was "overcomplicated" and that he wished she had just stayed at the piano the entire time instead of trying to do so many different things in one performance. Spears, of course, disagreed, telling her, "I feel like it is time for you to go beyond this stage and compete against the rest of the world."
Emblem3: No matter what happens to Emblem3 on "X Factor," the intensity of the screams from their female fans any time the band is mentioned tells us that they'll be around long enough to put out an album or two. But after their very solid performances of the self-selected "Baby, I Love Your Way" followed by "Hey Jude," the three beach town-dwelling boys are heading to the finals.
"You've grown up throughout this process and it would be unfair to call you a boy band because you're more than that," Spears said. Cowell said the performance reminded him of their first audition, saying, "You've come into this competition with steel in your eyes and nailed it on both songs. Seriously fantastic."
Fifth Harmony: The perky all-girl group came into the evening in fourth place and the de facto underdogs of the competition. Their first performance of Ellie Golding's "Anything Can Happen" told their fans, the judges and anyone watching that the ladies are still a force to be reckoned with, showcasing every one of their voices.
"That was the best vocal performance you've ever done," Reid gushed. Spears added, "I loved everything about it. It was like magic." Cowell acknowledged that the group came into the night as underdogs, but said "after that performance, like the lyric of that song just said, anything now can happen."
Unfortunately, their second song, a repeat performance of "Impossible" as suggested by Cowell, did not have the same wow factor. Reid called the song choice "lazy," and Spears said, "It was pretty good but I would be surprised if you're here next week."
In the end, Cowell stood by his suggestion to sing the familiar song and pleaded with the audience to vote for his Fifth Harmony. "I think it was the right thing to do that song because it was a reminder why I fell in love with you in the first place," he said. "I know you've been one of the strongest acts tonight. I hope and I pray that America gets behind you and puts you into the finals."
Who do you think will make it into the final three on "X Factor"? Leave your prediction in the comments below!