"X Factor's" final six doubled down with two songs apiece on Wednesday, singing songs by music's biggest divas and stripping down versions of their favorite songs. There is only room for four artists in next week's semifinal, so here's how they each fare heading into Thursday's double elimination episode:
Simon Cowell's country trio opened the show singing Taylor Swift's "Red," and although Kelly Rowland felt the performance lacked energy, their mentor Simon Cowell said it proved they have earned a place in the finals. "No one has worked harder than you, (and) you've really gelled as a band," Cowell told the boys. "Let's remember there is a million-dollar recording contract here, and you deserve it. You really, really do."
They followed it with a raw, no frills version of Avicii's "Wake Me Up" that left them feeling emotional. "Each one of you left your heart right there on that (stage)," Rowland told them, as the members wiped tears from their eyes. "You just earned your spot in the finals," Demi Lovato told them. "I'm so impressed."
For her diva effort, Rion Paige — who was nearly eliminated from the competition last week — dialed up Carrie Underwood's "See You Again." She showed her country stripes on the song, and while Cowell wasn't quite blown away with the song selection, the other judges praised her presence (Rowland) and her vocal tone (Paulina Rubio, who was at her most non-sensical throughout the evening). Lovato highlighted Paige's fighting spirit. "You literally took my breath away," her mentor said. "Nobody in this competition has the fire behind their eyes when they perform like you do."
Paige's second song was an unplugged version of Thompson Square's 2012 hit "Glass," which had Lovato wiping away tears. "You show people it's okay not to be perfect," she said, while Cowell said she may have rescued herself after what he considered a subpar first performance.
Cowell has been asking Santiago to do away with the choreography and dancers for weeks now and he finally got his wish Wednesday, when Santiago and Santiago alone reworked Lady Gaga's "Applause" into something with more groove than the cluttered original.
"You've gone from being a mouse to a little tiger here," Cowell said, in one of his trademark animal comparisons that only kind of makes sense. Lovato was more direct with her assessment: "I couldn't be more prouder of you," she said. "I think you have the ability to take this competition."
Santiago's second performance was also from a diva, when she did a raw version of Beyoncé's "If I Were a Boy" that didn't shy away from big notes. "I feel like I'm watching a superstar," Rubio said, while Cowell applauded Santiago for stripping away all the bells and whistles from her performance. "This is what we've been waiting for you for a long time: Just you, your microphone and your vocals," he said. "That was incredible. One of my favorite performances so far from you."
Alex & Sierra
Cowell's duo had the most audacious performance of the night, spinning Destiny's Child's "Say My Name" right in front of one of Destiny's children. "I must admit, I was not ready for that," Rowland told the duo. "You guys really actually pulled that off." She wasn't the only one who was impressed; said their mentor, Mr. Cowell: "I get the feeling I'm looking at winners here."
Things only got better for the lovebirds during their second song, when they took on A Great Big World's current smash "Say Something" and earned a standing ovation from all four judges. Rowland said it was like a performance at an awards show, Lovato called it "magical" and Cowell, who knows a moneymaker when he sees one, dubbed it "beautiful, sincere and fantastic." "This for me wasn't just the best performance of the night, because it was, in so many ways this is my favorite performance of the entire season," Cowell told his duo. "That wasn't just a performance — that was a record." Indeed, by night's end, the song was charting in iTunes' Top 10.
Jeff Gutt was given some leeway on his diva offering, doing the power ballad "Without You," which was covered once by Mariah Carey but was originally done by Badfinger. Rubio compared Gutt to Axl Rose, but Cowell wasn't quite as forthcoming with his compliments. "I'm not being rude, you are quite boring as a person," he said. "But when you come onstage, you completely transform." Cowell went on to praise the single father's drive and determination.
Gutt dedicated his second performance to his brother, offering up a tender, straightforward version of Elton John's "Daniel" that skipped out on vocal gymnastics and Big Moments. The judges didn't quite know how to react to a performance that wasn't shooting for the stars.
"I feel it was good, but it was a bit stale," said Lovato, calling it "anticlimactic." Cowell said vocally it wasn't as strong as the performances he's used to from Gutt, but he appreciated its sentiment. "I think you've had a really good night," he told him.
Olivero turned up the volume with Jennifer Lopez's "Let's Get Loud" for his diva song, though it wasn't his original choice and he was forced to learn it in just 24 hours. "It kind of fell flat just a little bit," Rowland said. "You're pushing so hard, I don't feel like you're really enjoying yourself." Cowell agreed the vocals weren't strong, but said he would "hate to lose" Olivero from the competition.
Olivero's second song was a Spanglish rendition of "Stand by Me" that worked better in the eyes of the judges. "That was the best vocal I've heard you do this whole competition," Rowland said, while Rubio — who at this point was practically out of her mind — called it, "the best performance ever in this competition." Say something, Paulina, we're giving up on you.
The season's Final 4 will be determined on Thursday's (December 5) episode, which will also see performances by Little Mix and Emblem 3.