The "X Factor" final three competed on the X-shaped stage for one last time Wednesday (December 18), going head-to-head (to head) for a shot at a $1 million recording contract.
The three finalists — Carlito Olivero, Alex & Sierra and Jeff Gutt — were tasked with singing three songs apiece, including one duet with an established star. Who's got the edge going into Thursday's finale? Here's our recap of the season's final "The X Factor" performance episode:
Chicago's Olivero opened with Shontelle's "Impossible," singing the ballad in English and in Spanish while being lowered on a platform from the ceiling. He was praised for his passion and gave Demi Lovato "the chills," while Simon Cowell knocked him down a half step before raising him up. "You're not the best singer, Carlito, but that's not necessarily a problem," he told him. "Because what you give, you make up for it in the fact that you take hold of any song you're given, you kind of make it your version." (Question for conspiracy theorists: Was the "you're not the best singer" dig meant to be a subtle plug for Cowell's own Alex & Sierra?)
For his duet, Olivero was joined by Prince Royce, and the two sang the classic "Stand By Me." 'Hand claps all around, fine holiday fun," said Kelly Rowland, while Cowell called it a "perfect collaboration." And for his final song of the night, Olivero returned to Santana's "Maria Maria," and while Olivero's mentor Paulina Rubio told him "you deserve this recording deal," Cowell told him, "It was the first time I believed you have a future in the music industry."
Alex & Sierra
The Florida duo the favorites heading into the night — retained their frontrunner status with three solid performances that could translate to an easy "X Factor" victory. First up they did Ed Sheeran's "Give Me Love," causing Rowland to crow, "any label would take y'all right now , they would be crazy not to. I would sign y'all right now." Cowell went one step further: "I always dreamt with a show like this that I would find an American star who could represent this country all over the world afterwards, and I genuinely do believe we found that with you two."
Former "X Factor" U.K. champion Leona Lewis joined the duo on their second song, for a slowed down version of her 2007 hit "Bleeding Love," which despite Lovato's "it wasn't your best performance" comment led Cowell to say, "Leona Lewis changed this show forever, and I believe you can change this show forever as well." For the group's third song, they returned to A Great Big World's "Say Something," which they scored a # 1 hit on iTunes with earlier this month.
"That was even better than the first time," Rowland told them. "I didn't think it could actually get better, but it did." And again, Cowell stanned hard for his duo: "You are exactly what a talent show in America needs," he said. "You're current. I think you're gonna have a successful career, but based on what you've achieved throughout the competition, I genuinely believe that you deserve to win this." And they just might.
Gutt, the 37-year-old rocker from Detroit, didn't do himself any favors with young voters by picking two songs from the '90s and a song from the '70s. He began with Aerosmith's "Dream On," which he sang on a rising platform surrounded by lasers. Technical problems in the studio caused Lovato and Rubio to have a hard time hearing him, but Cowell praised his authenticity.
"For me, this is the very, very first time where I actually believe that you believe that you can win the show. Everything just felt authentic," he said. "Sometimes when we get these rockers on these shows, they're like fake Rolex watches you buy in Hong Kong, right? And I know the real thing. And I think you're the real thing."
For his second song, Gutt was joined by Goo Goo Dolls' frontman John Rzeznik, and the two of them sang the group's hit "Iris." Cowell called it "the perfect collaboration" (Cowell needs to work on some new lines) while Rowland said he "killed it." (Note to TV judges everywhere: Can you please eliminate this phrase from your lexicon? Thank you!) And for his final song — just after Cowell praised Alex & Sierra for being "current" — Gutt rolled out a version of "Creep," a 21-year-old song that even its artist, Radiohead, has all but disavowed.
It was Gutt's clumsiest performance of the season, though the judges were in a forgiving mood, and the crowd was chanting "Gutt! Gutt!" afterward. "I feel like this was a stadium performance," gushed Lovato, who said she hoped viewers cast votes for Gutt. Rowland, for her part, made an impassioned pitch for her contestant. "America, I need you to get behind Jeff," she said. "I need you to pick up those phones and call and vote for this incredible star we're looking at right before our eyes."
A winner will be crowned Thursday, on a two-hour season finale that will also feature performances by Mary J. Blige, Leona Lewis, Pitbull, Ke$ha, Lea Michele and One Direction. And with no season-four pickup yet, it might just be the "X Factor" series finale as well.
What did you think of Wednesday's "X Factor" finale? Let us know in the comments!