It's Final 4 time on "The X Factor."

But really, if we're being honest, it's time for the Top 2 -- Carly Rose Sonenclar and Tate Stevens haven't let anybody else in since voting began -- and then Emblem 3 and then, somewhere in the distance, Fifth Harmony. The stratification in this "X Factor" season was established early and other than the occasional minor blip -- Vino Alan's elimination was no more or less random than how high he'd be polling previously -- nothing has changed. It was a fantastic idea for "X Factor" to reveal vote ranking, but it was also a horrible idea. Everybody wants to believe that voting on these shows is fluid and that one great performance can turn somebody from an underdog to a star, but that probably isn't the case at all. 

So what difference could Wednesday's show possibly make? Do we really think that Tate and Carly Rose can be displaced in the finale? 

Let's see how the performances go...

8:03 p.m. ET. Only three acts are advancing tomorrow. But really, that means only one act is being eliminated. 

8:04 p.m. Poor Demi. No more singers. Lucky America. No more Cece Frey.

8:05 p.m. Mario Lopez has instituted a "leaderboard blackout." No standings tomorrow night.

8:07 p.m. And we also have a performance blackout. Or at least we're getting no performances before our first ad break.

8:10 p.m. "Glee" is doing "It's a Wonderful Life" tomorrow? Ugh.

8:11 p.m. Two performances apiece tonight: One is a contestant's choice and the other is... Kinda a contestant's choice.

Singer: TATE STEVENS
Song: "Bonfire"
My Take: Wow. That's a lot of fake tires bouncing around behind Tate on the videos screens. A tire fire is not a bonfire. Ask Springfield. Ah, there's the gouts of fire, too. I like how L.A. Reid tried advising Tate to go higher and show more range, pretty much moving that he hasn't listened to Tate all season long. His voice goes where it goes and where it won't go, he drops the melody an octave. And this particular song is another example of Tate working comfortably within his five-or-six note range. It's a good, well-executed up-tempo country performance that has been arranged to avoid any of his potential vocal liabilities. You can hear Tate cut three or four higher notes off early because he just can't hit and sustain those notes. And it doesn't matter. Because Tate's fans aren't looking for him to be Bruno Mars. They're looking for him to be pretty much exactly what he was.
The Judges Say: Britney doesn't think it was Tate's best. The crowd boos. Demi Lovato disagrees and calls it a winning performance. Simon congratulates Tate for not singing something mushy, calling it one of Tate's best performances. Simon adds that Tate looks like a man who believes he can win. "It was the most fun I've had since I've been doing this show," L.A. Reid says. Britney leans over to display her cleavage and says something about what she wanted to see.

Singer: CARLY ROSE SONENCLAR
Song: "Your Song"
My Take: Awww... Tate sang his song for his friends. Carly Rose is singing her song for her dad. I bet she's going to sing it well. Carly Rose spent the past couple weeks singing newer songs to try to convince the judges that she's contemporary. This is Carly Rose returning to her Old Soul roots. She's been so dedicated to showing how big her voice is, while this is about texture and phrasing. This is an entirely new arrangement/cover for me, not beholden to the original at all. Do I think this is really the sort of song that any sane person would put on an album released by a $5 million new 13-year-old artist? No. But if you compare what Carly's doing vocally here to the hilariously monochromatic performance Tate gave 10 minutes ago... Well, it's a joke. She's oodles better than anybody else this season and we could just let her win now. But that hat and those pants? Never again.
The Judges Say: L.A. Reid thinks it was a risky and difficult song, but she did things with the song he's never heard before. Demi's happy she has no more contestants, because she's 100 percent trustworthy. And Demi's trustworthy opinion is that Carly Rose is predictable, but that this was her favorite song. "I'm confused," Simon says correctly. Demi tries clarifying, but mostly fails, so she just calls Simon old. "I thought that was a beautiful version of a fantastic song," Simon says, but he also thinks she can do better. Britney shows off her cleavage and is proud.

Singer: EMBLEM 3
Song: "Baby I Love Your Way"
My Take: Guh. I hate it when acts on shows like this whine about how badly they want to do original songs and how they have all of these original songs that make them seem completely different, but then when they get the chance to pick a song, they don't take advantage. If you think you're an original artist, own it. Otherwise, you look even more like poseurs than you did before. It makes me appreciate the heck out of Chris Rene and Astro last season. They said they were original artists, so they did originals. Instead, Emblem 3 is just doing a snoozy, Sub-Sublime Peter Frampton cover. After showing that the guys spent time in "choreography," it's laughable that they're doing the exact same thing they do every week. Is there a verse at the end that's original? I don't recognize it, but it's also not memorable enough for me to Google and see if they just did a little mash-up. The little choreography mashup that has two of the guys bumping into each other mid-chorus is definitely the most entertaining part of a performance that still has the girls squealing.
The Judges Say: L.A. Reid thinks that this was their $5 million moment. He calls their performance "inventive." Britney says that the performance felt "special" and that it would be unfair to call them a boy-band. And this was exactly what Demi was looking for. "If this doesn't get you into the final, nothing will," Simon says. That last comment may be true. Everything else? Whatever. Does L.A. Reid not remember the first two or three weeks of raving over each and every Emblem 3 performance? What was that about if *this* is the first time he saw them as stars?

 

8:50 p.m. The girl standing next to Mario Lopez in the mosh pit is going to be really embarrassed when she watches this back and sees herself getting lost in Mario's dimples from a foot away.

8:51 p.m. Nobody in the mosh pit is looking at Khloe Kardashian-Odom with anywhere near that level of affection.

 

Singer: FIFTH HARMONY
Song: "Anything Can Happen"
My Take: The gals are taking that "Fifth Unison" crack to heart and they swear they're doing more harmony this week. Instead, they're doing more stagecraft. Are they pretending they're dolls at a tea party? Or that they're in Wonderland? I'm really confused by the aesthetic they're going for here. The initial staging is dreadful. when in doubt, why would you make people sing from a sitting position? The lack of projection is predictable. There are moments of attempted harmony, but it comes only in spurts around the usual solos. Once again, I'm kinda wishing that Dinah Jane had just advanced as a solo artist. Leaving aside how un-spectacular the vocals are, this is absolutely evolves into the most entertaining overall performance Fifth Harmony has given. There are moments of playfulness and choreographed movement that show that Simon is finally getting comfortable letting them loose just in time for their elimination. Given the choice between what Emblem 3 did and what Fifth Harmony did, I may find myself becoming a Fifth Harmony fan.
The Judges Say: L.A. Reid calls it the best vocal performance they've ever done. "I loved everything about it. It was like magic when you got up there," Britney says. Demi calls it "cute" and praises their sparkle. Simon tells Fifth Harmony that they're underdogs and it'll take a miracle for them to get into the finale, but "anything now can happen."

 

8:59 p.m. For me, Carly Rose Sonenclar won the first round, but I don't think I need to pretend I haven't totally made up my mind. None of the other three acts can do what Carly Rose did on that first song. Not even close. And the advantages the other acts have over her don't especially interest me.

9:03 p.m. "It's quick, huh?" Mario Lopez says of the rapidly approaching finale. Actually, it has seemed like a million years. 

9:04 p.m. Now time for song selected by the contestants *with* their mentors... Except that apparently it's just the mentors, really.

 

Singer: TATE STEVENS
Song: "Fall"
My Take: Awww... Pandering. Tate keeps talking about how this performance is all about his wife. And coincidentally this was their anniversary. But why the heck is Tate wearing his hat at his anniversary dinner at a seemingly nice restaurant. Sigh. Because this song is all about Tate's wife, you can tell that Tate really means this. This is a slightly rangier song than the past couple we've heard Tate tackle. There are a couple nice lower notes and some less-nice falsetto. I'd love to hear Tate do more with the low stuff and less with the falsetto. This is a lower energy performance than his first of the night, but I think it's much better. This sounds like a recording voice. People will vote for Tate and his crying wife, not that you ever had any doubt.
The Judges Say: Britney says Tate has hit and missed, but that was a direct hit. Demi envies Tate's wife. Simon reassures Tate that he'll never have to go back to his old job and that he's done enough to make the finale. L.A. Reid tells Britney that Tate hasn't missed.

 

9:18 p.m. Audition for "X Factor" next year. PLEASE. Otherwise, Simon Cowell will continue to only be able to list successful artists who came from the *British* "X Factor." And that shames us all.

 

Singer: CARLY ROSE SONENCLAR
Song: "Imagine"
My Take: Ew. Ew. Ew. Awful song choice, Britney. Ew. "Imagine" is a great song, but why are you making Carly Rose do it? And does Carly Rose *actually* playing the piano, or does Britney merely think she plays the piano? It looks like she can, indeed, play the basic notes. Go Carly. I just don't take kindly to any song choice that would make me compare Carly Rose Sonenclar to David Archuleta. Carly Rose is mighty relieved when she's able to stop the piano ruse, detach her microphone and start wailing. I don't need so much showing off in my covers of "Imagine," thank you very much. I'll just place all of the blame for this on Britney and move on. And I'd add that even that's probably my least favorite Carly Rose performance of the season, it's still a vocal that nobody still standing, or previously eliminated, could have done.
The Judges Say: L.A. Reid thinks the piano-playing took her "artistic credibility up a notch." Demi thought it was amazing and not predictable. Simon would have kept Carly at the piano. He thought the staging "made a beautiful song fussy." I tend to agree. Britney thinks it's time for Carly Rose to compete with the biggest stars in the world.

 

9:35 p.m. Way to make it sound like the judges tore Tate and Carly Rose to shreds, Khloe.

 

Singer: EMBLEM 3
Song: "Hey Jude"
My Take: One of the members of Emblem 3 is named "Keaton." I'd forgotten they had names. This week is all about Keaton. The other two members don't matter at all. That's what I've learned from the pre-performance clips. So however this goes, I'm blaming Keaton. Why was this the song Simon chose for Emblem 3? There are some nice harmonies here and because the guys are just sitting down, the absence of choreography is refreshing. Kinda. And look! There's Keaton! He's no Paul McCartney! That was better than the Frampton performance earlier.
The Judges Say: "You actually are teen heartthrobs like the Beatles," L.A. Reid says stupidly. Britney calls it an A-Level performance. Demi suggests that they have the potential to become the Beatles. Simon's proud of them.

 

9:44 p.m. Did two "X Factor" judges just compare three surfer himbos to The Beatles? That did just happen, right? Gracious. This show is entirely off the rails.

 

Singer: FIFTH HARMONY
Song: "Impossible"
My Take: Wow. This is cynical. The ladies of Fifth Harmony are going to rehash a previous performance, singing a little of it in Spanish *entirely* to pander. I get that Fifth Harmony is going to be eliminated if they don't give the audience a cattle prod to the hindquarters. But still... Other than the title word in the chorus, this isn't even Fifth Unison. This is 95 percent rotating solos. As they actually try harmonizing at the end, there are some painful notes. That was a step back for Fifth Harmony. They needed more than that. That's the nail in the coffin.
The Judges Say: L.A. Reid thought the song choice was lazy. "I would be really surprised if you guys are here next week," Britney says, dropping the boom. Demi says it'll come down to their fanbase, but she's worried. Simon loved the Spanish parts and he says that Fifth Harmony has been one of the strongest acts of the night. I'm not sure who Simon thinks should go home if Fifth Harmony stays.

 

9:55 p.m. I can't see anybody other than Fifth Harmony going home. 

 

Who'd you like tonight? Who's being eliminated tomorrow?