How was last week's Big Band Night?
I have zero clue. I said I was skipping the show and skip it I did. I know that Josh Levi and Lillie McCloud went home. And while I'm surprised that Carlito Olivero is still around, I'm not shocked. And I'm not shocked by any of the other results, really.
Tonight's show is apparently two performances apiece, with one coming from a favorite diva and the other a stripped down performance. That means one more chance for Alex & Sierra to do "Falling Slowly." This has to happen at some point, right?
Click through for my full live-blog!
8:01 p.m. ET. We aren't pretending like last week's results were shocking, are we? A.C. Slater seems to be suggesting we were stunned to see Lillie and Josh head home. I'm skeptical.
8:03 p.m. We're starting with Songs Made Famous By Some of the Greatest Divas, which A.C. Slater basically suggests, "women." Up first...
Singer: RESTLESS ROAD
My Take: It's Make Contestants Cry While Talking About Their Hometown Night, apparently. The men of Restless Road aren't likely to enjoy the Diva portion of tonight's program, especially since Simon Cowell gave them a Taylor Swift track for some reason. The country twang from this song isn't a bad choice, but the arrangement is really soft, probably needlessly so. Pop corniness isn't what Restless Road does best, especially Scott Porter Road, who trends towards cheesiness anyway. This is, however, one of the best solos from Deep Voice Road. Neckbeard Road barely figured in that performance at all. This is really easy-going, albeit not unappealingly so.
The Judges Say: "You worked it out like a diva," Kelly Rowland says, praising their tight vocals, though she wants more energy. Demi Lovato wants to hear more solos, but she says they've come a long way. Paulina Rubio has learned their names, though she calls one Little Elvis Presley. Nobody's exactly sure who she's talking about, especially the show's director, who cuts to each of the guy as if to shrug. "You guys have to be in the final. You deserve to be in the final," Simon says, insisting nobody has worked as hard as Restless Road. The other three judges disagree.
Singer: RION PAIGE
Song: "See You Again"
My Take: It makes me a little sad that Rion was in the Bottom Three last week, though somebody had to be and she could have stunk for all I know. I don't know how or what Rion did last week, but this Carrie Underwood cover is vintage emotional Rion. In fact, I think this may be her most modulated performance in that I sense more ebb and flow to both her voice and her expressiveness, almost telling a story in a way that she hasn't really done before. That was a very fine performance. As I keep saying with Rion, she's the only singer in this competition who reliably makes me feel emotion when I listen to her.
The Judges Say: "Every time I watch you perform, it's always genuine," Kelly says. "I love the tone of your vocals. Your voice is so unique," Paulina says, telling Rion to wear her hair down in the future. Simon didn't love the song choice. "It's on," Demi warns him. Demi says nobody in the competition has Rion's fire behind her eyes. Rion tells America that she wants to do this for the rest of her life.
8:22 p.m. Another double-elimination tomorrow. Why not make it three? Or four? Time for...
Singer: JEFFREY GUTT
Song: "Without You"
My Take: This is a tough theme for Jeff Gutt and Kelly's given him a Mariah Carey song, which is just plain weird (or a Harry Nilsson song, if you prefer). Meanwhile, apparently I missed Jeff's best performance last week. Oh well. There's a weird light scheme tonight. It's like he's an entree at a buffet under blaring heating lamps. The set-up is strange and claustrophobic and not good for Jeff at all. But vocally? This is about as good as Jeff gets. He's rangy and intense.
The Judges Say: Demi's niece is obsessed with Jeff. Paulina loves everybody, including Jeff. Paulina compares Jeff to Axl Rose and asks for blood next time. "Basically, she wants you to stab yourself next week," Simon says, before calling Jeff "boring as a person," but praises him for completely transforming. Simon thinks Jeff actually wants to win and needs to win this competition. He calls it the best performance of the night so far. Wow. Out of three performances. "We don't need to see no blood," Kelly says.
Singer: ELLONA SANTIAGO
My Take: Oh. It's the song that makes the gerbils want to work out in that commercial. I wouldn't have thought that with all of the plausible diva songs in the world that this would be a good choice. It's plenty campy, which is probably appropriate given that it's a style-over-substance Lady Gaga song. Ellona hits some very good moments and also has a couple bits of solid phrasing. She also gets a bit lost in the over-staging -- sometimes it sounds like she's losing breath and trying to catch up -- and I don't buy the part near the end when she's whipping her hair in Simon's face, but I also think that Ellona is a showman (or showwoman) in a way that no other singer in this competition is capable of even attempting. [Yes, I'm intentionally ignoring that Carlito is still around.]
The Judges Say: Kelly wants her to control the big notes, but she's mostly very positive. Paulina tells Ellona her name. "You've gone from a mouse to a little tiger here," Simon says, adding that he loved the version of the song.
Singer: ALEX & SIERRA
Song: "Say My Name"
My Take: Well, this is plenty amusing. I wouldn't have expected either this song choice, or the cutely sassy performance. I'm not sure that this song has a story, but watching this full-stage choreography, I almost believe that it does. There's a very different strut in this performance, especially from Sierra in her leather pants, and yet it's still recognizably geeky and awkward in Alex & Sierra style. I can't say it enough: I just like these two crazy kids so much. But seriously: "Falling Slowly" next. Please?
The Judges Say: "I was not ready for that," says Kelly, who knows a thing or two about that song. Demi felt like they were nervous because of Kelly's presence, but she raves that Sierra has come out of her shell and that she wants to see them in the Finals. Paulina loves them and mentions Sonny & Cher again. "I get the feeling I'm looking at winners here," Simon says.
Singer: CARLITO OLIVERO
Song: "Let's Get Loud"
My Take: Paulina had a hard time picking a song for Carlito. I 'm not sure that she cracked the code with this Jennifer Lopez song, especially if her goal was to showcase Carlito's voice. This is basically a one-note vocal and I'm not even sure Carlito is hitting that note consistently. And if you're going to barely sing a Jennifer Lopez song, you'd darned well better be dancing from start finish. Carlito is not. That was a weak, weak performance for this stage in the game and it was a brutal song choice. Bad move, Paulina.
The Judges Say: "It kinda fell flat just a little bit," Kelly says, suggesting Carlito isn't enjoying himself. Carlito says he isn't making any excuses, but then makes the excuse that he only had 24 hours. Kelly takes him to school for excuse-making. Demi thinks Carlito needs to be "that hot Latin singer that girls fall all over." Simon is weirdly in the tank for Carlito and says he'd hate to lose him from this competition. Seriously? You know that two people are going home tomorrow, Simon. Who are you sending home if you insist on keeping Carlito? He was the worst performer of the night so far and it isn't even close.
9:10 p.m. Time for unplugged performances. Are we keeping the same order?
Singer: RESTLESS ROAD
Song: "Wake Me Up"
My Take: The less the Restless Road guys have to do, in terms of stage performance, the better they actually are. This is a simple, well-constructed group vocal. The harmonies are tight. The solos are simple and pure. I didn't notice him in the first song, but Neckbeard Road is very good on this one and Deep Voice Road gives a second straight good contribution. And this song is a better vehicle for Jason Street Road's mixture of cheesiness and sincerity. This was a big improvement over their first performance.
The Judges Say: "You meant every single word," Kelly says, calling it "a great performance." Demi's voice is cracking as she tells them that they've earned their spot in the Finals. "You guys are our boys," Paulina says meaninglessly. This is what Simon always hoped they'd become.
Singer: RION PAIGE
My Take: I don't know this song at all and I can't say how many people watching will (it could be huge for all I know), but it's still a great song choice. Demi Lovato's crying very early on and I understand why. The lyrics work totally for Rion's personal narrative and she sells it nearly flawlessly.
The Judges Say: Kelly is crying. Paulina is rendered incoherent, but pulls out of her spiral to call Rion empowering. "That was so much better than the first song. I felt every word," Simon says. Demi cries sweetly. "Every word of that song is what you're about," Demi cries. Awww. Now I'm a bit sniffly, too.
Singer: JEFF GUTT
My Take: Why hasn't Jeff Gutt done the guitar thing previously this season? What a missed opportunity. This is very nice and even if it's an old song, it's probably the best showcase yet for Jeff as a contemporary artist. And yes, I'm just a sucker for "Daniel." My only reservation is that the performance starts on one level and never quite elevates or builds to anything big. It helps to have big moments and Jeff intentionally avoided giving us one, which might hurt him.
The Judges Say: Demi calls it stale and anti-climactic. Jeff says the song was dedicated to his brother, in the audience and in uniform. Simon liked the sentiment and says that Jeff had a good night.
Singer: ELLONA SANTIAGO
Song: "If I Were a Boy"
My Take: Ellona makes the ballsy and effective decision to start her performance entirely a cappella. She sounds so good and confident that the "X Factor" audience decides to mess with her head by breaking into their trademark out-of-synch clapping. I didn't think Ellona did enough singing on that first performance, but she's definitely wailing here and she's doing so with an absolute minimum of accompaniment. It's a good statement performance and a statement that, for me, she needed to make.
The Judges Say: Kelly enjoyed when Ellona softened the notes and tells her she doesn't always have to do the big notes. "I feel I'm watching a superstar. I love it," says Elmo Rubio. "This is what we've been waiting for from you for a long time," Simon says, calling it "incredible." Demi says Ellona's got to pull through for Ellona.
Singer: ALEX & SIERRA
Song: "Say Something"
My Take: Oh nuts. When Sierra said she was playing the piano, I really had a feeling something "Once"-y was coming up. This is good too, though. Sierra is definitely tonight's Alex & Sierra MVP. It's fun watching her grow in confidence after the judges were so hard on her earlier in the season. They're good. They're into each other. And they work. Totally. I want them to win. Nothing else to say, really.
The Judges Say: "I felt like I was watching a performance on an awards show," Kelly says. "The two of you playing instruments is so magic," Demi says. Paulina says something about wanting them to have babies, I think. Simon calls it the best performance of the night and of the entire season.
Singer: CARLITO OLIVERO
Song: "Stand By Me"
My Take: How did Carlito get the pimp slot? On what basis? Because he's singing a bit in Spanish here? Sigh. I'm gonna go play Candy Crush. This is much better than Carlito's first performance, but I can't accept a situation in which Carlito isn't going home tomorrow. It's really no offense to him. He's just the worst of the six available singers at this point. Yeah. Much better. But that doesn't mean it's actually good. The judges will overpraise him for improvement. I'll roll my eyes.
The Judges Say: The judges don't stand. That's encouraging. Kelly says it was Carlito's best vocal in the whole competition. "I wish there wasn't so much music in the background," Demi says, getting a boo from Simon, who says he'd be upset if they lose him. Paulina says losing Carlito is not an option.
9:58 p.m. For me, Alex & Sierra and Rion were the standouts tonight, twice over. And I understand why America likes Restless Road. I think Ellona's second performance was enough to put her ahead of Jeff Gutt and Carlito is a distant sixth for me. Of course, I don't expect tomorrow's eliminations to be both Jeff and Carlito, because that would make too much sense. So stay tuned!
Who'd you like tonight? And who's going home?
Everything: The X Factor
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