Going into a competition as an underdog has its advantages. Since most aren't expecting a win, a really good performance can often sway judges and fans, or, as in the case of the "X Factor" finale on Wednesday evening (Dec. 19), it could garner extra votes. For Fifth Harmony, the odds-on long-shot to win the Season 2 contest, the problem was to overcome the lead built up by country singer Tate Stevens and ballad phenom Carly Rose Sonenclar over the season. But in an evening filled with nine better-than-average performances, the five-girl group stood out. But even if they won the night, could they beat the two acts that dominated the voting leaderboard throughout the 2012 season?
The evening began with a somber and heart-wrenching rendition of Michael Jackson's "You Are Not Alone," sung by the "X Factor" Season 2 finalists. An emotional Simon Cowell, eyes welling and obviously fighting to control his voice, introduced the tribute performance. All dressed in white, the finalists performed the song with a choir of young people, three massive screens behind them displaying the names of the 26 killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, 20 of whom were first-grade children.
After the commercial break, it was back to the business of selecting a season champion.
Host Mario Lopez spelled out the night's program. Each contestant would perform three songs. They would sing a Song of the Series, a reprise song selected from anytime within the competition. The second song would be a duet with an established artist. The third song would be a selection that would hopefully be their winning number, their $5 Million Song.
Round 1: Song of the Series. Carly Rose Sonenclar was in the lead-off position. She chose to bring back her audition song, Nina Simone's "Feeling Good." She certainly looked a bit different than the little girl that walked out on a Providence stage in shorts and sandals to audition a few months ago, but sounded just as good. Tate Stevens followed, also singing his audition song, Randy Houser's "Anything Goes," a song suggested by his family. Another solid performance. Fifth Harmony only jumped back an episode (the Semi-Finals) for their song, Ellie Goulding's "Anything Could Happen." A true performance song, it was their shining moment of the season, a moment they duplicated on Wednesday night's stage.
Round 2: Duets. As mentioned earlier, there were nine better than average performances. Unfortunately for Carly Rose, one of those nine was the Sandy Hook tribute, because her duet was nearly a trainwreck. Singing a kind of jazzy arrangement to the hit song "How Do I Live," Carly Rose introduced her partner, Leann Rimes, who originally performed the song. Not that you would have known that by what happened next. Rimes seemed to forget her lines at one point, staggered at another, and, according to more several reports, appeared to be attempting to upstage the 13-year-old finalist. The only poor performance of the evening, it was still somewhat salvaged by Carly Rose filling the void where Rimes seemed to forget her part, covering and recovering well in the places where her partner was lacking.
Tate went laid-back country cool with his duet. Singing "Pontoon," he introduced Little Big Town and was sandwiched between the two gorgeous female members of the quartet, definitely enjoying himself as he performed the feel-good song.
Fifth Harmony saved the producers some money with their duet. They got Judge Demi Lovato to join them for a rendition of her hit "Give Your Heart A Break." Clearly enjoying herself Demi and the girls gave a spirited performance, prompting Simon (who has traded barbs and mock insults with the young judge throughout the season) to suggest she join the group and change the name to Sixth Harmony.
Round 3: The $5 Million Song. Carly Rose was consummate grace for her last song of the night, Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah." Just when you think that the song has been over-done (it's done at least once during each season of every singing competition show), someone like Carly Rose proves that it can still sound fresh and epic. Tate followed with Chris Young's "Tomorrow," going straight to his wheelhouse. It was a good performance but something seemed wrong, because Tate was agitated at song's end, jerking his earpiece away from his ear. He was followed by Fifth Harmony doing a gospel-tinged version of the Beatles' classic "Let It Be," ending the night on a high note.
So how can we expect the voting to go? As noted, Fifth Harmony was the underdog act going into the finale. However, reprising their "Anything Could Happen" cover most likely gave them a slight edge after the first round of songs. Carly Rose, who has been the professional oddsmakers' choice all season, didn't receive any favors by getting the lead-off position, often referred to as the dead spot (because it is first to be forgotten by a short attention span audience). Then getting paired up with Leann Rimes for her second song didn't help, either. Rimes doesn't have the best of reputations (read: tabloid exposure and her relationship with Eddie Cibrian) and her odd performance was also undermining. Tate and Fifth Harmony ruled the second round, having a good time with their respective numbers. But Carly Rose burned bright in the third round, as did Fifth Harmony. Tate did well but in comparison to the other two acts, his $5 million song came up about a million or so short.
All in all, Fifth Harmony seemed to dominate the finale competition, slightly edging out their fellow contenders. Three things were certain by the end of the night: Five girls that started the competition as solo acts had definitely gelled into a credible singing force. A road worker from a small town in Missouri was never going to do road work again. And a 13-year-old singing phenom had proven she could sing anything, anywhere, with grace and control beyond her years.
But who will ultimately win is anybody's guess.
Viewers can find out the answer by tuning in to the "X Factor" Season 2 finale Thursday evening. The two-hour show kicks off at 8 p.m. (EST) on Fox Television. Among the featured artists (there are always "surprise" guests on these things) will by Pitbull and One Direction.