The X Factor Top 8 – A Star Is Born

The X Factor decision to air the live results elimination (and don’t forget a rousing performance by Cher Lloyd!) on Thanksgiving night is a consistent reminder of this season’s production team brain trust failure.  As the NFL preemption yielded an 8:15 EST start, I still had an inkling of hope that maybe they would save the elimination for next week.  Unfortunately, my wishes were not their command, and on a night when America sits together in connected harmony, X Factor presented the disharmony of (not one but) two eliminations.  This decision all but eradicated the small amount of goodwill brought on by Wednesday night’s “I am thankful for you” (frequently over the top emotional) tear festival.  The good news in all of this (and maybe Mario could refrain from butchering her last name pronunciation as Sonenblerg as he did Thursday night, just embarrassing), Carly Rose Sonenclar had an X Factor moment, a two and a half minute journey “somewhere over the rainbow” that makes sticking around for the many pitfalls along the way (Khloe had a particularly challenging time this week) well worth it.  On Wednesday night’s X Factor, America saw the birth of a star.

Here is my take on the top 8 as voted by America, beginning with Miss Carly Rose “don’t you dare forget this name” Sonenclar taking her rightful place at number 1:

The Top 8 (as ranked by America)

1 (2) Carly Rose Sonenclar (should be 1)

She is thankful for: Her older brother Russ, who, according to an inside source who attends college with him, is a really sweet guy.

Is this the right ranking? YES!  YES!  YES!!!!  Carly Rose Sonenclar is the one beat and this week, according to Simon (even in perhaps an understatement), she “blew away the competition.”  Her “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” (the Eva Cassidy-like arrangement) was breathtaking, transformative, and finally (Carly Rose’s only real obstacle to winning) felt accessible.  As the wave of Carly Rose admiration begins to build even more height and depth over the remaining week’s of X Factor’s second US season, it will be her viable recording artist ascension that we tune in for.  We are all witnesses.

What needs to happen going forward?  This week’s stunning performance was as close to flawless (song selection, arrangement, execution) as you can get live.  I think it is important that every song that Carly Rose delivers in the future is of her caliber, quality, and ability.  Stay away from throwaway and transient pop tunes and embrace the material from the great American or Popular Music Songbook.

2 (1) Tate Stevens (should be 4)

He is thankful for: His dad, who sacrificed his own musical career aspirations as a drummer to be able to support his family.

Is this the right ranking? It is not that Tate had an off week, it just wasn’t his week (and somewhat surprisingly, he managed to hold off Vino Alan, who, by all accounts, was the runner-up to Carly on Wednesday’s nights show).  I think Tate is a warm and cuddly story, but his viability beyond this show (and certainly as deserving a 5 million dollar talent competition) remains a question.  Now that Carly Rose is placed where she belongs, if some of his upper tier competitors have transcendent performances, I could foresee Tate falling down even more.

What needs to happen going forward?  I think Tate needs to have a performance that stretches his artistry within his genre.  Think David Cook’s brilliant “Always Be My Baby” from several Idol seasons ago.  He did an off-type Mariah Carey song in his own and it was very successful.  Run of the mill country ballads (albeit well executed) may not bring him back to the top.

3 (3) Vino Alan (should be 3)

He is thankful for: The troops (there had to be one) due in part to his experience singing for them on a base near his house (they wouldn’t allow him to serve because his head tattoos were not going to work in the military).

Is this the right ranking?  Vino Alan knows how to deliver a patriotic ballad the night before Thanksgiving (and I do agree with Simon that “God Bless the USA” has a pleasing melodic line).  This was his best performance to date (by a long shot) and came across as sincere when singing (as discussed previously, when Vino’s mic is turned on after the performance, unexpected and peculiars things seem to happen).  Vino at number 3 (he could have even been second) seems about right.

What needs to happen going forward?  We are often told how much Vino has gone through in life, but have yet to see a song selection effectively connect to his backstory.  I want LA to find material that will give Vino a bit more authenticity because the “gooey on the inside” common allusion is not what he projects on the outside (let’s just say that a dark alley may not be the place that I want to meet Vino for the first time).

4 (4) Emblem3 (should be 5)

They are thankful for: Their spiritual leaders who have housed them, clothed them, and taken them on outdoor journeys filled with martial arts and survival skills (the moral of this story is to find me my own spiritual leader).

Is this the right ranking? Yeah, it just about right.  Their cover of “Secrets” by OneRepublic was a little boring.  On a positive note, Emblem3 seem to be maturing as people (not enough to avoid obnoxious “Hi Mom, I am on camera” walk byes backstage) and have clearly bonded with Simon.  The spark of creation that we witnessed a few weeks ago (X Factor able) seems like a long time ago at this point and I am just not sure they have the talent to compete with Carly Rose.  When they were next to Beatrice and CeCe as the only non-safe act remaining, I was not surprised and this is not a good thing (even if their inclusion was just to create more drama).

What needs to happen going forward? I am starting to realize that their musical scope may be more limited than I thought.  Their reggaed emo-pop m.o. has been done and done, but I am just not sure what else is there for them.  Simon needs to find them a song that does their thing better than they have ever done it before.  I would not be surprised to see them hover close to elimination next week (if some of the acts under them on the leader board step to the plate).

5 (7)  Diamond White (should be 2)

She is thankful for: Her mom, in what might of have been the most heartfelt thank you of the evening.

Is this the right ranking?  No, I think Diamond could and should be even higher.  Her “Because You Love Me” nailed the theme and evidently nailed her beautiful mother/daughter connection.  I believed every word and so did Diamond.  In a Carly Rose-less competition, Diamond would be the girl of the moment, but she is sadly compared to Carly Rose’s crazy (alien dare the judges say) talent and professionalism.  Regardless, Diamond is wonderful singer and a special young person.

What needs to happen going forward?  The last two weeks I wrote this: Diamond must find song content that allows her voice to soar while acknowledging that she is very much a girl, not yet (even close to being) a woman.  This week, she nailed this.  More of the same for Diamond will continue her rise in the rankings.

6 (10) Paige Thomas (should be 8)

She is thankful for: Colleen, a beautiful surrogate mom (Paige’s tragically passed away when she was six), who took Paige in when she was a young teenager and has been there for her ever since.

Is this the right ranking? No, this is one of the biggest surprises of the week.  I love Colleen and Paige’s story, but unfortunately, her performance of Britney’s “Everytime” was one of the worst performances of the live shows, filled with unexpected and inexcusable pitch problems and overdramatic shaky voice syndrome.  I may have even preferred Britney’s vocal rendition (at least auto-tuned is tuned).  Based on her performance (and past performances), Paige should have gone home.

What needs to happen going forward?  I think Paige’s journey to be an over-the-top costumed, stage production heavy, but vocally average performer may be irreversible.  Her last chance may be to strip everything back and just sing again on a topic that does espouse tears (one of Paige’s perennial struggles).

7 (6)  Fifth Harmony (should be 6)

They are thankful for: God.

Is this the right ranking?  Let’s start with their thankfulness.  I take all pre-performance videos for what they are: melodramatic, but at times touching.  Fifth Harmony’s love fest did not hit the right notes with me and felt too fabricated and impersonal.  This led to a performance of “I’ll Stand By You” that the judges seemed to love, but I had trouble connecting with.  I look at this week as a bit of a mulligan for this fabulous five.  Look for a little comeback next week.

What needs to happen going forward? I will back off my assertion last week that they are a dark horse to win this thing (there is no way that Carly Rose will lose to this group), but I think they still have a runner-up ceiling.  Next order of business for Fifth Harmony is to define their sound (to their credit, I think they have found and discovered – albeit packaged – a group identity offstage).

8 (5)  CeCe Frey (should be 7)

She is thankful for: Her late sister Kelsey, who tragically passed away when CeCe was very little due to complications related to CP.

Is this the right ranking?  It is close to correct, although I would definitely have her above Paige.  Her performance of “The Wind Beneath My Wings” was delivered honestly and beautifully to Kelsey.  Besides Diamond, I thought this was the best execution of the “I am thankful for…” theme of the week.  I give her credit for doing what she did after watching her pre-song video, but after weeks of tears from both her and Paige, it is hard to discern how much of it is real and how much is theatrics.  Sorry.

What needs to happen going forward? I am still not sure.  Her “it” or “X” as always been a factor with CeCe, so I would play more into that next week.  If there is another double elimination, I would expect her to go home.

EliminatedArin Ray (last week in 9th place)

Arin Rsy should be proud of how far he went in this competition.  From the beginning, I think he was always little overmatched and this week’s reaction to judge critique displayed just how hard this type of show is for a person of his age (see: Beatrice’s reaction to being eliminated).  I wish the best and hope that he and Normani can continue to kind of be something more than friends.

EliminatedBeatrice Miller (laat week in 8th place)

Beatrice did an admirable job of singing through week after week of Britney’s drab modern/alternative rock song selections (as a huge Snow Patrol fan, I struggled through “Chasing Cars” this week).  Her ode to her two twin sisters was really sweet (Did you catch the moment when the surprise visit almost was “derailed” when twin number 2 tripped on the stairs en route to her Beatrice reunion hug?  The producers tried to edit it out, but twins number 1’s point of contact would have been missed, so leave it in the background did they.  Tough moment).  Again, especially after answering “no” to Khloe’s irresponsible “Are you ok?” question after having been eliminated (Beatrice was sobbing at the time, so she is obviously not, Miss “struggled mightily this week” Kardashian Odom), this is a tough road for a thirteen-year-old, and Beatrice should hang her head high.

My rankings:

  1. Carly Rose Sonenclar
  2. Diamond White
  3. Vino Alan
  4. Tate Stevens
  5. Emblem 3
  6. Fifth Harmony
  7. CeCe Frey
  8. Paige Thomas

What do you think?  Will Arin and Normani stay close?  Did Carly Rose correct Mario’s pronunciation of her name?  Do Khloe and Mario rehearse any of this?

David J. Bloom can be reached on twitter @davidbloom7 and writes about pop culture and the NBA for Bishop and Company.  His weekly THE CHALLENGE: BATTLE OF THE SEASON Power Rankings appears weekly on Derrick Kosinski’s

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