Rather than starting with an overdramatic pre-credits sequence, we just open on Simon intoning from the judges' table, "Words cannot describe what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week." He continues with a short speech of sympathy to the families, which serves as an introduction to their tribute: a group sing of "You Are Not Alone," with returning contestants including Beatrice Miller, Arin Ray, Diamond White, CeCe Frey (dragging down the curve as always), Paige Thomas (not sounding much better than CeCe, as their rivalry continues), Jennel Garcia, Vino Alan and Emblem3; then there's Tate and Fifth Harmony and Carly, all of them dressed all in white right up to Tate and Vino's hats. They're joined by a similarly dressed children's chorus while the names of the victims are shown on the projector screens behind them. Sorry, The X Factor -- The Voice did this better too.
Oh, now we get the overdramatic pre-credits sequence. There's a short retrospective of the three finalists: Tate Stevens, Carly Rose Sonenclar and Fifth Harmony. Demi says tonight is the night they've all been working for. Well, not her as of two weeks ago.
So with all that plus the credits behind us, we come back live to the auditorium, where some kind of Cirque du Soleil drum corps both precedes and parenthesizes the entrance of the judges and finalists, the latter of whom are still dressed like emissaries from the afterlife. Mario and Khloe are actually the last to enter, looking like a couple of cake toppers as they tell us that this -- once again, as always, forever and ever, world without end -- is it: three finalists competing for a $5 million recording contract. We check in via remote video feed at public "viewing" parties for Carly in Westchester, New York; Tate in Belton, Missouri, and Ally from Fifth Harmony in San Antonio. The other four hometowns of her bandmates couldn't get it together, I guess.
When we come back the hosts are in the audience explaining how it's going down tonight: each act will sing three songs, which I consider unnecessarily cruel to both them and me. The first song will be their "song of the season," supposedly one they did earlier in the season. The performance order was randomly selected, so we're starting with Carly. But of course, there's an intro reel that goes back not just to her first audition, but beyond to home video from 2001 with her older brother pretending to be Simon. Don't ask me how all the Sonenclars knew that Simon would be on The X Factor by now. We relive her whole run on the show to date, and then she's on the stage singing "Feelin' Good," the song that got her a four-way standing ovation at her very first audition. Except this time she's wearing leather pants instead of cutoffs. Guess what, though? She nails it. I know! L.A. warns that she has to top everything she's done up until now, "And you did." Demi is impressed with her youthful ability to command the stage. Simon smirks that she's here to win and says it was better tonight than the first time, when she blew them all away. Britney has literally a dozen words to say about how they're going to win. Then we have to check in with the viewing party in Westchester, where the mayor makes an ill-heard speech and declares it Carly Rose Sonenclar Day while standing next to a woman holding a giant tray of cupcakes. Carly literally just looks embarrassed by it all, like, "I don't even know that guy." Mario tips Carly's hat over her eyes for the second time this season before going to the commercial break. I think he's telling you to quit wearing those, Carly.