We're in the midst of the holiday season, so we're trying really, really hard not to be grumpy Grinches. But, please, someone tell us why a show with only three singers remaining has to last 120 long minutes? Is Fox so lean on original programming that it couldn't fill the time? Can we launch a congressional investigation?

Oh, but wait. They're starting things off with a tribute to the shooting victims in Newtown. Former contestants, all clad in white, have returned to join the finalists on a rendition of "You Are Not Alone." Our grumpiness has suddenly melted.

This is a very touching. Where are the tissues? It's hard not to get choked up, especially when the camera pans across a children's choir (also dressed in white) and the names of the victims are flashed in the background.

"You are not alone," the singers sing. "We are here with you. ..."

It's a lovely way to open a show, but it doesn't take long for all the bombast and seizure-inducing laser lights to return. We're reminded that a $5 million recording contract is at stake tonight, and yes, IT'S TIME TO FACE THE MUSIC!!!!

Then we get our first hint of how they'll pad this thing out. Our co-hosts

Mario Lopez and Khloe Kardashian tell us that there cameras in the hometowns of the finalists -- Carly Rose Sonenclar, Tate Stevens and Fifth Harmony. Actually, the girls of the latter group are from several locales, so they've got a lone camera in San Antonio, the home of one of them. (Way to put out, Fox).


Advertisement

Our three acts are required to sing three songs apiece tonight (again, we have two freakin' hours to fill). They'll start with a song they performed earlier in the season. And away we go ...

Carly Rose Sonenclar ("Feeling Good")

Our little teen titan wears a hat, black leather pants and thigh-high boots for this jazzy encore performance. As usual, she commands the stage and there isn't a false note to be heard. L.A. Reid says Carly has topped herself. Demi Lovato is impressed, insisting that Carly's going to inspire a lot of girls to follow their dreams. As for Simon, he says Carly sang it better than she did before. "I like your competitive spirit," he adds. Coach Britney raves: "It's shocking how bright your star is. We're going to win this!"

That segment is followed with a live feed from Carly's hometown of West Chester, NY, where someone is holding a bunch of cupcakes and the mayor says Carly's talent "is truly a gift of the gods."

Tate Stevens ("Anything Goes")

Mr. Likable is rocking a white cowboy hat for this country ballad. That makes sense. But what's the cast of "Jersey Shore" doing in the audience? Tate throws everything he has into the song, which will do nothing to dissuade his legion of voters. "When you do right-down-the-middle country, you are right on," Britney says. "I'm still obsessed with you," says Demi, who calls this "a stadium performance." Simon is stunned to be agreeing with Demi, his sparring partner.

Now cut to Belton, Mo., where Tate's boss says he doesn't expect to see the singing cowboy return to work. (That's probably a good thing since Tate has continually left the impression that going back to the job would be a fate worse than death). Oh, and there's the mayor, who claims he plans to emblazon Tate's name on the local water tower. Wow, they know how to do it up in Belton.

Fifth Harmony ("Anything Can Happen")

Our alleged underdogs re-do the song that put them in the finals -- a song we heard just last week. That's not surprising, but it's somewhat of a surprise to see them go right back to the fanciful Alice in Wonderland tea party staging. As they say, if it aint broke, don't fix it. L.A. calls it "magical" (an adjective we heard last week). He says that Fifth harmony has gone from being the underdog to the ones to beat (Not sure we agree). Britney calls it "spectacular, girly and just fun." Demi says. "I really believe that they're a group."

From there, we go to Ally's church in San Antonio where the hordes are cheering their throats hoarse for this magical girl group.

Round 1 is over. Now, it's on to a round of so-called "surprises":

Carly Rose and LeAnn Rimes ("How Do I Live Without You")

Carly, now in purple leather pants, starts things off before being joined by LeAnn, who seems to stumble over the opening line (Or did she?). It's hard to say because we can barely understand anything coming out of her mouth. Le Ann's raspy wailing isn't a great match with Carly's silky smooth tones, which has us wondering: Why is LeAnn here, anyway? Is this the best, most viable talent "X Factor" could round up? There are no judges' comments for this segment, which is just as well. You don't want to have to tell LeAnn that a 13-year-old just wiped the floor with her.

Tate and Little Big Town ("Pontoon")

Is Tate's wife watching? He seems to be having a lot of fun with the two statuesque women in this four-person group. We have no idea who these people are, but it doesn't matter. His fans undoubtedly do. It's a little catchy and quirky ... and totally forgettable.

Fifth Harmony and Demi Lovato ("Give Your Heart a Break")

Another repeat performance for the girls (Is that cheating?). Only this time it's with the singer who had a hit with it. And why not? Demi doesn't have anyone to mentor. She fits right in with the girls and has a fun moment when she goes down to the judges' table to sing to Simon. Very cute. "It pains me to say this, but Demi Lovato, you were sensational," Simon says. "That is what I call pop perfection."

Now, let's move on to Round 3. Time for some final impressions:

Carly Rose ("Hallelujah")

Oh, she just had to do it, didn't she? A reality TV staple that has been performed a million times. In fact, it was just done Monday night on "The Voice" for that show's tribute to the Newtown victims. Carly sings it beautifully, as you would expect her to. In fact, she absolutely soars on the latter part of the song. Still, we wish she had sung something upbeat at some point in this competition. L.A. calls it an "angelic" moment and credits Carly for resisting the temptation to oversing it. Demi and Simon agree, and Britney, who is actually awake tonight, says, "That song alone is worth 5 million bucks, so you should get out your checkbook, Simon."

Tate Stevens ("Tomorrow")

They've got Tate on a lighted staircase (Don't fall, dude!). More easygoing country goodness. Right in his wheelhouse. We see a CMA trophy in his future -- or at least one of the countless awards they hand out to country music singers these days. Britney likes it, but doesn't go overboard (as if not to allow Tate to overshadow her girl). Demi actually says she's almost crying because she's gonna miss seeing tate perform on stage. Simon says he genuinely believes that within a year, we'll be hearing about Tate's success on the record charts.

Fifth Harmony ("Let It Be")

Let's go to church, shall we? The girls bring on a gospel choir to help them out on this Beatles classic. But why have another "group" on stage when you're supposed to be THE group? Maybe to provide the harmony that Fifth Harmony doesn't deploy. Once again, they basically trade off solos. It's good, but certainly not extraordinary. They might have just sealed their third-place finish. "The Beatles are great," LA says, "but you did that song a lot of justice."