Dec. 21, 2012 at 7:28 AM ET
In case you couldn't tell by the glittering trees adorning the stage on Wednesday, it's Christmastime at "The X Factor."
This was made abundantly clear during Thursday's elimination episode when, dressed in hues of red, white and black, the final three contestants delivered Christmas classics to the crowd. (Hostess Khloe Kardashian looked gorgeous in a green lace, long-sleeved mini with a metallic gold belt.)
But first, it wouldn't be a Simon Cowell production without an over-the-top, self-indulgent introduction. Tonight, that came in the form of a staged red carpet, in which all three judges and performers Pitbull and One Direction arrived via black SUVs (for Cowell, a Rolls Royce, Kardashian noted). After an awkward technical glitch involving host Mario Lopez, finalists Tate Stevens, Carly Rose Sonenclar and Fifth Harmony then made their grand entrance, singing the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love" on the red carpet as they made their way past all the former contestants (clad entirely in white) whom they beat on the way to the finals.
The highlight of that segment? Kardashian told Cowell, "I love your chest hair" when he showed up in his signature unbuttoned button-down.
It was a night of nostalgia, as producers packaged several video segments that highlighted some of the season's most memorable moments. In addition to a look at the season as a whole -- including a feel-good segment showcasing all the audition "yeses" and a feel-bad segment showing criticism, tears and hugs -- each judge was honored with a montage. For L.A. Reid, it was his over-the-top hand gestures set to a track from "The Nutcracker"; for Britney Spears, an all-too-short look at her memorable faces, including the infamous "scared Britney"; for Simon, his best zingers (including, "You sounded like a dog trying to lay an egg") set to "The Grinch"; and for Demi Lovato, it was, of course, her sassiest spats with Cowell.
A few of the "most memorable contestants," as Kardashian said, earned their screen time, with the hostess taking time during the broadcast to ask Vino Alan, Diamond White and Emblem3 how they were feeling. While Alan and White were obviously pulling for their respective teammates, Drew Chadwick of Emblem3 threw out the suggestion that all the contestants "throw down" money to rent a cabin in Whistler and go snowboarding. For what it's worth, CeCe Frey seemed into it.
Bringing a little star-power to the festivities were Pitbull and One Direction, who performed atop a weirdly large set made of red lips. Why?
Fifth Harmony was the first to be eliminated. And after last night, while we were all excited to see if they could do the impossible, was anyone really that surprised? Tate and Carly have been the frontrunners all along, and the finale proved no different. For their last performance together, Sonenclar and Stevens performed Miley Cyrus' "The Climb" -- a solid middle ground for a country crooner and a teen diva.
One commercial break later, the winner was announced. So who took home the $5 million recording contract with Syco/Epic Records? Why, it was Tate Stevens.
"First and foremost, I gotta thank the man upstairs for taking care of me," said Stevens. "My family, all the country music fans, God bless you and thank you so very much for all the votes, and this is the best day of my life."
Moments later, Spears could be seen whispering in Sonenclar's ear before the teen-superstar-in-the-making walked over to give Stevens and Reid both big hugs. She got her own recognition from Lopez, as well, who noted that she has a big career ahead of her.
As the news was undoubtedly sinking in, Stevens was immediately handed a microphone and began singing Justin Moore's "Like There's No Tomorrow." He still looked shocked as Camilla from Fifth Harmony snuck up behind him for another big hug. We have no doubt that there were plenty more of those to go around after the cameras cut.
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