'The X Factor' Two-Day Finale Starts Tonight! Are People Still Watching?

As the super-powered season comes to a close, Cowell addresses the show's declining ratings -- he blames The Voice!

It's time for the final showdown! The X Factor's two-night finale begins on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET on FOX), and the finalists -- Carly Rose Sonenclar, Tate Stevens and Fifth Harmony -- are warming up their vocal chords for one last, passionate night of voter-wooing. Let the teaser get you revved up for what's to come!

As in season 1, the last performance episode will feature duets between the contestants and guest star performers. Sonenclar's paired with LeAnn Rimes, Tate Stevens with Little Big Town, and Fifth Harmony with Demi Lovato. Then voters will decide who gets the $5-million recording contract, with the winner announced on Thursday night's episode.

But during an X Factor press conference on Monday, reporters had another topic on their minds. What does Simon Cowell make of the declining ratings, especially in light of the big stars and big money that's gone into this season?

Cowell had an answer at the ready. He blames NBC's The Voice. "We were expecting there was going to be a problem with the ratings this year, not just with us but with everything, because it's overkill, there are way too many talent shows on," he replied. "Once 'The Voice' decided to go Monday, Tuesday, and we were Wednesday, Thursday -- I use the expression it's like having 14 sugars in your coffee when you want two."

The fact that The Voice has won the day, ratings-wise, must rankle. Right from the start, this rival competition was infringing upon Cowell's territory. During the week in September when both shows premiered, NBC added a third episode of The Voice on that Wednesday. The move forced viewers to choose: Would they watch a third night of The Voice? Or would they watch Britney Spears' debut on The X Factor premiere? 

The ratings tell the answer:10.7 million for The Voice. 8.5 million for The X Factor.

At the time, Cowell called NBC's scheduling move a "cold-hearted, unprofessional way of doing business." In the weeks since, The X Factor hasn't managed to overcome that comparatively sluggish ratings start. The Voice has consistently beat Cowell's show by at least a couple million viewers.

Cowell's objections are fair enough. Few would dispute the fact that there are too many singing competitions on TV right now. But part of The X Factor's ratings decline has to do with the quality of the show itself. In terms of rejuvenating the proceedings, this season's judging panel -- Cowell, Spears, Lovato and L.A. Reid -- has had mixed success. Spears isn't bad, but she's not witty or even verbal enough to justify the millions spent on her salary. Lovato and Cowell are somewhat entertaining when they bicker, but lots of people just find this annoying. And Reid comes across as competent, if a little bored.

There's also a luck factor involved. Producers can hold auditions, but they can't control who shows up. And this season, the contestants haven't offered anything particularly new or refreshing. There's no question they can all sing, but among the final three, no one stands out as the obvious winner. Thirteen-year-old Sonenclar has a fabulous voice, yes. But she's an established Broadway kid who seems best suited for roles she's already nailed, like Cosette in Les Mis. Stevens is talented, but he hasn't emerged as a soul-stirring, heart-rate-elevating, $5 million dynamo. And Fifth Harmony's a girl group with great voices, but not much originality.

The X Factor has already been granted a third season, and next time the show could benefit from better luck in the contestant department, and a little more life at the judging table. In the meantime, let's hand over this year's contract to the winner and...hope for the best.

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