The “X Factor” judges and the final three contestants. (Ray Mickshaw/Fox)

Like NBC’s “The Voice” did two days earlier Fox’s “The X Factor” opens its final performance night with a musical tribute to the victims of Friday’s elementary school shooting in Newton, Conn.

In a cold opening, “X” Supreme Judge Simon Cowell, sitting alone in the dark, looks nervous.

“Words cannot describe what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School last week. We’re all deeply saddened by the tragedy and our hearts right now go out to the families. You’ll always be in our prayers and you’ll always be in our hearts and this is our tribute to you,” he says.

Our favorite ex-X-testant, eliminatee, Beatrice Miller opens up on Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone”, joined by other eliminatees to take turns singing, all of them dressed in white.

Then it’s back to business, and we are struck with the penultimateness of it all.

The penultimate time to see the animated opening “X” flying over America like some evil drone; the penultimate look at Simon’s plunging neckline; the penultimate overproduced stage numbers with 100 dancers and backup singers surrounding some glassy-eyed “X” testant. And, most important, it’s the penultimate chance to watch Ko-Host Khloe Kardashian Odom read every line off cue cards like she’s taking the eye test at the DMV.

“It’s a school girl and a family man against five girls who have never given up!” she reads.

Cut to live shots of cheering home town crowds for the family man, Tate Stevens, in Belton, Missouri; the school girl, Carly Rose Sonnenclar, in Westchester, New York; and, in San Antonio, Texas, the home of one of the Fifth Harmony-ettes.

For the first of their three tunes this evening, they’ll sing tunes they’ve sung before this season.

For Carly Rose that’s “Feeling Good,” in a Broadway/jazzy groove that Carly does best. She’s no pop star, that’s for sure, but she sings powerfully and she’s cute.

Youth Demographic Judge Demi Lovato tells Carly “you’re going to inspire so many young girls to follow their dreams”.

“We’re going to win this!” says Carly’s mentor, Britney Spears who, in this, the penultimate show of the season, seems to have awakened from her season-long semi-hibernation.

Tate Stevens is up next, with Randy Houser’s “Anything Goes”; he’s looking polished and comfortable on stage.

“You are made in America. You are authentic. You haven’t tried to do anything stupid,” says Simon.

Fifth Harmony gets to re-live their breakout moment of the season and re-sing “Anything Could Happen,” the one number they performed really well all season. As before, they’re at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, and this time with extra mad over the top production values, including a giant back-screen projection of Pegasus, the mascot of TriStar Pictures. It’s like the prop department is just burning off what ever they have lying around backstage.

“Spectacularly girly and very fun” says Brit.

Round One goes to Fifth Harmony.

Carly Rose comes out to sing “How Do I Live Without You” the Leann Rimes tune, and suddenly Leann is there too. Carly duets toe to toe with Leann; it’s an impressive outing.

But Tate performs Little Big Town’s “Pontoon” and the LBT quartet pops up. It’s the best Tate we’ve seen all season, playing into his Regular Guy Hits the Big Time appeal.

Fifth Harmony sings Demi Lovato’s “Give Your Heart a Break”, joined quickly by Demi herself. Demi, who’s been telling contestants all season they have to “own the stage” swaggers around while the Fifth chicks move kind of randomly.

Round Two goes to Tate.

Well, this is it, the final numbers. For Carly, it’s “Hallelujah”, the Leonard Cohen tune that sounds like it’s a religious number but is actually a cynical song about failed love. It doesn’t fit Carly well, but she ends with her trademark soaring high notes.

Demi: “You sang like a ridiculously talented angel.”

“That song alone is worth five million bucks so you should get out your checkbook, Simon,” Newly Sassy Britney says, referring to the alleged value of the winner’s contract.

Tate performs Chris Young’s “Tomorrow” and it’s just okay.

Simon declares that Tate has had “a really, really good night.”

And for Fifth Harmony’s last shot, Simon has chosen “Let It Be,” forsaking the girls-just-wanna-have-fun vibe that worked so well for them. They’re back to sounding like a bunch of soloists trying to out-sing each other. It doesn’t help that the leadoff singer is off-key.

Make the last round a low-point tie for Tate and Carly Rose.