As you may have already read, I got a tease of the new “X Factor” round known as the Four-Chair Challenge on Monday evening and had a chance to discuss the format shift and the season as a whole (plus the possibility of a One Direction guest appearance) with judges Simon Cowell and Demi Lovato.
And check out my full live-blog recap of Wednesday’s (Oct. 2) debut of the Four-Chair Challenge after the break…
8:00 p.m. Four-Chair Challenge! Four-Chair Challenge!
8:01 p.m. I think my explanation (in the article linked above) of the Four-Chair Challenge is better than Mario Lopez’s, or it would be if you read it while listening to “We Will Rock You.”
8:03 p.m. They’re at the Shrine Auditorium next to USC. Remember our categories: Boys, Girls, Geriatrics, Groups. It’s unclear hour this is being structured, TV-wise. Simon Cowell, mentoring the Groups, wouldn’t want to be in the place of either the contestants or Mario Lopez.
8:03 p.m. Ah. We’re starting with Kelly Rowland’s Geriatrics. “I think that everybody’s going to put forth such a wonderful effort,” Kelly predicts.
8:04 p.m. We start with Victoria Carriger, Mother of a Nation. If she’s smart, she’d wear her little blonde son around her neck like a pint-sized talisman. Johnny. That’s the name of the child who can get her votes. She sings “Make You Feel My Love.” This arrangement of the song is probably very smart. Victoria has a voice that is very interesting for its tone and feeling, but becomes thin when she goes for bigger notes. So with this arrangement, it’s all build-up, which she does nicely, and then it stops abruptly before she has to prove anything. And I get that the Geriatrics are all under pressure to prove that they’re young enough to still make it, but Victoria’s ruffly red dress is the stuff of homecoming dances, not even the prom. “I think you did so great,” Demi Lovato says, questioning her energy, but praising her passion. Paulina Rubio is captivated by Victoria’s rasp. Simon liked her first performance, but says he wouldn’t put her through on that performance. The crowd boos. “That’s what I have the Over 25s category,” Kelly says, referencing a brief moment of boredom mid-performance.
8:07 p.m. Kelly’s decision… Victoria gets a seat!
8:08 p.m. On to Kristine Mirelle. I don’t remember Kristine. She sells chips and salsa at a grocery store. Really? That’s all? That’s a job? No sweeping or stacking? Just selling chips and salsa? Kristine, wearing acid-washed mom jeans, does a breathy, low-energy version of “Ooops, I Did It Again.” I don’t know whose arrangement this is, but it’s not very good. Kristine has some OK moments mid-chorus, but she also has a variety variety of affectations that make her hard to listen to. Demi loves Kristine’s presence, but calls her pitchy and say she may not be able to compete. Paulina doesn’t know if Kristine is read. Simon calls the arrangement confusing, but he sees potential and says he’d keep her in. “I’m not sure,” Kelly says.
8:15 p.m. Kelly’s decision… Christine gets a seat. I don’t believe she’s keeping that seat for long, but there’s no drama to this format if you don’t fill that seat.
8:17 p.m. Our next geriatric is overhyped shrieker Jeff Gutt, who’s practically guaranteed a seat given how heavily he was pimped with his audition. To me, Jeff wails and little more. Tonight, Jeff has decided to oversing “Amazing Grace,” which I’ve always thought would be improved with more throbbing forehead veins and strained vocal chords. Lots of people, mostly people related to Jeff, are in tears. Jeff looks like he wants to choke Grace, whoever she is and no matter how amazing she is. He scares me. Sorry. “I feel the power that you have is beyond your voice,” Paulina says. “I think you’ve come so far since last season,” Demi says. “This is by far the best performance of the night so far,” Simon says. “Dude, you are so talented,” Kelly says.
8:20 p.m. Kelly’s decision… Of course Jeff gets it.
8:22 p.m. We’re on to Rachel Potter. I remember Rachel because she was so darned over-the-hill at 29 and it made her so sad, but she refused to give up on that dream of hers. She’s older, but also wiser. Rachel, also trying to see younger in a summery pink dress sings “Irreplaceable.” She’s fine on the lead-up to the chorus, but she loses wind. She loses the pace and some of the words and the melody. In the end, perhaps sensing desperation, she screams for 10 seconds as the judges look in confusion. Demi asks how Rachel felt about the performance and Rachel claims illness and admits that it wasn’t her best. The audience, not charitable, boos. Demi calls it “kinda rough.” Kelly expected Rachel to be ready and says that Rachel has pipes. Rachel insists she still has pipes.
8:25 p.m. Kelly’s decision… “Do I put you in that chair or do I send you home?” Kelly wonders, accurately explaining the rules of the Four-Chair Challenge. Kelly wastes a chair on Rachel, but she won’t be there long, because all four of Kelly’s chairs are full.
8:31 p.m. Our next contestant is retired football player Lorie Moore. Tonight, Lorie isn’t wearing a football uniform, but she’s ready to battle. She warbles her way through the start of “I’ll Make Love To You,” which is an awful song choice. Don’t try to make a group song that relies heavily on harmonies into a solo. I like Lorie, but I don’t think she’s good enough to do anything more than take Rachel Potter’s chair for a couple minutes. Lorie gets better as she progresses, but it’s just not the right song for her to take a permanent place. “I really, really felt the passion behind that performance,” Demi says, but she isn’t sure she’s looking at a superstar. Once again, Paulina agrees with Demi. Simon didn’t like the version of the song, but he thinks Lorie can really sing. Kelly loves her voice, but she isn’t sure Lorie is ready for this industry.
8:35 p.m. Kelly’s decision… Lorie tells Kelly that she’s no stranger to hard work. She makes a passionate speech about the value of hard work, ending with “And hard work gets a seat!” But is she correct? Yup! Lorie gets a seat. But whose seat will she get?
8:37 p.m. SWITCH! Lori gets Christine’s seat. That’s fine. I think they backloaded the talented Geriatrics and probably several of those seats are up for grabs.
8:43 p.m. Our next singer is Allison Davis, a Valley Girl who works as a waitress and serves celebrities drinks. Allison had a split decision when she auditioned, though we didn’t see that. Allison does a karoke waitress version of “Tick-Tock” and you can hear boos almost immediately. You can also see visible signs of relaxing from the artists in the chairs. Oh, Allison. Close your legs and stop trying to be trashy. “I think you have the look,” Demi says, adding she can’t take her seriously. Simon’s one word? “Wannabe,” calling the Ke$ha song choice lazy, predictable and annoying.
8:46 p.m. Kelly’s decision… Allison tries to emulate Lorie by making a speech, but this speech isn’t on par with Lorie’s pep talk. She sends Allison home.
8:48 p.m. This is a jam-packed show, isn’t it? We’re going straight on to Jeff Brinkman, he of the dog-walking business, the new daughter, the Burrito Josh voice and the eerie resemblance to George W. Bush. Frankly, I find Jeff’s voice to be in all ways more authentic than what Jeff Gutt does. I wish he’d put a bit of effort into, you know, bathing before this particular performance. Unlike the relief that the four chaired artists greeted Allison with, Jeff is generating some tension. Demi didn’t like Jeff’s song choice and she was getting bored. Simon calls the song choice ridiculous. We’ve started skipping over Paulina, because she has nothing at all to add. That’s not good.
8:51 p.m. Kelly’s decision comes after Jeff vows to give her his all… “You can’t keep everyone,” Demi says helpfully. Jeff gets a seat.
8:52 p.m. SWITCH! Jeff gets… us to a commercial break.
8:57 p.m. OK. We’re back and… Jeff gets Victoria Carriger’s chair. Yeah. That would not have been my pick. Both Lorie and Rachel should have been more vulnerable. But at least they’re still there. I know that Jeff Gutt isn’t going anyway and I’m not going to sweat it.
8:58 p.m. It’s time for Denny “Santa Claus” Smith. I loved Denny’s bluesy audition. I mean, he’s been pursuing his singing dream for 55+ years and his wife is named Angel. I don’t like “Midnight Hour” as a song choice for Denny, though. He was so much more authentic in his first audition. This is somewhat corny, even if the voice itself is perfectly satisfying. The crowd loves him, but how much of that love is based on his resemblance to the guy who brought them presents in childhood. “Santa just rocked the house,” Simon says. “Is Kelly going to send Santa Claus home?” he asks. People will vote for Santa for a week or two if Kelly would let them.
9:00 p.m. Kelly’s decision… “I want it the most and I will work the hardest,” Santa vows. “Santa, I’m going to send you home,” Kelly says. “Are you crazy?” Simon asks as the boos rain down.
9:06 p.m. There are only two more Geriatrics? Really? “I feel like it’s the Hunger Games,” James Kenney says, trying desperately to pander to a younger demographic.
9:07 p.m. It is, indeed, time for Portland apartment manager James Kenney. I liked James’ audition and he’s another father who should be sure to use his kids as props. James’ version of “Lean on Me” is easily my favorite performance by the Geriatrics so far. He’s a wild oversinger, but he’s got a fun musical sensibility and he’s definitely taking somebody’s seat. Fortunately, Kelly has options. “You killed it,” Demi says, as a compliment. “That was so solid,” Paulina says. “I don’t think you could have given it any more effort or commitment,” Simon says. Kelly says James took a leap of faith with his performance.
9:10 p.m. Kelly’s decision… First, James says he works 24 hours-per-day for his wife and his babies and vows to give that dedication to Kelly. “You cannot send him home,” Demi instructs Kelly, who agrees. James gets a seat. Jeff Gutt keeps puffing up like a blowfish, but we all know he’s safe.
9:12 p.m. SWITCH! The audience certainly wants Rachel gone. Instead, Kelly gives James the seat occupied by Jeff Brinkman.
9:18 p.m. Our last Geriatric act? Lillie McLoud, she of the moderately successful recording career that we’re pretending didn’t happen and the terrific voice. “I’ve done some things,” she acknowledges. I’m pretty sure I compared her to the stars of “20 Feet From Stardom” when she auditioned, but it’s still true. Great doc. Watch it sometime. She tears into “A House Is Not a Home” and she’s great. This is easy. Give her Rachel or Lorie’s seat and let’s move on. Lillie is 55 and she really has had a singing career, but that doesn’t change the reality that she’s the best of the Geriatrics by a wiiiiiiide margin. The judges stand, with Paulina bowing. “You look like a superstar. I’m honored to be on a panel in front of you,” Demi says. “Thank you so much for giving us so much,” Paulina says. Rachel Potter is hyperventilating. “Competitions need big voices. Competitions need stars. And you have The X Factor, sweetheart,” Simon says. Kelly tells Lillie she’s special.
9:23 p.m. Kellie’s decision… Of course Lille’s got a chair. But whose chair will it be?
9:24 p.m. SWITCH! This is where this is fun, because all four singers in the chairs look on the verge of passing out. The crowd is almost unanimous that Rachel should be going home. But instead? It’s Lorie! Farewell, Lorie. You can tell that Rachel doesn’t have a clue how she held onto that seat. Does anybody remember Rachel’s performance? Geez. Amazed she survived.
9:25: The Geriatric Final Four is: Jeff Gutt, James Kenney, Rachel Potter and Lillie McCloud. “I made the hardest decisions tonight,” Kelly says.
9:30 p.m. This was smart planning. Demi Lovato’s Girls are up next and that’s the money category, both for potential winners, but also for potential drama with the Four-Chair Challenge. I’m assuming tears, but “X Factor” will give us two or three performances now and then draaaaaaag it into tomorrow night for the actual madness.
9:30 p.m. The first of the Girls is… Bree Randall, who I’m 32 percent sure was one of the secondary co-stars of the “90210” reboot. [She wasn’t really. I’m confusing her with Gillian Zinser. and it’s most the love of hats.] Bree does a breathy, monotonous rendition of “Glad You Came.” She’s not bad, but if she’s one of Demi’s four best Girls, something is very wrong. She looks maybe like a star, but she doesn’t sound like one at all. Kelly felt no growth since Bree’s audition. Paulina agrees with Kelly. “You brought the right outfit, the right personality, but you didn’t bring your voice,” Simon says. Demi compares Bree negatively to the four Geriatrics.
9:34 p.m. Demi’s decision… Bree admits that emotions got the best of her, but she swears this is where she needs to be. “I was literally born to do this,” Bree says. I agree that she was literally born. Demi winces and says, “You are in my Final Four,” which we all know isn’t true. All it means is that Bree has a seat. For a few minutes.
9:40 p.m. We’re on to Khaya Cohen, who admits she likes to sing songs that don’t match the way she looks. She loves New York and standing in front of familiar New York locations. I didn’t love Khaya’s audition, but this is a fun cover of “Locked Out of Heaven” that she’s doing. You can briefly see Bree appreciating Khaya before remembering that she’s in the middle of being rather comically outclassed. Yeah. I wasn’t a Khaya fan, but I probably am now. Suddenly that Amy Winehouse comparison that one of the judges used before doesn’t seem so irrational. “You have incredible instincts,” Kelly says. “You’ve got even better and I know a lot of great producers who’d want to work with you right now,” Simon says. Khaya makes Demi smile. Demi adds that the competition needs to look out for Khaya.
9:43 p.m. Demi’s decision… With three empty seats, this is a silly delay. Of course Khaya gets a seat.
9:45 p.m. Should I remember Jamie Pineda? She comes from a big family that enjoys making Mexican food and smashing piñatas. If Jamie had come after Bree, I’d be a bit more impressed with her cover of “Don’t Speak.” Coming after Khaya, though, it’s low energy. Jamie adds a bit of spunk when she adds a Spanish verse, but what do we make of how much more connected she was to the Spanish flourishes than the bland, English parts? “I love when you start flipping it into Spanish?” Kelly says. “When you sing in English, there’s nothing particularly special in your voice,” Simon says correctly, but says that there’s a market for her. “You have the look. You look like a star,” Demi says.
9:47 p.m. Demi’s decision… Jamie takes one of the two unoccupied seats. Come on. Let’s fill those seats so that tomorrow we can make people cry.
9:53 p.m. Tonight’s last singer? Ashly Williams. And we remember Ashly from her audition and she was going to get a seat whether or not there was one empty. So there’s doubly no drama here. Still, this is the second time that Ashly has gotten to close an episode with her story of losing her mother when she was 14. I really don’t need to ever hear “Don’t Wanna Miss a Thing” ever again on a reality show, but Ashly does it well. I’m much more interested in the reaction shots. Khaya is crying with admiration, which is nice to see. Demi’s breath is taken away. Bree’s clapping a lot. Kelly calls Ashly “remarkable.” Paulina is speechless. Simon is touched by Ashly’s story, but he didn’t like the song and tells her there are better singers in the competition.
9:56 p.m. Demi’s decision… Ashly gets the last unoccupied chair.
What’d you think of the Four-Chair Challenge? And what did you think of tonight’s tough decisions? Did Kelly pick the right four?