Simon Cowell recently told Yahoo Music's Reality Rocks that he wasn't a fan of the negative vibes that Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj brought to "American Idol" this season, but that doesn't mean that he wants his current project, "The X Factor," to be all cuddly and sweet like rival show "The Voice." This week, "The X Factor" introduces a cutthroat component to its competition, the "Four-Chair Challenge," and despite its somewhat "Voice"-y name, it has absolutely nothing in common with that feelgood program. It looks like Simon, the king of small-screen mean, is back to his dastardly, nasty old tricks.
This is how it works: Ten contestants in each category (one night each for the Boys, Girls, Groups, and Over 25's) perform on an ominous X-shaped stage — in front of an unruly crowd of raucous, wild-eyed spectators who seemingly wandered onto the "X Factor" set on their way to an UFC championship match and were then hooked up en masse, via IV, to an oil-tanker filled with Red Bull. (The audience is PUMPED, that's what I'm trying to say.) Each coach then must decide which four contestants to keep, but just because a singer gets a chair, it doesn't mean he or she is totally safe; there's still a chance that by the end of the episode, one or more of these contestants will be asked to vacate a chair to make way for someone else. Over and over again, contestants' hopes are raised and then crushed on national television, all in front of a rioting-in-the-aisles, Roman-coliseum-style crowd. Ish gets real.
It is, basically, THE cruelest game of musical chairs ever. However…it does make for exciting television.
But still. These poor Season 3 contestants. At this stage of the game in Seasons 1 and 2, the semifinalists pleasure-cruised on Simon Cowell's yacht or lounged poolside with Rihanna and Justin Bieber during the Judges' Houses rounds; this year, the contestants are subjected to a bloodbath instead. But Simon, speaking Monday at an "X Factor" press event with pregnant girlfriend Lauren Silverman at his side, told Reality Rocks: "That's the way it goes! Any show I've ever done, when people are eliminated, you have problems. So anyone who's selected to go into this part of the competition, they've got to have a bit of backbone, and they know what the rules are."
As for whether fans will appreciate such tense TV, in a reality age when the kinder, gentler "Voice" reigns supreme, Simon said, "There is a lot of drama in it, but I think if you don't have drama in these shows, they don't work. [The Four-Chair Challenge] got a bit of criticism overseas that it was too mean. I don't think it was too mean. The overall the audience seemed to really like it over there, and I think they'll like it here. I think if we were deliberately being mean to people, people would see through that, but we're not. It's just drama. Personally, I couldn't watch one of these shows without a little bit of friction. Otherwise like it would be like watching 'Star Search' all over again. I like to see something a little bit more edgy, and I think reality TV needs to be tense."
Interestingly, when asked how much the banshee-shrieking audience members affected the judges' casting decisions, Simon revealed, "Quite a bit. You couldn't ignore them." Really? The ever-opinionated Simon Cowell let some peanut-gallery protesters influence him that much? Apparently so. "Sometimes I'm pretty rigid, but I must admit, when you think you've got someone who is good but you get a very lukewarm reaction from the audience, you go, 'Maybe they're not as good as I thought they were...'"
On the subject of other twists and surprises, so far on this season of "The X Factor," Simon has sung and rapped. What other tricks does he have up his black T-shirt sleeve this season? "That will be the end of my performances, trust me. Not in a billion years will I do that again," he insisted.
Oh well. It's probably for the best. Because there's no predicting how out-of-control that howling Four-Chair Challenge audience would get if Simon ever performed on that scary X-shaped stage.