On Thursday, the Season 3 "X Factor" hopefuls were reduced from 218 to 40 in one fell, cruel swoop, bypassing the entire customary Boot Camp process for reasons never quite explained. Those reasons probably weren't even adequately explained to the 178 out-of-luck contestants who never got to unpack their suitcases — and never got another chance to perform for the judges — before they were quickly shipped back home.
Yes, in the blink of one of Paulina Rubino's heavily mascara'd eyes, only 10 singers in each of the four categories (Girls, Boys, Over 25's, and Groups) remained. These 40 will move on to next week's even more brutal "Four-Chair Challenge" (not to be confused with "The Voice's" four chairs, of course), and man, they had no idea what they signed up for. At this stage of the game in Seasons 1 and 2, the semifinalists hung out on Simon Cowell's yacht or lounged by the pool with Justin Bieber and Scooter Braun during the Judges' Houses rounds. But this year, the top 40 must participate in a new Roman-coliseum-style bloodbath round, which will apparently involve sudden-death singoffs in front of a literally rioting live audience.
But before all that quadruple-seated madness, let's take a moment to count down the 40 contestants, shall we? Below is the master list of all four categories, with my personal ranking of the individual contestants within each grouping:
OVER 25's (mentored by Kelly Rowland)
Lillie McCloud – Lillie's past as professional dance diva Nicole McCloud may hurt her if she gets to the voting rounds; it could be Stacy-Francis-gate all over again. But the woman deserves a shot. There's no denying that her audition was one of the best of the entire season.
James Kenney – This soulman made it to the top 32 in Season 1. He should have made it much, much farther. He's amazing. Here's "The X Factor's" chance to right that wrong (now that James's old misguided mentor, Nicole Scherzinger, is long gone) and fast-track James straight to the top 16.
Jeff Gutt – Jeff is another robbed returning contestant (he was bafflingly cut at Season 2's Boot Camp, and Twitterverse outrage ensued), and he too deserves another shot. I think if he gets to the live rounds, when all those angry fans finally get to vote for him, he could be unstoppable.
Rachel Potter – Rachel is the ex-Broadway star now trying to eke out a living in Nashville as a country singer. I'm still not sure if country is really her thing (I don't hear a lot of twang in her theater-trained voice), but whatever genre you want to call it, her audition of Queen's "Somebody to Love" was undeniably phenomenal.
Lorie Moore – The female footballer with a heart of gold and voice of velvet is used to kicking ass in competitions, and I have a feeling that's just what she'll do on the "X Factor" playing field. This woman can sang.
Jeff Brinkman - This gruff-voiced new dad could be Season 3's answer to Josh Krajcik. And he has a much cooler job than slinging burritos: He runs a doggy daycare. If even a small percentage of voters are as impressed by Jeff's day job as the gaping-mouthed Kelly Rowland was, then this guy's a shoo-in.
Denny Smith – Denny looks exactly like Santa Claus, which is wonderful, especially since "The X Factor" airs during the holiday season. He certainly can belt the blues, but will he get a $1 million record label contract for Christmas this year? He seems like a longshot, but we'll see.
Allison Davis – Allison was one of several people who performed "I'm Goin' Down" in an audition montage this week, and she's one of the ones who got through; maybe she stood out because she basically forgot to wear pants to her audition. Regardless, she's definitely got potential, but I need to see more of her (more of her singing, not her bare legs, that is) before I decide if she's top 16 material.
Victoria Carriger – I want to root for this single mother of eight kids (yes, count 'em, EIGHT), but I just wasn't fond of the liberties she took with the melody during her audition of Kelly Clarkson's "Because of You." (You don't mess with Kelly and get away with it!) My jury's still out on this lady.
Kristine Mirelle – This chick's hair is awesome. But what about her voice? I have no idea…because I don't think her audition ever aired. Maybe she'll get more screentime next week. But I doubt it.
GIRLS (mentored by Demi Lovato)
Danie Geimer – Danie is the adorkable quirky girl who covered "House of the Rising Sun" and concealed her gorgeousness under an unflattering train-conductor cap. I adore this girl. I just hope Demi doesn't try to make Danie over into some sexy pop bombshell, because her geekiness is part of her appeal.
Simone Torres – This is the incredibly likable Long Island girl who rasped her way through "Mustang Sally." Simon called her a "funny little thing" due to her goofy, vivacious personality, but her singing was as serious as a heart attack. The girl is GOOD.
Ashly Williams – This is the powerhouse R&B diva whose cover of "I Will Always Love You" left everyone in tears, even Ashly herself. Ashly has a very sad past (her mother was murdered 10 years ago), but she seems to be one of those singers who channels her pain into her art, and I think America will root for her.
Rion Paige – This is the spunky 13-year-old country girl with athrogryposis multiplex congenita, whose cover of Carrie Underwood's "Blown Away" got the pimp spot on this season's grand premiere. "X Factor" gave Rion that spot for a reason: She's really, really strong, especially for someone so young.
Ellona Santiago – Ellona was on "The X Factor" in Season 1, as part of the sprawling manufactured kiddy group InTENsity. Although she was singled out for praise even then, it was hard for her to truly shine when angling for attention alongside nine other tweens. (Also, InTENsity were the first to get eliminated that season.) Now, as a solo artist, Ellona is even better than I remember.
Primrose Martin – Primrose gave me a good vibe (and she was also sporting some really awesome hair), but her audition was montaged, and she's up against some great singers who got much more screentime. I suspect, sadly, that Primrose was stuck in a montage for a reason, and that she's being set up as fodder. But we'll see.
Bree Randall – I liked Bree's cover of Bruno Mars's "Treasure," but she too was a blink-and-you'll-miss-her montage contestant, so pretty much everything I said about Primrose applies to Bree as well.
Khaya Cohen – I think Khaya is talented, no doubt…but her old-fashioned song choices ("Love You I Do," "I Put a Spell on You") made no sense for a 15-year-old. I'd have to see her do something a bit more current before deciding if she really has the X factor.
Rylie Brown – Rylie got crazy love from the judges at her audition, but she forgot the words to Zedd's "Clarity" at first, and once she remembered them, she sounded way too shrill. I do think she's extremely marketable, but I don't know if she's quite ready for prime time.
Jamie Pineda – I don't remember this girl at all. Did they show her audition? Even in a montage? And is she the chick from Sweetbox? Jamie is a total mystery to me.
BOYS (mentored by Paulina Rubio)
Josh Levi – Josh's radical remake of Selena Gomez's "Come and Get It" was one of the best auditions of the season. This kid just oozes the X factor out of his pores. If he doesn't make the top 16, I'll eat Danie Geimer's hat.
Timmy Thames – I know this 13-year-old's audition was montaged, but I saw his performance firsthand when I attended the Los Angeles tapings, and let me tell you, he's the real deal. If he gets shafted next week, I'm going to be as mad as I was on the days that James Kenney and Jeff Gutt got cut. I hope he eventually gets the screentime he deserves.
Carlos Guevara – Carlos, who has Tourette's, wowed with his soulful cover of John Mayer's "Gravity"; his voice was so unmistakable, and he was immensely likable, too. (Remember when he adorably muttered, "This is amazing!" to himself onstage? To borrow an oft-used phrase from Demi Lovato, I got chills.) I think people will vote in droves for this guy.
Isaiah Alston – Isaiah is the other "I'm Goin' Down" singer who moved on up. His performance earned him comparisons to little Michael Jackson, and I think he could be a real phenomenon in this competition. I only wish they'd shown his entire audition. I can't wait to see more from him.
Chase Goehring – Chase was a quickie montage contestant, but the 17-year-old auditioned with a self-penned original song that I actually thought was quite good, so he gets a surprisingly high spot on this list. I think he could be a dark horse.
Tim Olstad – America will love this soft-spoken boy-next-door. Nice guys don't always finish last, you know. But do nice guys sell records? That's up for debate. I like Tim, but I have doubts about his post-show marketability.
Stone Martin – I am not really sure if this kid can sing…because all the screaming girls in the audience at his audition drowned him out! As he sang One Direction's "Little Things," there was so much hysterical shrieking, you would've thought Harry Styles himself was onstage. I guess that's a sure sign that he has the X factor. But he's very young and very green, so let's see if he can handle the pressures of overnight teen-idol stardom.
Al Calderon – This singing waiter auditioned with a Hall & Oates song, which scored him major points with me, but I didn't think his vocals were on the same level as the almighty Daryl Hall's. With his good looks and charm he certainly could go far, but I'm a little surprised that Simon didn't stick him in one of the show's made-for-TV boy bands.
Carlito Olivero – This ex-Menudo member, now a barista, was the first auditioner shown this season, and he definitely impressed with his pro stage skills. But since then, we've seen lots of other strong singers. Is Carlos good enough to be one of the four boys left standing? I have my doubts.
Issac Tauaefa – From what I saw of this guy's montaged audition, he has some chops. But I have a feeling he's probably fodder.
GROUPS (mentored by Simon)
Roxxy Montana – These Detroit sisters, who may or may not be related to Marvin Gaye, have SO much potential. They just need to make sure that sister Temperance, aka the girl Simon called their "secret weapon," is always front-and-center and singing lead.
Glamour – Kelly Rowland herself dubbed this trio a "baby Destiny's Child." They're fantastic. These children's destiny is to go far on "The X Factor," I think.
Alex & Sierra – Some people find this real-life couple's lovey-dovey act puke-worthy. Those people are jaded and wrong. Alex & Sierra's folksy cover of Britney Spears's "Toxic" was a delight. Let love rule, I say.
Wild Thingz – Yes, they're obnoxious and juvenile (even though one of them, astonishingly, is actually 30 years old). But I don't care. They're fun in a guilty-pleasure, party-rockin', LMFAO/3OH!3 sort of way, and I think they'd be a blast on the live shows. With Second Hand High now out of the running, it's up to Wild Thingz to bring the hip-pop noise.
Yellow House Canyon –These BFFs are regular corn-fed country gals, and I have a feeling America will fall in love with them. Not much of their audition was shown either, but they had spunk and sass; with a little more screentime, they could be contenders.
Sweet Suspense – This is a manufactured group comprising Celine Polenghi, Millie Thrasher, and Summer Reign. I can't pass real judgment till I've seen them perform, of course, but they all gave great individual auditions, so I have high hopes for them.
Restless Road – This is another manufactured group, featuring country teens Andrew Scholz, Colton Pack, and Zach Beeken. Putting these kids together was a somewhat genius move on the show's part. I have a hunch that Restless Road could be massive. Let's see how these three gel next week.
Emery Kelly, Jon Klaasen, and Ricky Garcia – This prefab boy band doesn't seem to have a fancy new name yet. Is that a bad sign? Did they end up with a moniker they had to change like last year's LYLAS/1432/Fifth Harmony? Who knows? I think by any other name, girls will be just as sweet on them. They're simply adorbs.
Girls United – G.U. are very pretty, and they're solid singers. But I don't think voters (i.e., the girls that watch this show) will pick up the phone for them. Foxy vixen types never go far on any singing shows. That's just how it is. If Girls United want votes, they need to start dressing like Danie Geimer or Simone Torres.
Good News – Um, who are these people? I don't remember them at all. They're this year's Illusion Confusion. I think Good News will be getting bad news from Simon very soon.
So there you have it. Tune in next week, when all of these folks have to face the scary Four-Chair Challenge. There will be blood. Or at least a lot of sweat and tears. See you then!