Are You Sitting Down? “The X Factor’s” Scary Four-Chair Challenge Begins
This time last season (and the season before), the "X Factor" semifinalists were living it up, pleasure-cruising on Simon Cowell's yacht in the South of France or serenading Justin Bieber beside L.A. Reid's Malibu swimming pool during the swanky Judges' Houses rounds. This year, the contestants don't have it so easy. With the Judges' Houses round now a thing of the past for Season 3, this week the top 40 contestants faced a new challenge…the (cue ominous music)…FOUR-CHAIR CHALLENGE. Gulp.
Starting this Wednesday with Kelly Rowland's Over 25's (arguably the strongest category this season) and Demi Lovato's Girls, the contestants performed on a scary X-shaped stage in front of an unruly crowd of amped-up, egged-on, overexcited spectators who seemed like they belonged in the audience at a UFC match or an illegal chicken fight, not at a supposedly family-friendly show like "The X Factor." Kelly and Demi then had to decide which four contestants to keep. And then they changed their minds over and over again, telling one contestant after another, "You're in my final four!"— only to tell that same contestant minutes later to get up out of that chair to make room for someone else. Contestants' hopes were repeatedly raised and then crushed on national television, all in front of a rioting-in-the-aisles, Roman-coliseum-style crowd. Ish got real.
"I wouldn't want to be in your place now," snarked Simon, as he stared down those poor thrown-to-proverbial-lions contestants with his flinty, glinty eyes. Honestly, I didn't know if I wanted to be in my place, seated in front of my TV set, either. Contestant James Kenney worded it well when he said the Four-Chair Challenge was "like The Hunger Games." But the difference is, most people ENJOY watching The Hunger Games.
Yes, of course, this was suspenseful, nail-gnawing programming. I admit, I could not look away. And yet, at times I wanted to look away. Having already developed some emotional attachment to many of these talented singers, it bothered me to see their own emotions toyed with this way. Sometimes I even experienced squirmy flashbacks to those ickier moments of "X Factors" past, like when Rachel Crow dropped to her knees or Drew Ryniewicz, Astro, and Beatrice Miller suffered their own mini-meltdowns.
Sheesh. You'd think that after all the flak "The X Factor" caught for its mean-spiritedness before — not to mention the backlash against Fox's feud-centric "American Idol" this year, and all the praise for the much more pleasant "Voice" — Simon would not have chosen this ruthless route. But I should have realized that all that talk of this being a more fun, lighthearted "X Factor" season was just that: all talk. Unlike CeCe Frey, Simon Cowell cannot change his spots so easily.
So, first up among the Over 25's was a desperate single mother of EIGHT, Victoria Carriger. She weakly warbled Bob Dylan's "To Make You Feel My Love," and she looked, understandably, absolutely terrified. Deer in front of headlights tend to show more confidence than Victoria did. Her performance was shaky and lacked energy. It didn't make me, or the judges, feel much of anything — certainly not love. But Kelly gave Victoria a chair anyway. It was obvious that it was only a matter of time before she'd be asked to give up her seat. Even Victoria knew it, judging by the anxious expression on her furrowed face.