"I'm loving this discomfort." Leave it to Simon Cowell to say such a thing about The X Factor's new Four Chair Challenge – in which each category's 10 contestants compete for four respective spots.
As safe Over 25er James Kenney said Wednesday night, "It's like the Hunger Games." And indeed, the faces of the acts seated in the four chairs – who can be swapped out at any moment if a better contestant comes around – say it all: Fear, disdain, nausea, occasional envy and even smug superiority when someone else fails.
Sure, a well-timed shot of someone looking like they wished they had a crossbow right as their rival hits a competition-winning high note can provide comic relief. But overall, The X Factor still doesn't get what makes a show like The Voice so refreshing: No one is being paraded out onstage just to be tortured for America's amusement.
That said, with all four chairs already filled with her first four contestants, Demi Lovato continued to play the role of Effie Trinket as the final six hopefuls from the Girls team tried to dethrone someone in order to secure a spot in the next round.
At the start of the show Bree Randall, Khaya Cohen, Jamie Pineda and Ashly Williams occupied the four coveted chairs. By the end, the only one who (rightfully) stayed seated was Khaya.
As the next batch of hopefuls sunk into their songs, we couldn't help but wonder: Did the show's producers purposefully pick terrible tunes for these poor girls? One after the other, the song choices were just abysmal. (The same thing happened Wednesday night with the Over 25s, so we're definitely assuming sabotage.)
That is, until 15-year-old Danie Geimer stepped onstage. Her rendition of Ray Charles' "Georgia on My Mind" was so perfect, comparatively, that we assume the producers spent a little extra time polishing her up so that viewers would sit up and take notice. At the very least the judges did, resulting in Kelly Rowland yelling, "She need a seat; somebody got to get up!" And with that, awkward 19-year-old Simone Torres – who sang a "karaoke" version of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come," complete with gawky dance moves – was out, mere minutes after she sat down.
Also bumping people off were 17-year-old recycled Season One reject Ellona Santiago, who made it to the top 12 that year as part of the manufactured group InTENsity, and Rion Paige.
We're not sure why the judges like Ellona so much – she reminds us of a second-rate Jessica Sanchez, the Season 11 American Idol runner-up, who wasn't so great herself. But they do, and she wound up taking Pineda's seat at the very last minute, even though Demi thinks "something is missing, the star quality isn't there."
Then there was Rion, the bubbly 13-year-old who's legally blind in one eye and suffers from an obvious joint disability. We know some will consider us heartless for saying this, but aside from being a sympathy vote-grabber, we're not sure why Demi decided to keep Rion in the final four. Yes, her voice is decent, but it doesn't scream "winner" to us. Still, she replaced Williams, who wasn't great either, but some of the other rejectees would have a better shot of winning the competition than Rion. Williams left the stage in tears, skipping the obligatory pit stop at the judges' table for her firm-handshake farewell which underscores, again, how much warmer The Voice feels with its hugs and high-fives.
Another highly awkward moment came during – and after – 20-year-old Primrose Martin's amazingly bad rendition of the Jacksons' "Blame It on the Boogie," in which she pranced around in a naughty schoolgirl outfit more than she sang. Making it even more uncomfortable was the revelation that her father, shown cringing in the audience, was from the group Kool and the Gang. Oh, and the fact that the audience was booing by the end. "That was beyond awful," Simon said as the girl began begging for a second chance. When she busted into song again as the judges were critiquing her, Demi said, "Something about you comes across as too confident, and it rubs me the wrong way." After a few more minutes of begging – and quick cuts to her embarrassed father who held his head in his hands – she was sent on her way. As was 16-year-old pageant girl Rylie Brown.
In the end, Demi's final four were Cohen, Geimer, Santiago and Paige. Two of them could have what it takes to go the distant; the other two are probably fat waiting to be trimmed.
Next week, Simon and the Groups and Paulina Rubio and the Boys continue the Four Chair Challenge.
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