'X Factor' Recap: New Format Shakes Up Competition

Show borrows elements from 'The Voice' and 'American Idol'

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We've got to hand it to The X Factor: It's not going down without a fight.

Struggling in the ratings and an overstuffed market, Simon Cowell's Little Engine That Could is trying to shake things up with a new format. Though we're not sure how original or suspenseful the new "Four Chair Challenge" really is.

Rolling Stone's Complete Coverage of 'The X Factor' 

First, there's the name, which is obviously riffing off The Voice's "four-chair turn" saying. Second, the idea of deeming someone "safe" by telling him or her to "take a seat" is so American Idol. Still, at least they're trying.

In a nutshell: Each of the 10 acts from the teams – Boys, Girls, Groups and Over 25s – will perform. However, only four will make it through to the next round. After each performance, the respective coach will decide whether they should "take a seat" or take a hike. But getting a seat doesn't necessarily mean they're safe, as a mentor can decide to "switch" contestants. So, no one is 100 percent safe until all 10 acts have sung. In the end, the final four will make it to the live shows. 

Got that? Good. Let's dig in.

Kelly Rowland and the Over 25s
Kicking things off was Kelly Rowland and the Over 25s. And what Kelly proved is that this new round doesn't get very suspenseful until exactly half of the contestants have performed – because up until then, everyone just gets sent through to fill up the four chairs.

Yes, good or bad, Kelly's first four contestants– 41-year-old mother of eight Victoria Carriger, 27-year-old salsa salesperson Kristine Mirelle, 37-year-old Season Two reject Jeff Gutt and 29-year-old wannabe country girl Rachel Potter – were all given passes.

Of those, the only one who really belonged there was Jeff, who dazzled last season with his raspy rocker version of "Hallelujah" and did a reminiscent rendition of "Amazing Grace" this time around.

The rest, based on this round alone, should not have made it through. Victoria took a weak but passable stab at Adele's "Make You Feel My Love." Kristine totally tanked while trying to make a weird retooling of Britney Spears' "Oops!…I Did It Again" work. And a sick Rachel shrieked and cracked her way through Beyoncé's "Irreplaceable." But, of course, Kelly thought back to their original auditions and based her decision on that performance plus their overall "star quality," proving to be their saving grace. For the time being, at least.

And with that, all four chairs were filled – with six contestants still remaining. So, from there, it became an emotional game of musical chairs. And begging. So much begging.

Retired football player Lorie Moore started that domino effect, giving a rousing speech about what a "hard worker" she is after singing Boys II Men's "I'll Make Love to You." After getting a lukewarm reception from the judges' panel she worked the crowd up by shouting: "Hard work beats a cutesy image. Hard work makes no excuses. Hard work might fall down but hard work gets up. And hard work gets a seat!" It did earn her a spot, unceremoniously replacing Kristine in the final four with little fanfare. Again, for the time being.

There were two acts who got flat-out no's: 26-year-old Ke$ha "wannabe" Allison Davis, who slaughtered the pop star's hit "Tik Tok." and 69-year-old Santa Claus doppelganger Denny Smith

Otherwise, it was just a confusing and less-than-dramatic game of chess, with contestants earning a seat only to get the boot when the next player stepped onstage. (See: Jeff Brinkman, the dog-walking dad who gave a half-hearted performance of David Guetta's "Without You," earning him a seat only to be booted a minute later by 36-year-old James Kenney.)

But despite there being four chairs, this particular category only really needed one: for 54-year-old youthful grandmother of seven Lillie McCloud, who wiped the floor with the competition. Looking like Diana Ross in an elegant gold leopard print dress (yes, we said "elegant"), Lillie belted out "A House Is Not a Home" with such poise, conviction and sheer talent that Demi Lovato called her a "superstar" and she quickly displaced Lorie in one of the four chairs.

In the end, Kelly's team comprised McCloud, Gutt, Kenney and, surprisingly, Potter.

Demi Lovato and the Girls
Next up were Demi and the Girls team. And while we had higher hopes for Demi, thinking she had a thicker skin to send someone home rather than start another game of musical chairs, we were wrong.

Once again, her first four contestants – 20-year-old Dream Book-carrying Bree Randall, 16-year-old powerhouse vocalist Khaya Cohen, 24-year-old bilingual beauty Jamie Pineda and 24-year-old Ashly Williams, whose mother was murdered – all sailed on through, whether or not they actually deserved to.

Of those, again, only one undoubtedly belonged there: Khaya. The rest we could take or leave.

But Demi's final four won't be unveiled until tonight's episode. Till then, tell us: What did you think of the new format?

Previous recap: Demi Lovato Twerks for Simon Cowell