Reality Rocks

Watching the Thrones: ‘The X Factor’ Four-Chair Challenge Continues

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

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photo: Michael Becker/Fox

When we last left "The X Factor," on Wednesday, four of Demi Lovato's Girls semifinalists — Bree Randall, Khaya Cohen, Jamie Pineda, and Ashly Williams — were sitting pretty, having secured seats as part of the show's controversial and sometimes borderline-unwatchable new "Four-Chair Challenge." But considering that frontrunners like Simone Torres, Rion Paige, and Ellona Santiago hadn't yet performed, it was beyond obvious that some of these poor contestants were serving as mere seat-fillers/warmers. Well, it was obvious to me, at least, and to the vociferously booing audience, and to millions of spectators at home. But maybe it wasn't so evident to deluded young contestants like Bree — the semantically challenged girl who was "literally born to do this," remember? — who took Demi's words "You're in my final four!" way too (wait for it) literally.

Sigh. Seriously, there hasn't been as cruel a use of chairs on a TV competition show since, well, "The Chair." Remember that game show? With John McEnroe, the Simon Cowell of tennis? It wasn't very good, or very nice. It lasted one season. But I digress. Let's get down to the business of recapping Thursday's musical-chair madness…

So the night started off with likable Long Island everygirl Simone Torres. As I mentioned just one and a half paragraphs ago, I'd been certain that Simone would end up in Demi's final four. But all certainty was tossed aside like one of Simon Cowell's old black T-shirts (or old girlfriends) when Simone performed this Thursday. Her bizarrely sped-up cover of "A Change is Gonna Come" was such a mistake — I think she was going for a Mark Ronson-esque, Amy-Winehouse-does-"Valerie" sort of vibe, but the performance came across as manic, herky-jerky, and just awkward. The song was also in such a Satchmo-low key, it sounded like a colony of Long Island frogs had taken up residence in Simone's throat. What happened to the awesome chick who'd wowed with her "Mustang Sally" audition not long ago? Simone ended up a getting a chair anyway, but really, this was only because Bree was such an easy (and inevitable) switch. It was likely that another change was gonna come soon, when Simone would predictably forfeit her seat for someone else.

Next was my favorite girl of Season 3, Danielle "Danie" Geimer. I gritted my teeth, gripped the sides of my own chair, and hoped that Danie would not disappoint me as well. Thankfully, she did not. She was still the nerdy quirkster I loved and remembered, but with a newfound confidence and fire. Her "Georgia on My Mind" was as hot as Atlanta asphalt. Even Khaya, arguably the strongest girl currently seated, looked threatened. "This girl deserves a seat; somebody's gotta get up!" shouted Kelly Rowland. But Khaya needn't have worried. Instead, Simone was dethroned. Simone had barely been in that chair long enough to cross her legs…and already, to quote ousted "X Factor" host Steve Jones, the dream was over.

The judges had over-the-top-adored Rylie Brown at her first audition, but I had not been impressed. I didn't change my mind after seeing Rylie perform this week. She came across as a small-town pageant girl (which she is), and Simon said the performance seemed styled and choreographed by Rylie's mom (which it probably was). And I just could NOT get past her weird diction: Her song was supposed to be Robbie Williams's "Angels," but in Rylie's mushed mouth, it took on a not-so-silent H and became "Hangels." And I thought it was hawful. It hannoyed me. Demi didn't even let Rylie sit down for five minutes, as she had with Simone. Rylie was the first contestant among the Girls to be cut immediately.

And then...there was Primrose Martin. This girl made Rylie's "Hangels" sound downright hamazing. She busted out some flashy moves, including a decent moonwalk (maybe she should have tried out for "So You Think You Can Dance" instead), but, to quote Simon, her vocals were "seriously dreadful." She caterwauled "Blame It on the Boogie," but she had no one to blame but herself. Or maybe she should have blamed her dad — an actual member of Kool & The Gang — for letting her believe that she had inherited his talent. Her father sat in the wings double-facepalming and losing his kool, while Primrose was gang-booed before her performance was even over. And he looked like he wanted to crawl under his own chair when Primrose begged pathetically for a spot until security practically dragged her away. How did this chick ever make the top 40? Second Hand High and Keith Beukelaer were better than Primrose.

Thirteen-year-old country cutie Rion Paige, definitely one of this year's standouts (she got the pimp spot on the Season 3 premiere), was much more impressive. Her cover of Rascal Flatts' "I Won't Let Go" wasn't perfect — she was a little gaspy, and there was too much hairography going on for my taste — but her potential was immense, and those sorts of bad habits can be corrected, especially in someone so young. Simon told her, "We haven't even scratched the surface with you." It was no shock that Rion got a chair. What was shocking was that she got Ashly's chair. I'd totally assumed that fodder contestant Jamie would be the one rotated out of Demi's lineup, and that Ashly would make the final four. Judging from the droning audience boos that ensued, many other people had been rooting for Ashly as well.

Last up was Ellona Santiago, the Season 1 InTENsity alum-gone-solo. Ellona's ballad version of Zedd's "Clarity" started out rough and dragged a bit, but she brought it on home in the end and definitely proved that she deserved to stay. Simon even said hers was one of the best vocals in this category. Demi hemmed and hawed as if she were contemplating actually sending Ellona home, but this was all for TV drama and (wait for it) inTENsity. After a bit of uncomfortable and unnecessary pleading, Ellona snagged that last chair. Hopefully Jamie hadn't gotten too comfortable after sitting around for one and a half episodes, because in the last few minutes of the show, she was cut.

So Demi's lineup ended up being Khaya Cohen, Danielle Geimer, Rion Paige, and Ellona Santiago. This was pretty much the final four that I would have chosen, although I may have swapped out one of the girls for Ashly…and I would have tried to choose them via a more pleasant method than the Four-Chair Challenge, of course.

Come back next week, when the Boys have to go through all this, followed by Groups — who, judging by the stage setup I spotted in the background, will be turning this into the "Four-Bench Challenge" and thankfully won't have to sit on each other's laps in tiny chairs all night long. At least Simon's not that sadistic.

See you then.

Related links:
Experts debate the Four-Chair Challenge
Simon says the Four-Chair Challenge isn't mean
More about "The X Factor"
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