The X Factor Recap: Chair Today, Gone Tomorrow

X Factor Lillie McCloud Four Chair ChallengeShe was just a girl, standing in front of a reality singing competition panel, asking them to love* her.

Unfortunately, said girl (though American) was not Julia Roberts, the boy member of said panel (though British) was not Hugh Grant, and the story wasn’t a Hollywood romcom with a guaranteed happy ending.

Nope, this was The X Factor‘s controversial new “Four Chair Challenge.” And for poor, desperate Allison Davis — and six other contestants like her — the literal and proverbial chair got pulled out from under her “Over 25” ass, leaving her to land with a thud on a hard bed of crumbled, compressed dreams and bitter tears.

(*Love, of course, is a $1 million contract and a major-label record deal. I can’t believe you don’t know that by now! Sheesh.)

For the uninitiated, a little bit of background on the Four Chair Challenge: Instead of the Boot Camp and Judges’ Houses rounds we saw in Seasons 1 and 2, Simon Cowell & Co. decided on a new format in which the 10 remaining contestants in each category perform in front of a live audience — one at a time — then either get sent to a “chair of safety” or get eliminated on the spot. The twist? Even contestants who score chairs aren’t guaranteed a Live Round berth — not until the final act from his or her category has performed, and the mentor has made the final “either, or” call.

With that in mind, let’s look at how the night played out.

OVER 25s (KELLY ROWLAND)
Eliminated (in chronological order)
Kristine Mirelle, “Oops!…I Did It Again” | Grade: B
Not a flawless vocal, but her slowed-down twist on Britney’s earworm jam at least showed some creativity. (Her outfit of shredded jeans and red lycra tank, however, was atroshe.)

Allison Davis, “Tik Tok”/”Push It” | Grade: F
I’m just gonna quote my friend Mitch, who reluctantly kept me company during tonight’s episode: “This is tragedy times 10.”

Victoria Carriger, “To Make You Feel My Love” | Grade: B-
Sad-eyed mother of eight — with very unfortunate mini-pigtail hairstyle — showed an appealing rasp and tenderness on Bob Dylan’s ballad, but Demi was right – the energy wasn’t really there.

Denny “Santa Claus” Smith, “In the Midnight Hour” | Grade: D+
Too many of this Oldie Olsen’s notes were flatter than a penny on a railroad track. I suspect this Kris Kringle lookalike was put through only so Mario could feign cleverness with his “Are you gonna be naughty or nice?” query to Kelly. (Ugh. #IMissKhloeKardashian)

Jeff Brinkman, Usher’s “Without You” | Grade: C+ The guy definitely had a Michael Bolton-y grit in his voice that made for extremely easy listening. But Demi’s point that she found herself rearranging her papers on the judges table was apt — there just wasn’t enough charisma on display to think Jeff had any chance of winning the whole enchilada. Plus, that heinous bun on the top of his mop of hair was the worst TV coiff decision since Felicity chopped her locks back in 1999.

Lorie Moore, “I’ll Make Love to You” | Grade: B No doubt, the former pro female football leaguer has pipes, but if you’ve only got one shot — as Eminem puts it — are you really gonna sing a cringe-inducing Boyz II Men ballad? If I were in Kelly’s shoes, I’d probably have put Lorie in the Top 4 from the Over 25s, but not with any confidence that she’d have had a real shot at the crown.

THROUGH TO THE LIVE SHOWS
Jeff Gutt, “Amazing Grace” | Grade: B- Last season’s Boot Camp reject infused his Gospel classic with passion — and I am going on a Google hunt for his black jacket with white vertical-striped sleeves as soon as this recap posts — but I felt like the second verse veered so far off the melody that I wasn’t certain how sweet the sound actually was, y’know?

Rachel Potter, “Irreplaceable” | Grade: C+ Loved the creativity of countrifying Beyoncé — at least until Rachel’s upper-register runs proved as pleasant as banging one’s head on a kitchen cabinet. Yes, girlfriend’s audition was insanely good — and the Broadway vet is probably better than her “Four Chair Challenge” number indicates — but I don’t like any contestant to publicly announce her sickness on live TV. As Tyra Banks once said on Top Model, even if you’re about to faint, you climb on that elephant and smize like your life depends on it.

James Kenney, “Lean on Me” | Grade: A- His audition was kind of a mess — for me, for you** — but damn, he really brought a lifetime of pain and struggle to this ditty. Like Simon said, his “Lean on Me” was very different than anything that came before it — and also, quite fantastic. (**That’s the ghost of Randy Jackson at work. And yes, the apology is implied.)

Lillie McCloud, “A House Is Not a Home” | Grade: A+ I don’t care if the lady is a ringer — did you know her name prior to her X Factor audition? And let’s be real: Her Luther Vandross cover brimmed with authenticity, emotion and pitch perfection. She’s the whole reason for tuning in this season, as far as I’m concerned.

GIRLS (DEMI LOVATO)
SENT TO THE CHAIRS (FOR NOW) (I’ll discuss these chicas at further length in tomorrow night’s recap, when their category is finalized)
Bree Randall, “Glad You Came” | Grade: D
Khaya Cohen, “Locked Out of Heaven” | Grade: B
Jamie Pineda, “Don’t Speak” | Grade: B+
Ashly Williams, “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” | Grade: B

And with that, let me turn things over to you. What did you think othe “Four Chair Challenge”? Who were your favorites? Did you disagree with any of the judges’ decisions or opinions? Sound off in the comments!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JcC30vUVUM&feature=player_embedded#t=0