X Factor: Can Four Chair Challenge Save Simon Cowell’s Singing Competition?


It’s do or die time for THE X FACTOR.

After two seasons of underperforming expectations, Simon Cowell’s over-the-top knock-off of AMERICAN IDOL has been shaken up, scaled down and is now in desperate need of a quick fix if it hopes to be on the schedule again in 2014.

Simon — once the King of reality TV competitions — sees the writing on the wall and is betting the farm on a new format twist called the Four Chair Challenge, which he hopes will keep viewers from tuning out during the (historically boring) middle rounds and maybe even attract a few new sets of eyeballs in the process.

Big mistake.

Full disclosure: I really like THE X FACTOR.  And I want to see it survive.  But it won’t.  And this new format twist will almost certainly see to that.

I have covered THE X FACTOR since it came to the U.S. three years ago.  Part of what sucked me in was the element of drama and surprise — the contestants’ dramatic backstories and the way Simon was willing to throw anyone under the bus at any time to create compelling television.

But that’s just me.  What Simon, FOX, and everyone involved with the show seemed to overlook was that soapy melodrama, tears and public humiliation is a turn off to much of middle America — and the Four Chair Challenge will only serve to alienate viewers.

The concept is simple:  each judge/coach/mentor has 10 acts on their team.  Each act performs in a Roman gladiator-type environment and is then either sent home or given one of four “seats” on the stage.  Once the four seats are filled, if the judge wants to add a new singer to his team, he must eliminate someone else from the stage while the audience cheers on.

“It’s a mixture of ‘The Hunger Games’-meets-musical-chairs-meets-I’ve never seen anything like it before,” Cowell told MTV News. “Very controversial.”

Intense drama?  Absolutely.  But it is hard to get too caught up in the excitement when viewers have barely met several of the contestants and haven’t really had a chance to become invested in them.

More important, viewers today have made it clear they would rather root for singers they like and than watch people have their dreams crushed in front of a national television audience.

Want proof?  Look at last year’s winner.  You’d have a hard time finding a nicer guy — and more likable contestant — than Tate Stevens, a hard working highway worker who dedicated almost every song to his beloved wife and refused to stab competing singers in the back.

Early on it looked like THE X FACTOR season three might have taken a step in the right direction.  The chemistry between the judges was better than ever and the premiere episode featured several acts (Hello, Rion Paige) who looked like they could win both the competition — and voters hearts.

But now as it becomes clear that the show is more concerned with theatrics and cheap gimmicks, I fear it is THE X FACTOR itself that is in serious danger of elimination.

Will you be watching The X Factor this season?  Let us know by leaving a comment below.

Sean Daly

Sean Daly

Editor-In-Chief at TheTVPage.com
Sean Daly is a veteran entertainment journalist.His work has appeared in People, Us Weekly, The Toronto Star and other top publications. He was the west coast TV reporter for The New York Post from 2008 - 2013. Sean is the author of Inside AGT: The Untold Stories of America's Got Talent and Teen Mom Confidential: Secrets and Scandals From MTV's Most Controversial Shows.
Sean Daly