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 yet still struggles to attract new viewers.
Cowell — once the King of reality TV competitions — is now 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 of the contest.
It’s a big mistake.
Full disclosure: I really like “The X Factor.” And I want to see it survive. But it probably won’t. This new format twist will almost certainly see to that.
I have followed and written about the show since it came to the U.S. three years ago. Part of what drew me in was the element of drama and surprise. The contestants all had dramatic backstories and Cowell seemed willing to throw anyone under the bus at any time to create compelling television. It was an all-you-can-eat buffet of tears, over-produced musical numbers and public humiliation. But not everyone shares my taste.
What Cowell 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. The Four Chair Challenge will likely just alienate viewers.
The concept is simple: each judge/coach/mentor has 10 acts on their team. Each act performs in a Roman gladiator-type theater environment and is then either sent home or given one of four seats on the stage. Once all four seats are filled, if the judge wants to add a new singer to his team, he must eliminate someone else from the stage. All this, of course, takes place while the audience yells and screams.
“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.”
It is intense television, but there are lots of flaws. First, it is hard to get too caught up in the excitement when viewers have barely met several of the contestants and are not yet fully 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 Cowell and judges Demi Lovato, Kelly Rowland and Paulina Rubio 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, it appears it is “The X Factor” itself that is in serious danger of elimination.