'The X Factor' looks for a jolt with format switch

“The X Factor” has been off to a rocky start this season.  

The fledgling competition has yet to deliver on the hype creator Simon Cowell lobbed upon the media before the show premiered in 2011.

Unlike “American Idol,” Cowell’s first stateside swing at picking music talent, “X Factor” hasn’t proved beneficial to its winners. Season 1 champ Melanie Amaro has issued only a handful of coolly received singles, and last year’s winner, Tate Stevens, “parted ways” with his label after his debut didn’t make much of a splash.

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And despite its third incarnation of judges/mentors (Kelly Rowland and Paulina Rubio replaced Britney Spears and LA Reid), ratings have been at an all-time low.

But can a new twist change that and excite viewers?

The series has been teasing a switch to the format that will jolt the competition dubbed the Four Seat Challenge, which debuts on Wednesday.

A pressure cooker of sorts, the round has the judges whittling down the top 40 contestants to 16.

After an act sings, the mentor in charge -- Cowell with groups, Demi Lovato with the girls, Rowland with the Over 25s and Rubio with the boys— decides on the spot whether they take one of the four chairs or are sent home.

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Say all four chairs are filled and another contestant earns a spot? Someone loses their chair. Think musical chairs, but more sadistic, and a lot more fun for those of us watching it unfold.

To dial up the tension, the whole thing plays out in front of an audience that makes their support, and disapproval, of the decisions heard very loudly.

Does it work? So far, so good. Fox sent out a preview of the challenge to press and it has the potential to be an addicting, twisted watch.

It’s the sort of high-stakes drama that reinvigorates the competition and treats viewers to something more exhilarating than another round of sing and deliberate. The contestants sweat. The judges have to act fast. Families are in the crowd praying. Contestants are in hysterics. It's an intense, suspenseful format switch that puts the show back into the game currently being won by "The Voice."

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Without offering up any spoilers, a highlight was one of Rubio’s decisions leading to the Latin superstar getting booed by the entire audience and leaving Cowell in complete disbelief -- a rarity for the brash reality magnate.

“I don’t care about what they are saying here in the venue, I care about what I feel,” she said of the controversial. “I need to be true to myself.”

The good thing is no contestant is safe and judges can always change their minds.


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