“The X Factor” aired its most exciting – and emotional – episode so far on Thursday, as the contestants finally met their mentors (at their swanky estates) and put all they had on display in hopes of making it to the live rounds.
Simon Cowell and “The Girls” were in France, Paula Abdul met “The Groups” in Santa Barbara, Calif., Nicole Scherzinger and “The Over 30s” were filmed in Malibu, Calif., and L.A. Reid met “The Boys” in a posh locale in The Hamptons.
And not only did “The X Factor” singers strut their wares in the hopes of winning a slot on their respective mentor’s team, but they performed in front of celebrity guest judges – at three of the mentors’ homes.
Rihanna was with L.A., Enrique Iglesias was at the side of Nicole and Pharrell Williams joined Paula.
Simon tried to bring over Mariah Carey, but Hurricane Irene intervened during the filming.
Here’s what happened when the contenders performed for the judges:
Simon Cowell & “The Girls” in France:
Simone Battle, 22, from Los Angeles, dressed in what can only be called a bathing suit and a sheer, floor-length skirt, gives The Beatles’ “Help” an acoustic twist. Not bowled over, Simon does hint to a camera-shy vocal coach and two music producers, he finds her unique.
Looking like Lady Gaga (and sounding a little like her too), Tora Woloshin, 22, from Tucson tackles “Satisfaction.” Simon, however, isn’t satisfied. “It doesn’t quite get to me,” he says.
“Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” is tenderly covered by gorgeous rugby coach Caitlin Koch, 21, from Orchard Park, N.Y. Shaking his head in disbelief, Simon notes her “tone was fantastic.”
She covered Justin Bieber’s “Baby” in her audition, but performing for Simon, 14-year-old Drew Ryniewicz from Chino Valley, Ariz., is a pretty woman singing Roxette’s “It Must Have Been Love,” from a chair. Simon calls her angelic voice “amazing,” but suggests she’s too young.
Paula Abdul & “The Groups” in Santa Barbara:
The three cuties from Salt Lake City, Utah — The Anser – whip out Pink’s “F**kin’ Perfect.” Afterward, Paula tells Pharrell, “They’re tight.”
Lakoda Rayne, the group made out of the three blonds – Cari Fletcher, 17, Paige Ogle, 18, and Angelina Jolie look-a-like Dani Knights, 22 – and lone brunette Hayley Orrantia, 17, who were eliminated as solo singers from the competition before being put together as a package deal, take on a country-eque rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Paula thinks they could have an “Achilles heel” in their lack of confidence.
Real life siblings The Brewer Boys — Justin 17 and Nathan 14, from Temecula, Calif. — try out Rihanna’s “Only Girl In The World.” Paula and Pharrell seem unconvinced. “Good is a sometimes the most d*mn, difficult place to be, because it isn’t, sometimes, good enough,” she notes.
4Shore from Virginia Beach performs Brownstone’s “If You Love Me,” and are one of the few groups to hear more than just a thank you from the mentors and guest judges. “I want [you] to keep going. More!” Paula says after they finish.
Nicole Scherzinger & “The Over 30s” in Malibu:
After his heart-breaking story about being homeless and on Skid Row in 1992, rocker Dexter Haygood, 42, takes the poolside stage to Beyonce’s “Crazy In Love.” Nicole notes after his performance that she “would liked to have heard the song a little bit more.”
It’s Prince’s “Purple Rain” for Stacy Francis, 42, from Brooklyn. After she’s gone, Enrique asks Nicole to consider whether a record company would sign the performer, and if her music would sell.
Elaine Gibbs, 53, from LA, tackles Oasis’ “Stop Crying Your Heart Out.” “Do you think she was a superstar?” Nicole asks Enrique. An impressed Enrique replies, “Her confidence can make her a superstar.”
LA waiter and father James Kenney, 34, takes on another Rihanna song – “Russian Roulette” — which seems to resonate with Enrique. “I kind of see him like in a Maroon 5 type environment… being like a rock star.”
L.A. Reid & “The Boys” in The Hamptons:
Pint-sized rapper Brian Bradley, 15, aka “Astro,” the Astronomical Kid, does a rap about bullies to “The Message” from Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, winning over Rihanna. “He’s like a mini J. Cole,” she says.
Country singer Skyelor Anderson, 16, from Memphis, Tenn, is another singer with a touching backstory, mentioning he watched his father take his last breath, and his brother was killed. His performance of Babyface’s “Nobody Knows It But Me” resonates with the judges. “The dimensions of his voice are incredible. He has a lot of material to work with. He just needs to be polished,” RiRi says.
Phillip Lomax, 22, from Seattle gives a Frank Sinatra-twist to “Please Don’t Stop The Music” (Rihanna again!). “I’m not sure if it really [works],” L.A. notes.
Nick Voss, 22, from Hialeah, Fla., performs the Tears for Fears classic, “Everybody Wants To Rule The World,” leaving the judges underwhelmed. “I’ve seen him better,” L.A. tells Rihanna.
The remaining 16 contenders will perform in a special episode of “The X Factor,” airing Sunday at 8/7 C on FOX.