The X Factor’s Six Chair Challenge was as brutal as ever as Nicole Scherzinger pulled one of her contestants out of the running at the last moment to give another hopeful a place in the next stage of the competition.
The first of two episodes ahead of the Judges’ Houses phase saw Scherzinger and fellow judge Simon Cowell tasked with whittling down acts in their categories – the boys and the girls respectively – to just six.
The ruthless challenge means those who are given a seat must anxiously wait as they face being replaced by another singer if the judge thinks the latter is more deserving of it.
Nerves ran high as the wannabe singers fought for their place in the competition, singing in front of all the judges and, for the first time, a live arena audience.
At the end of the Six Chair Challenge and with all of her spaces full, a very conflicted Nicole told waiter Matt Terry, 23, he would have to sing again to defend the seat he had been given in order to decide if she would keep him, or give his spot to 19-year-old nightclub VIP supervisor Christian Burrows.
Matt’s first performance of Bruno Mars’ When I Was Your Man had divided the judges and so he tried again with a rendition of Little Mix hit Secret Love Song.
The fate of Christian, who impressed the judges with a self-penned track about his late brother in his first audition, rested in Matt’s strong second performance.
Nicole told Matt: “This has been such a hard decision for me. And I’m just going to go off of my gut and my heart right now. Matt – you’ve kept your seat.”
However, instead of knocking Christian out of the competition as was first suspected, she opted to give him the sixth seat which belonged to 17-year-old Italian-American singer Luca Valenti.
The audience was stunned at her decision, to which she responded: “All my boys are so strong, what am I supposed to do?”
Matt and Christian will join James Hughes, 18, Niall Sexton, 22, Freddy Parker, 18, and Nate Simpson, 23, at Judges’ Houses with Nicole.
Simon did not get an easier ride as he chose between the girls, and he appeared to want to take everybody through as he quickly filled his six chairs up with several more acts left to perform.
In a surprising twist, he opted to remove 16-year-old Samantha Lavery from her seat to give it to Gifty Louise, 20, following her unique take on Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy.
Samantha’s performance of Jessie J’s Mama Knows Best was not well-received by the judges but Simon initially said he would “take a leap of faith” with her.
Judges Louis Walsh and Sharon Osbourne were shocked at Simon’s decision to take Samantha out of the running as Nicole cried out: “What! Are you kidding me?”
The final singer, 16-year-old Olivia Garcia, put Simon in a particularly difficult situation with her rendition of Changing by Paloma Faith.
He said: “Right now, you have made my life very difficult because I have to give you a chair, that was outstanding.”
His final move was to give her seat number three, meaning 17-year-old Luena Martinez fell at the final hurdle.
Gifty Louise and Garcia will join Soheila Clifford, 18, Kayleigh Marie Morgan, 19, Caitlyn Vanbeck, 18, and Emily Middlemas, 17, at Judges’ Houses with Cowell.
:: The X Factor continues on Sunday at 7pm on ITV1.