Judges’ Houses kicked off on The X Factor 2018 tonight, with Simon Cowell picking his top four Girls at a party packed with music industry heavyweights.
With the drama of the Six Chair Challenge over, it’s now time for the judges to decide who will get to sing to the nation on the live shows.
As always, the hopefuls were sent to exotic locations around the world, where they had one intimate performance to convince their mentors to pick them.
Robbie and Ayda Williams took the Groups and the Overs to LA, while Louis Tomlinson visited Ibiza with the Boys.
However, first up were the Girls, who were whisked off to Simon’s actual home in Malibu in the twelfth episode of the series tonight.
Naturally, they were excited to see the sights of Hollywood, where stars are born – and Simon recently got his own star on the Walk of Fame.
He even treated them to a shopping spree so they could look their best for their big moments.
However, while browsing the stores on Rodeo Drive, they were completely unaware that they were about to face one of the most daunting audiences imaginable.
As always, the judges have got special guests to help them make their all-important decisions – but this year, Simon went to new extremes.
The Syco mogul threw a Judges’ Houses party, inviting not two, not three, but FIFTY entertainment industry bigwigs.
The guestlist included his former American Idol colleagues Paula Abdul, Randy Jackson and Ryan Seacrest, Oscar-nominated songwriter Diane Warren and legendary singer Paul Anka.
Also in attendance were famed producers Babyface and Dallas Austin, Simon’s former protégés Adam Lambert and Leona Lewis – and, of course, the one and only Sinitta.
“We’ve never done this before, so if it does work, I take the credit. If it doesn’t work, I’ve got it on record, it has absolutely nothing to do with me whatsoever,” Simon told his pals.
“The Girls have no idea you guys are gonna be here, they’re gonna be petrified.”
With everyone seated, Simon finally brought out the women of the moment – and they were astonished to see so many familiar faces, whom Simon said have collectively sold “about 5billion records”.
“We have every big-name songwriter in the world,” he said. “These are the people, in real life, you’ve got to impress. These are the people who make the hits. People who have been in your position before.
“It’s not just about impressing me, it’s about impressing these guys.”
With the pressure well and truly on, it was time for the performances begin.
Molly Scott – First to take the mic was Molly, who was left “shaking” after being introduced to the all-star crowd. Unfortunately for the 16-year-old – the youngest solo act remaining in the competition – she admits she doesn’t “deal well with pressure”, noting that nerves “did get the better” of her at the Six Chair Challenge. For the moment that could change her life, she performed the English version of ‘Fake Love’ by chart-storming Korean boyband BTS. It was a pick Simon described as “really clever”, while Randy felt like “it could have been her song”.
Georgia Burgess – Georgia fought hard to attend Judges’ Houses; having initially lost her seat at the Six Chair Challenge, she took part in two further sing-offs to win it back. Although “scared” by the audience, she vowed to put just as much effort in to reaching the live shows. She was “so nervous” about her song choice, ‘Somebody Else’s Guy’ by Jocelyn Brown – but it had a few of the guests standing up in applause, including Paula. Simon said Georgia reminds him of Kelly Clarkson, while Diane observed: “Her voice doesn’t look like her. It’s like what Adele has, you wanna hang out with her.”
Afterwards, Georgia told host Dermot O’Leary: “This has surpassed my wildest dreams. To sing in front of all these people, in itself, is such a lifetime achievement.
Shan – Having been a session singer for four years, Shan is looking for her big break – and she put herself through double the pressure to get one. Not only did she have to face a crowd of music tastemakers, she also chose to debut an original track. She wrote ‘Get Back’ after her Six Chair Challenge experience, about how it “taught me a lesson that when you put in hard work and effort, it’s possible for good results to happen”. The song wasn’t even finished before Ryan whispered to Simon: “You’ve got to keep her.” Randy added: “That was fantastic, it really shows who can be a star. Stars rise to the occasion.”
Dermot was stunned by what had happened, commenting: “When you said, ‘I’m doing an original’, I was looking around and thinking,’ there’s so many great songwriters, I hope this goes well’.”
“I was looking at Diane Warren like, ‘oh my gosh’,” Shan replied.
Maria Laroco – Sadly, Maria was unable to join the Girls in Malibu after issues arose with her visa. However, unlike previous years, when such circumstances forced acts to leave the show, Maria was allowed to compete via a video recorded in London. “Hey Simon, thank you so much for the opportunity you have given me,” she introduced herself. “I don’t want this to be my last performance, so please, please, please, pick me.” The Filipino teenager sang ‘California Dreamin’ by The Mamas & The Papas. “I feel really bad for her, because she would have thrived in this atmosphere,” sighed Simon.
Bella Penfold – Bella had a weight on her shoulders; having earned Simon’s Golden X safe seat at the Six Chair Challenge, she knew she needed to “better that last performance”. Although acknowledging she’s “no Drake or Kanye”, she again demonstrated her rapping skills by covering Macklemore and Mary Lambert’s ‘Same Love’ – a song so important to her that she got it tattooed on her neck just days beforehand. “She’s got a great vibe about her, and she’s authentic,” noted Paula. “I love that she’s edgy, and kind of wild,” praised Randy. “She wants to say something, I could work with her,” added Diane.
Scarlett Lee – Last to appear was Scarlett, who was even more appreciative of her place at Judges’ Houses, having narrowly missed out last year. She couldn’t resist a cheeky dig at Simon while taking the stage, joking: “I can’t believe I’m here… finally!” The 20-year-old says it took “a hell of a lot of courage” to enter the talent contest a second time – and it took even more for her to perform Whitney Houston’s ‘I Didn’t Know My Own Strength’ in front of its writer, Diane. The risk paid off, with the Golden Globe winner led a standing ovation. “You would be an awful person to not put her through,” smirked Ryan. “Her voice is ridiculous,” proclaimed Randy.
As she rejoined her fellow hopefuls, Scarlett said: “That’s the moment I’ve always wanted.”
With the performances over, Simon again addressed the party, optimistically asking: “Let’s do it again every year, please!”
Giving his take on the night, Ryan said: “It was exceptional. I didn’t know what to expect, I had never seen any of these contestants before.
“They were nervous, but when they stepped in to their songs you could tell they were meant to do this.”
Meanwhile, former X Factor winner Leona went to talk to the Girls. “You guys have got this, you’re all amazing, you’ve got such good voices,” she complimented.
“This is a sick joke, you’re Leona Lewis!” laughed Bella.
Diane, Paula and Randy hung around after the bash to further help Simon pick his final four – and soon it was time to deliver the verdict.
The next day, Simon sat down with the Girls one at a time to reveal their fates.
He told Shan the “slightly negative” thing is that she’s “almost afraid” to show the real her – but she would have the chance to do so on the live shows.
“You’re better than even you know. I’m thrilled to give you this opportunity,” he said.
Molly acknowledged her performance earlier would have been better had she not been “as nervous” – but Simon also put her through, thanks to her “real determination”.
Next, Simon called London to speak to Maria, and for her it was bad news. “You didn’t make it. I hate telling you this in this manner,” he mused.
The media mogul did give her a small glimmer of hope, adding: “I’m not just saying this, you have to come back again. Promise me you’ll come back.”
“I do promise,” insisted an emotional Maria.
Scarlett followed, and she finally heard the words she has waited over a year for. “I’ve never seen Diane Warren cry in my life!” smirked Simon. “I don’t wanna put you through this again. I really want you to join me in the finals.”
“I can’t believe this is happening to me,” she reacted through tears.
However, it was the end of the road for Georgia. “You didn’t do anything wrong, you did nothing wrong,” Simon told her. “It’s simply a gut feeling, it’s not your year.”
She took the news well, responding: “From the bottom of my heart, thank you for letting me have this opportunity. It really has been amazing.”
That meant for Bella – who says she scaled back her dreams because no-one believed in her – those dreams would finally be coming true.
“You are in the finals,” Simon revealed. “There wasn’t a shadow of a doubt. I believe in you, I really like you. You’re special.”
Moments later, she told Dermot: “I still can’t believe I’ve went and gone and done it!”
Therefore, the four Girls in this year’s live shows are Bella, Molly, Scarlett and Shan.
Judges’ Houses continues on The X Factor next Saturday at 8.35pm and Sunday at 8.00pm on ITV.