updated 10/03/2013 AT 4:45 PM ET
•originally published 10/03/2013 AT 10:15 AM ET
It was like the ultimate Hunger Games version of musical chairs.
The X Factor rolled out its new Four Chair Challenge on Wednesday, which sees the top 10 contestants in each category compete for four coveted spots and the chance to move onto the live competition.
The Over 25s were the first group to sing for mentor and judge Kelly Rowland, and she quickly filled her four chairs with the first four contestants to perform.
But as the remaining six hopefuls performed, Rowland had the option to bump a singer from one of the chairs (eliminating them from the competition) and replace them with a teammate – and that’s when the cut-throat musical chairs began.
While the audience and even Rowland’s fellow judges didn’t agree with all of her decisions, there was no question that the standout performance of the night was delivered by Lillie McCloud, a 54-year-old Florida mother of three and grandmother of seven.
McCloud – who wowed the judges during her audition with “Alabaster Box” by CeCe Winans – was the last of the Over 25 singers to perform and earned a standing ovation with a powerful version of “A House Is Not A Home” that brought Rowland to tears.
Joining McCloud in Rowland’s Top Four is Jeff Gutt, 37, a single father from Detroit, Mich., who made it to The X Factor boot camp last season before being cut.
His soulful, rocking performance of “Amazing Grace” made Simon Cowell declare it “the best performance we’ve seen so far,” and prompted Rowland to say, “There’s a seat over there, and it does have your name written all over it!”
The second male to join the Over 25 finalists is Portland, Ore., father and apartment manager James Kenney, 36, who sang “Lean on Me.”
“I’ve heard this song a million times, but I’ve never heard it like that before,” Cowell said.
And Nashville bartender Rachel Potter, 29, moved on to the live show after putting a country spin on Beyoncé’s “Irreplaceable,” a performance that had Rowland declaring, “This girl has serious pipes.”
The Girls category was next and Demi Lovato followed Rowland’s lead by putting the first four singers to perform – Bree Randall, Khaya Cohen, Jamie Pineda and Ashly Williams – into her open chairs, although Cohen’s stripped down version of Bruno Mars’ “Locked Out of Heaven” was the only one to earn unanimous praise from the panel.
The remaining six girls will get their chance to perform when The X Factor’s Four Chair Challenge resumes Thursday on Fox at 8 p.m. ET.