X Factor Six Chair Challenge to get even more brutal in format shake-up

The show's manic game of musical chairs will be the first time the contestants perform in front of a live X Factor crowd in 2016

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It seems almost impossible to achieve, but The X Factor’s Six Chair Challenge is set to get even tougher in the show’s latest format shake-up. 

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This year’s series, as we know, is bringing the intimate room auditions back. Here the contestants sing purely for the four judges (well, them and a whole load of production people) with no live audience.

When the rooms were brought back in 2014, this was followed by big arena auditions, but RadioTimes.com can reveal those have been scrapped for 2016.

Instead, the next stage of the competition will be an audience-free Boot Camp. Probably back in a swish hotel like last year, although that hasn’t been confirmed. 

That means the very first time this year’s contestants will perform in front of a live X Factor crowd will be the Six Chair Challenge. Yikes. 

The challenge is already tough. It’s basically a really emotionally-charged version of musical chairs: the singers are granted a seat if they’re any good, before facing the chop if someone better comes along. Throw in a crowd who have no problem booing or yelling ‘off! off! off!’ and it’d be enough to make even the most experienced singer a nervous wreck. 

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The reason behind it is two-fold. 

“It simplifies the process,” a source close to the show said of dropping the arena-based auditions. Indeed, it does seem more reminiscent of early series, which had much fewer stages between auditions and live shows.

With it looking pretty certain we’re getting familiar judges (Simon Cowell, Sharon Osbourne, Nicole Scherzinger and Louis Walsh the expected line-up) it fits with the theme. But, they admitted it also served another purpose: “It makes the Six Chairs more of a moment”. 

So basically it’s not all going to be warm and fuzzy ‘good old days’ stuff this year. 

Whether people will welcome this remains to be seen. The Six Chair Challenge is a yearly divider as both the contestants and judges struggle over the on-the-spot decisions. Even returning host Dermot O’Leary branded the round “uncomfortable” – the format was first brought in during the 2013 series. 

The episodes rate well, though. Last year they brought in more than 8 million viewers. And, as I’ve been told in the past, “Simon’s a fan”. Basically, buckle up. 

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The X Factor returns later this year on ITV