As the contestants reach their respective destinations, it's the Girls we catch up with first. They're in France, and still have no idea who their mentor is. They do a bit of sight-seeing around Paris. Once they arrive at the countryside mansion where they'll be staying for the next two days, they're met by Simon Cowell and seem pretty thrilled with the match. Simon tells them that he's certain that the winner is in the Girls category, much to their excitement.
The Groups are in Santa Barbara, California, attempting to guess who their mentor might be. Once Paula shows up, cheers are had all around and each of the acts begins chanting her name as they go in for a group hug. Paula admits to her crew that she was initially nervous as mentoring groups is a tall order, but insists that she's excited and believes that she can turn them into superstars.
Down in Malibu, it's the Over 30s who are awaiting their fate. They don't have to wait long, as Nicole shows up shortly after, albeit to a slightly more sedate reception - not that I can blame them, considering her own lack of enthusiasm when she got her phone call from the producers about which category she'd be looking after. However, she promises to commit herself 100% to everything she does... which, to be fair, still says more about herself than about her contestants.
The Boys are in The Hamptons, New York, where mentor LA Reid greets them with excitement. After giving individual hugs to each of the acts, he then gives a speech about how his career as a record exec is secondary to helping them succeed. You know what? I actually kind of believe him.
We then meet each of the judges' celebrity mentors. Nicole's scored Enrique Iglesias, who wants to see someone unique and who "sticks out" even if they're not the best singer. Working with Paula is Pharrell Williams, which elicits hoots and hollers from everyone involved. Really? I mean, I like Pharrell as much as the next person, but whatever.
Hurricane Irene has kept previously scheduled guest Mariah Carey from joining Simon as planned, so he'll go it alone. But not one to disappoint, LA introduces Rihanna to the boys, and I think it's safe to say that they got the best deal. I personally think she should have worked with the girls, but that's why I'm watching this on my couch and LA Reid is a millionaire, I suppose.
The Boys will be going first, and first up is 14-year-old Brian Bradley, hoping to impress with his rap skills. He's so little that I sort of can't take him seriously, but there's no doubt that he's talented. But what will RiRi think?
Brian covers Grandmaster Flash's 'The Message' and I actually quite like it despite my better judgment. Rihanna's laughing and I can't tell if it's because she thinks he's great or because she wonders who this little kid is who takes himself so seriously. LA is nodding his head vigorously in all directions, so I think it's safe to say that he likes it.
After he finishes, Rihanna declares that he's "so cute" and admires his body language and confidence despite his youth. She admits that she's "still trippin'" over his talent but LA wonders if he can actually win since a rapper has never been included in such a contest.
Over in France, 22-year-old Simone Battle is first up for the Girls. She drives me absolutely batty so I'm tempted to mute the TV for this, but let's just get it over with. She performs a rendition of 'Help' by The Beatles that's stripped down and I suppose is meant to make her more palatable but... no thanks.
However, even I have to admit that she has a certain je ne sais quoi about her and would probably become a massive (albeit unbearable) popstar. Simon just gives her a "well done, you!" and a nod and she's off. He then calls over a few vocal coaches over to talk to him about the performance, though no definitive decision is made.
The Groups in Santa Barbara are awkwardly holding cupcakes as they receive a pep talk from Paula. Then it's The Anser's turn to sing for their lives. They take on Pink's 'F**kin Perfect' and it's a somewhat boring arrangement but pleasant enough to listen to with some nice harmonies. Pharrell thinks one member of the group in particular stood out as a star and Paula agrees.
In Malibu, the first up for the Over 30s is 49-year-old Dexter Haygood with Beyoncé's 'Crazy In Love'. What? He's doing a James Brown version of Bey and it's one of the most bizarre things I've ever seen - and I experienced Goldie on X Factor UK. Please tell me the dream ends for him tonight. I can't imagine it won't - he didn't sing a single word correctly, much to Nicole's chagrin.
After finishing, Dexter collapses in Steve Jones's arms and starts blubbering about... wanting to take a bath? I can't quite make it out, but Steve claps him on the back and says that he knows how much the competition means to him. Well, that's a comfort.
Back in The Hamptons, Skyelor Anderson is next up for the Boys. He's going for it with Babyface's 'Nobody Knows It But Me'. I like Skyelor, but admittedly there are far better singers in the competition than him. He sort of sounds like he's crying as he sings, but LA seems to be into it. Rihanna doesn't really have a reaction but claims after that he has a lot of "dimensions" to his voice. Okay.
Tora Woloshin wants to impress Simon in France for the Girls category. She's singing 'I Can't Get No Satisfaction', only it's some bizarre techno version that really doesn't suit her. Still, she manages to make the most of it and sounds pretty good.
She's always been one of the most unique girls in the competition and that alone puts her a notch above, in my eyes. Simon tells the vocal coaches that she's "like a little rockstar" and will work hard, but there's something about her that fails to emotionally connect with him.
Newly assembled group Lakoda Rayne wants badly to impress Paula and Pharrell - let's hope their vocals are better than their name. Their version of Lady GaGa's 'Born This Way' is countrified and complete with some rather terrible choreography. Their vocals are technically okay, but they still make me cringe.
Paula gives them a quick thanks and sends them on their way. However, she seems to buy their post-performance speech about "growing like sisters" and wanting to see how much further they can go together. Pharrell admits that it must be hard to be thrown into a group.
Back to the Over 30s and it's Stacy Francis who's ready to try her luck next, with a rendition of Prince's 'Purple Rain'. Nicole really seems to be digging it and even I have to admit that it's pretty good even though I'm not Stacy's biggest fan. Both Nicole and Enrique seem to be crying at one point and it's pretty warranted because it keeps getting better the more it goes on. I've got chills! This is Stacy's best performance yet and I fully expect to see her in the live shows.
Nicole doesn't understand how Stacy is yet to find success, but feels that her fears and insecurities might hold her back. However, Enrique seems to think she can overcome them with time and he's probably right.
We've skipped back down to the Groups, with The Brewer Boys next to take the spotlight. They're doing a really weird version of Rihanna's 'Only Girl (In the World)', adjusted to reflect the fact that they're... well, boys. However, it comes off as bad karaoke and I feel uncomfortable. Make it stop! Pharrell thinks that they're good but that plenty of people in their category are a bit better, but Paula seems to have a soft spot for them.
22-year-old Phillip Lomax is about to perform a Rihanna song... in front of Rihanna. That's not awkward at all. He launches into an extremely rearranged, Rat Pack version of 'Please Don't Stop The Music' and I actually kind of like it!
I can't quite tell if Rihanna is aroused or disgusted, but luckily she ends my guessing game by telling LA she found it "very charming" and that she admires the fact that he was "very sure" of his version of the song. LA agrees that Phillip is trying to do his own thing, but neither know whether it will work commercially.
The performances continue with 53-year-old Elaine Gibbs from Nicole's category. She attempts to do some damage on Oasis's 'Stop Crying Your Heart Out' but it seems quite obvious that she's a wedding singer - it seems like a wedding performance, unfortunately.
Enrique thinks that her confidence can make her a superstar, but Nicole is unsure. I'm with Nicole on this one.
Next, we hop back over to France where it's Caitlin Koch's time to shine. She's singing 'Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow' and it's all very "pretty" pleasant enough, but I just don't see any star potential there. Simon loves her phrasing, pitch and tone, so who knows what will happen there.
Nick Voss - or Morrissey Jr, as I've come to refer to him, is next to step in front of LA and Rihanna. He's taking on 'Everybody Wants to Rule The World' by Tears For Fears. Of course he is.
It's predictably annoying and even Rihanna seems to be on my side with this one. She questions how today's performance compares to his previous attempts and LA also questions whether Nick is a $5 million act. Hey, I know the answer to that one! It's "no".
Down at Paula's and next for the Groups are 4Shore with Brownstone's 'If You Love Me'. It's a solid track from probably my favourite of the groups, and they do a rather good job of it. Great harmonies, great choreography and both Paula and Pharrell seem into it. Paula wants to see more after they're finished and Pharrell applauds them for "holding it down" with the vocals. They'll be in the live shows, I'm sure.
We hop back over to the Over 30s and it's James Kenney up next, singing... another Rihanna song - 'Take A Bow' this time. It's sort of rock-inspired and not that bad, actually. Enrique thinks it was a tough song but can see James as a rock star under the right circumstances, which Nicole agrees with.
14-year-old Drew Ryniewicz is up next for the Girls and I have to admit, I kind of have high hopes for her. Her version of Roxette's 'It Must Have Been Love' doesn't disappoint, either - pitch perfect, vulnerable and just damn good for someone of any age, let alone a high school student.
Simon just sort of sends her off with a nod, but he then tells the vocal coaches that she was "absolutely amazing", which they agree with. "It's going to be hard!" he says, obviously thinking of the decision ahead of which four of his eight Girls to take through to the live shows.
And that's it for night one of Judges' Houses! Stay tuned for episode two from Judges' Houses on a special X Factor USA episode airing Sunday at 8/7c on Fox.