'X Factor' Recap: The Judges Show No 'Mercy' With Team Cuts

Demi, Paulina, Kelly and Simon whittle down their teams to three finalists each.

After nearly three weeks off, "X Factor" returned to the airwaves Tuesday night and got right down to business, swiftly eliminating four acts from the final 16 and ending the two-hour episode with 12 finalists who will perform for viewer votes beginning next week.

Here's how the night shook out for each of the four groups of contestants.

Demi Lovato's Girls

Rocking a new blue 'do, a confident Demi Lovato boasted, "there's not a single act in this competition that can hold a candle to my girls." That didn't prove to be the case, as several of her contestants seemed more like singers struggling through the audition rounds than finalists.

Ellona Santiago was the best of the bunch, earning a standing ovation from Lovato (and the label of "a true diva") for her all-singing, all-dancing performance of Britney Spears' "Til the World Ends." Rion Paige gave Lovato's own "Skyscraper" a bit of a country-western flare, and the 13-year-old's singing was praised for power and courage.

Khaya Cohen attempted to be sassy during her performance of Duffy's "Mercy," but was criticized for having walls up between her and her audience. But advancing never seemed to be in the cards for 16-year-old Danie Geimer, whose name was mispronounced by Lovato (she called her "Guyer" before catching her mistake) during her introduction. Geimer's timid take on Miley Cyrus' "Wrecking Ball" was slammed for bringing down the energy in the room, and Simon Cowell wondered aloud, "how do we make you not boring?" He won't have to worry about it: Geimer was cut, leaving Santiago, Paige and Cohen to move ahead in the competition.

Paulina Rubio's Boys

Carlito Olivero instantly made himself a frontrunner in the competition with his version of Carlos Santana's "Maria Maria," which found the 24-year-old Los Angeles resident smoothly singing while effortlessly gliding across the stage. He was the whole package and came off like a Latin Usher. "I run a record label," Cowell told him. "Out of everyone I've seen so far, you'd be the one I would sign to my record label."

On the other hand, Tim Olstad was compared to a funeral director for his vocally strong but stylistically morose take on Bon Jovi's "Always," which he sang on a darkened stage that he turned into his private wake. But Olstad fared slightly better than 15-year-old Josh Levi, who stumbled through Rihanna's "Only Girl in the World," despite the assistance of a crew of backup singers and six dancers. Cowell graded him a six out of 10 on the performance, which proved to be the kiss of death. Rubio let Olivero, Carlos Guevara and Olstad through, a decision which left Levi's mouth hung agape.

Kelly Rowland's Over 25s

Not only was Lillie McCloud dubbed "the hottest grandmother I've ever seen" by host Mario Lopez, she also gave one of the evening's standout performances with her rich version of "When a Man Loves a Woman." But perhaps it was too rich, as Cowell bit back at the 54-year-old for her over-reliance on Broadway-style theatrics. Rachel Potter hit a home run with powerful version of Lee Ann Womack's "I Hope You Dance," which represented a huge comeback from her last performance, which Cowell dubbed "horrible." James Kenney, whose version of Daniel Merriweather's "Red" was vocally strong but simply not up to par with the other performances. In a weaker category he would have sailed through, but Rowland was forced to cut him, leaving a final three of Jeff Gutt, Potter and McCloud.

Simon Cowell's Groups

There were dollar signs in Cowell's eyes when country trio Restless Road, which he formed out of three solo contestants during the semi-finals, took the stage to perform a country-fried version of Katy Perry's "Roar." They're handsome, they can sing, and Cowell declared at the show's end "I believe (they) can win this whole show."

Dating duo Alex & Sierra offered up a loose, sort-of-corny boxcar version of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines," which Cowell called sexy but left Rowland cold. Still, the strength of those groups left no room for Roxxy Montana, the trio of sisters whose cool take on Lorde's "Royals" was called "really really really good" by Cowell, but not good enough to advance them in the competition. Cowell tried to take them to the next round anyway, but he was forced to send them packing, leaving a final three of Restless Road, Sweet Suspense and Alex & Sierra. Roxxy Montana had it right all along: They never will be royals, not in this competition, at least.

"The X Factor" competition resumes next week, but first up, a meet-the-Top 12 special airs Thursday night on Fox.