Last week, America finally got the chance to vote on The X Factor, and the country made it known that they weren’t too fond of Paula Abdul‘s groups category, as two of her three acts landed themselves in the bottom two. In the end, 10-member kid pop group InTENsity got the boot, and now the pressure is on — for Paula and her two remaining groups, Stereo Hogzz and Lakoda Rayne — to really deliver during tonight’s “Movie Songs” live show.

Read the latest X Factor News: The ‘X’ Files: Of Lipsyncing, Smoking Bans, Crack Babies and More X Factor Drama

Entertainment Weekly spoke with the four X Factor USA judges — Abdul, Simon Cowell, Nicole Scherzinger and L.A. Reid — along with host Steve Jones, about last week’s tough elimination, and Paula’s unique predicament as leader of the groups.

“I don’t think it’s about liking and disliking,” Paula said about InTENsity‘s popular-vote elimination. “I just think people know Drew [Ryniewicz]’s name. And Rachel [Crow], and Astro, and Marcus [Canty] and LeRoy [Bell]. They don’t know the individual names of InTENsity or Lakoda or Stereo Hogzz, and that’s the big challenge.”

But all hope is not lost for the groups — at least according to Simon. “[D]on’t rule out Lakoda Rayne. These girls, in my opinion, have got something special,” said Simon. “If they walked into my record label — four girls like that with that talent — saying “We want to be like four Taylor Swifts,” I’d sign them on the spot.”

Still, the judges joked about what Paula would do if (knock on wood!) both of her remaining groups get eliminated soon. “You just turn up and judge, and support me. It’s not going to happen to me,” said Simon. “Or me,” tacked on L.A. Reid. Those record execs are just so confident.

Votes play a major role in determining an act’s fate on the show, but right now the judges still have the final say on which of the week’s bottom two acts will stay or go. While Simon wouldn’t weigh in on whether he agreed with America’s choices for last week’s bottom two (“That’s a tricky question. You’ve got to trust the public,” he answered diplomatically), he told EW that soon, votes alone will determine who’s eliminated — “probably by the semi-finals.” 

As for contestant Stacy Francis, who’s been criticized for hiding or underplaying her past success to garner sympathy (most vocally by blogger Perez Hilton), Simon trusts the public to see through the (non-)scandal. 

“I think it’s going to help her. It does feel like she’s being picked on a bit. We never said that you couldn’t have had a career in the past. It’s absurd. Many competitions I’ve done, [the contestants] have had record deals, they’ve tried musicals. She never hid it from us. I couldn’t care less.” He then added, “I think this typifies her story. She’s always said somebody was always standing in her way saying, “You’re not good enough.” It’s happened all her life. The public couldn’t care less.”

There was also a brief mention of former contestant Dexter Haygood, who recently told reporters that he bartered a deal with X Factor producers to leave the show early because he was being pushed in the wrong artistic direction. Simon called the claim “absolutely crazy,” with Nicole adding, “It’s simply not the case.” The best reaction, however, goes to L.A. Reid, who’d apparently not heard Dexter’s story until the interview: “That’s what he said?!” the Boys’ mentor asked incredulously.

(Image courtesy of FOX)

Meghan Carlson

Senior Writer, BuddyTV

Meghan hails from Walla Walla, WA, the proud home of the world’s best sweet onions and Adam West, the original Batman. An avid grammarian and over-analyzer, you can usually find her thinking too hard about plot devices in favorites like The OfficeIt’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and How I Met Your Mother. In her spare time, Meghan enjoys drawing, shopping, trying to be funny (and often failing), and not understanding the whole Twilight thing. She’s got a BA in English and Studio Art from Whitman College, which makes her a professional arguer, daydreamer, and doodler.