The X Factor had his long-awaited premiere last night, and it spent much of it’s two-hour debut reminding us of all the ways in which we are not watching American Idol: the $5 million prize; the addition of duos and groups; the chance for people as young as 12 and as old as, well, younger than dead to audition; and Paula Abdul’s wardrobe finally looking flattering instead of just kooky. (Seriously, is she borrowing J.Lo’s stylist?) But the biggest difference was Simon Cowell softening up. We never thought we’d live to see the day.
To US viewers who have never seen the UK version of the show, The X Factor may have come off like an America’s Got Talent knock-off, with the similar set-up of auditioners performing in front of the judges in a giant room full of cheering viewers. In actuality, The X Factor premiered in the UK in 2004, while Got Talent — another Simon Cowell creation — started a few years later. But that doesn’t matter, because no matter which show came first, it can’t be helped that there’s already a popular talent competition just like this on the air, making this format seem like old hat. (However, we may change our minds when the judges start mentoring contestants and the real competition goes underway.)
We’ll have more to say about judges L.A. Reid, Paula Abdul, Nicole Scherzinger and Cheryl Cole (oops, no we won’t!) as the weeks continue, but what we were really looking forward to — and what really disappointed — was Simon’s spot-on criticism. Sure, he was able to politely turn down senior citizen duo Dan and Vanita, as just getting on TV is prize enough for them. But when an obviously awful, arrogant contestant in a mesh top named Siameze Floyd walked on stage, and proceeded to audition for So You Think You Can Dance? with his outrageous, maniacal dancing, not only did Paula and Cheryl put him through — Simon, the Voice Of Reason, did, too!
What is going on here? What happened? We’re not looking for the biting bad guy crushing people’s dreams, but a serious judge who won’t say yes to somebody obviously awful just because the crowd cheered for him. That’s what America’s Got Talent is for. This should be about actually making it in the music business.
“There is something kind of fascinating about you,” he tells Siameze, who barely even sung a note during his audition. “You are talented, but you are deluded… but I’m gonna say yes.” What?! Where’s the cruise-ship metaphors? Where’s the “you should sue your singing teacher” witticisms? Where’s the flat-out “That was atrocious” remarks? Who is this man, coddling instead of critiquing?
All of these televised singing shows, from Idol to The Voice to everything in between, have the same basic mission. Some have swiveling chairs, others, like The Sing-Off, focus on a cappella music, but what they all share is that they’re all simultaneously looking for a star while also trying to entertain — and people love it. We have no doubt that even without Simon sassing, The X Factor will be a hit, and it looks like America has already made it quite welcome in their homes — 12.14 million viewers tuned in to the series premiere. (Though for comparison’s sake, Modern Family – whose season premiere kicked off on ABC midway through X Factor‘s debut episode – scored 14.3 million viewers.)
We’ll continue watching, but we’re hoping the show really takes its job seriously of finding a real star and not just somebody who can bounce around a stage to keep the crowd clapping. But that’s our take — what did you think of Simon Cowell’s newest competition incarnation on US soil? Sound off below.