Come on, friends, you know I had to do it -- I HAD to watch the premiere of The X-Factor. I mean, that was a total no-brainer. Simon and Paula reunited in the search for the next Ameri- er- person with the X Factor? (Yeah, they need to work on that.) How could I resist?? So last night, after dinner, the sis and I hunkered down to welcome that dynamic duo back into our living rooms with open minds and open hearts.
For the most part, we were pretty pleased. Yeah, it's American Idol 2.0 -- no doubt.. It still knows how to work the heartstrings (I lost count of how many times I cried during last night's audition episode ... and several of those cries were nasty, ugly cries, man.) There were several painful auditions to break the monotony of the tearjerkers (although am I the only one who found myself crying watching that 70+ year old couple from Nevada? They really broke my heart, especially that whole conversation about how expensive the hot dogs are. I finally had to convince myself they were just cheap old people and NOT poor old people like my sis posited, firm in the belief that they had probably spent their last cent to drive to L.A. and embarrass themselves in front of 4000+ people). There was the delicious flirting between Simon and Paula. There was the crazy hyperbole. (Simon, baby, not EVERY auditioner can be the best you've ever heard.)
The differences, though, kept X-Factor from being too monotonous. (Not that I would mind if Idol essentially became year round...honest!) There's no denying that Simon has clearly re-discovered his joy where this whole process is concerned. In that last season of Idol, his apathy and frustration was evident, palpable, and it made it harder to relish in his nastyness when that nastyness clearly was coming from pure misery rather than gleeful honesty. The added element of auditions taking place in front of an audience upped the drama (even if it did remind me a lot of America's Got Talent, a show I've never particularly liked). I assume host Steve Jones will get a more prominent role in the proceedings when things go live, but he seems likable enough and the fact that he wasn't necessarily this constant presence during auditions the way that Seacrest often is was rather nice, too.
Overall, I enjoyed last night's debut. Yes, it's really just Idol with some tweaking, but they are the kind of tweaks I kind of wish Idol would have considered. I like the fact that LA Reid seems willing to take a stand against the majority and challenge Simon, yet he's able to do it in a far more powerful and knowledgeable way considering the enormous industry cred with which he sits down at that table. He's the kind of judge I always wished Randy would be (and that it seemed like Randy was trying to be last season before getting swept up in the love fest Steven and J.Lo apparently decided to make the show). Is Nicole Scherzinger really all that necessary? Maybe, maybe not. If she has the same kind of effect that Kara DioGuardi had on Paula during Paula's last lap around the Idol track, then yes, Nicole is needed. Paula became much more astute and constructive when there was another pretty lady sitting next to her at the table, and I would suspect Paula realizes that she needs to bring that game to the table rather than the drugged out rainbow babble she often spewed during the middle of her Idol tenure. Let Nicole be the touchy-feeling one, and let Paula be the mama with the tough love. (Am I the only one that looks at Nicole and thinks that she is totally the love child of Simon and Paula?) And please, let Paula maintain the seat next to Simon rather than switching her and Nicole back and forth. Simon and Paula are at their absolute best when they are sitting side by side, trading barbs and little asides. When they have to lean over Nicole for those moments, it's just awkward.
As for the auditioners last night, there were some pretty impressive people on that stage. I absolutely adored little Rachel Crow. Note to Disney and/or Nickelodeon: Snap this kid up. She is your next cash machine! With that sass and sparkle and voice that's a bit rough but totally promising, she could make the world forget all about your aging divas and keep tweens glued to your programming for years to come. Can she win this competition? Based on what we saw in the two hours that followed her opening audition, it's probably a long shot, but there is a star waiting to be unearthed in that kid. Make it happen, Nick!
Someone who may have a shot is 42-year-old single mom Stacy Francis. I'm not going to lie. During her pre-audition package, I was worried about Stacy. She seemed like a potential train wreck, and I was really angry with the producers for making me potentially care about this women only to have her turn out to be a deluded nut bar. Her "Natural Woman", though, was a thing of beauty. America is always susceptible to sentiment, and Stacy's story is filled with inspirational ammo that turns the speed dialers to jelly. That chick is going to go far.
Another favorite of mine was Marcus Canty, the 20-year old cutie who was nearing the end of his mama-imposed deadline for becoming a star. LA Reid's comparison to Bobby Brown was spot on, and the nice thing about Marcus is that he seems like a cleaner, more marketable version of Bobby. He has the swagger, but he seems like someone to whom trouble is a complete stranger. He could give the industry the Chris Brown it needs without all the girlfriend beating. As the auditions go on, I know Marcus may very well fade, but for right now, I like this kid a lot.
The first audition episode closed out with Chris Rene, a recovering drug addict with a small son to support who performed an original song. Again, I was sure there was a train wreck about to crash into the station. Original songs are usually hideous, but Chris's was actually something I would NOT turn off if it came on the local pop station. Like Marcus, he presents a figure that the current pop scene is in need of -- a white hip hop artist. Yeah, there's Eminem, but Em is aging and becoming less accessible to younger markets. With Chris's hard luck tale, he becomes an embodiment of a certain element of the American dream -- the idea that you can overcome anything and still make your dreams come true. The fact that he's less than three months sober is concerning, but I kind of trust LA Reid when he tells Chris he's going to be calling and checking on him. LA Reid seems like someone you do NOT want to disappoint. Ever.
So yeah, I'm going to stick with The X-Factor and probably even blog about it on a fairly regular basis this fall (gotta keep those pithy observations sharp for Idol in the winter, yo!). My allegiance to Simon is pretty mighty, so....sorry to those who tune out when I go all Idol on you. What can I say? That man has cast a spell on me, and jumping ship to a different show is not going to break it.