'The X Factor' premiere review: Simon Cowell and his shocking, brief sincerity

The logo and stage set for The X Factor are dominated by a gigantic red “X,” presumably filled with the blood of contestants Simon Cowell has deemed unworthy and had drained.

The X is meant to represent something more than “This is the best singer” (American Idol‘s purpose) or “This is the best act” (America’s Got Talent) or “This is the best voice” (um, The Voice). That X (which also sometimes turns blue during performances) is a symbol of the ineffable combination of talent, personality, and in-the-moment nerve that marks a true pop star. Or as Nicole Scherzinger put it, transcending grammar as she so often does, “It’s undescribable.”

This U.S. edition of the British hit features auditions, to be followed by mentoring, to be followed by a $5 million prize. On the Wednesday-night, two-hour premiere, X showcased some fine performances, including those of Rachel Crow, Stacy Francis, and Melanie Amaro. Add one or two more depending on your taste (sorry, but to me Marcus Canty sounded like a nice fellow doing an impression of Al Green singing Stevie Wonder), and that’s not much talent to hold one’s interest over two hours.

So The X Factor did what other such shows do. It larded on the joke acts — the vocally hapless; the reliable aren’t-old-people-funny? ageist stuff — that are passed through the vetting process to give judges Cowell, Paula Abdul, L.A. Reid, Scherzinger, and Cheryl Cole opportunities to make their do-you-believe-this? faces.

The X Factor auditions take place in gigantic-looking theaters around the country packed with audiences that give the best response, predictably, to the singers who belt melodies into the rafters. It was between cities in the editing that Cole was booted to make way for Scherzinger, just in time for her to remind us once again that It’s All About Nicole: “This is why I do this,” Scherzinger told Amaro. “People like you inspire me.”

The X Factor premiere was also carefully edited to climax with the narrative of Chris Rene. A substance abuser with 70 days’ sobriety, he overcame the judges’ initial skepticism — you wrote a song called “Young Homey,” really, kid? — only to wow the panel and the crowd with his modest but solid abilities and forthright earnestness. He, more than anyone else this evening, embodied what Cowell is trying to do to make The X Factor different from Idol and The Voice: The show is designed to allow the judges to bend some newcomer into a star with a hit single and a great backstory for interviewers.

Except that Chris Rene resisted such easy manipulation. His story was too raw, too real, for the judges — especially the sharp, realpolitik Reid and Cowell — to manipulate with mere reflexive cleverness. After all the judges had agreed to pass Rene to the next round, Reid spoke to the young man without condescension as though he were his NA sponsor, telling him politely but firmly that he was going to make sure Rene stayed on the straight and narrow. And Cowell added, with sudden, shocking sincerity, “Maybe you need the show and maybe we need you.”

True, and true.

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  • Jack

    This show is already a 1,000,000 times better than Idol ever was.

    • sv

      I’m not sure “ever was” is the right way of saying it, but it certainly is a million times better than the current iteration of Idol, otherwise known has happy fun land.

      • Snsetblaze

        I have to agree with you. There was postive and negative.

      • Joe

        I am thrilled to say that I didn’t watch a single minute of it!! I have broken my addiction to ‘talent shows’!

      • UGH

        I didn’t like the new Randy.

      • UGH

        ..or the new Kara.

      • Rixx

        @Joe…But apparently not your addiction to articles and discussion forums about said “talent shows”.

      • UGH

        I actually preferred the new Ryan.
        I think anybody could be a better Ryan.

      • beebop

        I too did not watch – sick to death of these ‘no’ talent shows. (and yes this will be my last post on the topic of Xfactor less I get lambasted for posting about a show I don’t watch!

      • UGH

        I feel ya. I had it on as background for the most part.

      • Randy Jackson

        yo dude yo…what contestants do you think are in it to win it…and what contestants are the ones that are not in it and just don’t care…oh wait…what on earth am I saying?

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      • Anna

        sv, i totally agree. I never realized how much the judges matter until paula and simon left. Last years idol was boring because the judges never had much of an opinion. Anyway i’m really liking x factor!

    • Mike K

      Tats not saying much

    • Eli

      @Jack

      Then I guess you are the kind of idiot this show is made for.

      • @Eli

        I guess you’re the kind of idiot that Jersey Shore is made for.

      • Eli

        LOL, I actually feel Jersey Shore and X-Factor target the same audience, but nice try.

    • whatever

      That little girl that started the show rocked ! I hope she gets something out of this .

      • hello

        I agree. She was witty, funny and had a great voice. She could probably act as well as sing.

      • SaraS

        Her voice wasn’t that great. She was a wonderful performer but it was kind of all over the place.

    • Anonymous

      I didn’t watch it, but should’t they have someone write this other than the guy who gave The Voice a bad review? I kinda take this review with a grain of salt, to be honest.

    • LadyJNewYork

      I agree with you!!!

      • Shahram

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    • Beyoncé’s baby

      I enjoyed the show, but I did not like Nicole Scherzinger. She acted very immature and her comments were not constructive. They should have stuck with Cheryl Cole, at least she had a personality.

      • SaraS

        Agree 100%! Nicole Sherzinger was replaced by the better Sara Bareilles on Sing-Off, and now she should be removed (if not replaced). And lol @ your name.

    • Vicky

      I agree – and Simon was a lot more likeable, genuine, and easier to appreciate in this show from the start.
      The only part I disagreed with was that in reality they would’ve called security on the on-stage pervert much earlier than they actually had him escorted out. It may have added drama but was completely unnecessary.

    • renee

      loved it loved it loved it. agree cheryl is better than nicole who wants to act so girlfriend with folks. and simon and l.a. … amazing.

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    • xoxo

      Agreed. Idol looks like poor little cousin next to the X Factor!

  • James

    Stacy Francis has a powerful voice.

  • andy

    a lot of hype, but just reminded me of America’s Got Talent…and that’s not a good thing.

    • gregk

      Better singers than AGT except for Jackie Evancho who was and is phenomenal.

    • Troy Soldier

      Totally unimpressed. The judges were showering praise on people who would have been cut in the first round on “Idol.”

      • Chocobox

        I thought the same thing!

      • susparkles

        Bull crap! AI has run it’s course! You have Randy who wants to be a Simon Cowell wannabe, Jlo who is a dancer that sings, and Steven who’s there for comic relief! Just can’t take that show seriously!

      • HTC

        @Susparkles: They are not talking about the judges. They are talking about the talent — and they are right. Even the low-level singers on AI are much better than the best ones shown so far on XF.

      • Stephanie

        @HTC I disagree about the talent. While I was pissed that several people got through to the next round there were several truly ta;ented people who will be a pleasure to watch. Plus X-factor also includes the IT FACTOR that less than great singers have to sustain them as artist. That is part of the show as well.

        Examples are Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Rhianna to name a few and others who can’t sing a lick but have that it that makes people fans.

    • Wynter

      @andy This stage of the competition is very much like America’s Got Talent. When the contestants are split into the four categories and the judges will mentor their respective categories, that will really set the show apart. X-Factor is like America’s Got Talent, The Voice, and Idol all rolled into a good package.

      • Eli

        Not really, unlike The Voice and AI, X-Factor doesn’t care about music, just about creating “stars”.

      • @Eli

        AI and The Voice want to create “stars.” Those shows won’t last if they don’t produce some. X-Factor cares as much about music as they do.

      • Eli

        AI has been around for 10 seasons, yes it really didn’t last….

      • @Eli 2

        …yes, Eli. AI’s been around for 10 seasons…BECAUSE they created stars, as the previous @Eli commenter was suggesting. Lay off the insta-contrariness for a second and consider the point.

    • Rock Golf

      Actually, my daughter pointed out that one of the acts on AGT was also on X Factor. The teen girl screamo singer with blue hair. She voiced her suspicions before the screamer uttered (what may charitably be called) a note.

      Both shows turned her down.

      • Hannah

        Yep, I noticed that too, about the screamo girl. It was weird. All in all, I’m not really that excited about this show. It’s a crossbreed between American Idol and America’s Got Talent, just on steroids.

    • allie8

      totally agree. don’t plan on watching this again or Idol – I’ll stick to The Voice.

      • candacetx

        one thing about the Voice that I liked is the speed of it. I actually appreciate that contestants are eliminated quickly and the winner is crowned speedily. I think that dragging these shows out and letting the top 10 or 24 become household names… and then subsequently become more famous than the winner diminishes the actual titleholder. You already hear it on AI: These contestants are no longer trying to actually *win* because they see fame and fortune just from the overexposure of being in the top 10-24-whatever. The Voice shreds through all of that. And if we actually do remember one of the contestant’s names – it might actually due to their genuine talent– and not just the fact that we heard their names repeated ad nausem for several weeks. (Rebecca Loebe vs Tim Urban, anyone?)

  • Joe

    I much much prefer Cheryl to Nicole. I’ve seen U.K X- Factor as well, so i guess i have more to judge on, but firing her was a mistake.

    • kate middleton

      I agree! I like Cheryl more – she seemed more sincere, and I could understand her fine. My mom was watching with me and she said “I like her accent!”. I think ditching Cheryl was a mistake.

      • Snsetblaze

        I have to agree – and I’ve never heard Cheryl Cole’s music but I thought she was charming.

      • erf

        Ditto! I liked her more,too.

    • James2

      cheryl and nicole sucks pretty bad. but with cheryl’s blimey accent, the annoying host and simon, somebody had to go or people would wonder if this was actually an american show.

      • davey

        God forbid if people didn’t know it was an AMERICAN show – could you imagine? Tacky!

      • Fezzik

        Your grammar and punctuation “sucks” pretty bad. Lost your Caps Lock key? You might consider learning the language before you try to type it at literate people.

      • DJ

        Yeah, James2 is probably upset because Simon and Cheryl weren’t speaking English…

      • Tori

        Caps Lock? It’s called the Shift key.

    • X-Man

      You are so right. Cheryl is sincere – Nicole is shallow. I can’t believe FOX made Simon drop Cheryl because they were afraid her accent was too thick for Americans to understand. Hello … British accents are all we’re getting these days in reality show because of the copy cat syndrom. But Cheryl is great on the British version. They blew it on this one.

      • B.A.

        This is FOX–as a good friend of mine likes to say,”Don’t let anything surprise you anymore.”

    • hello

      I agree. I can’t understand why they fired her. Her accent was charming and she seemed sweet. Nicole was annoying. I doubt if she would bring in higher ratings. Cheryl got robbed.

    • starry night

      They fired her? I thought she was just there until Nicole could fill in her spot.

      • disappointed

        Unfortunately, she was fired.

    • Jody

      Agree with you Joe. Nicole sounds like a narcissistic bimbo when she speaks.

  • Mike

    Nicole was terrible, made everything about her. The birthday bit was ridiculous.
    Cheryl from what they showed was great and her accent was in no way an issue.

    • Jaye

      Agreed! I liked Cheryl. I think they made a mistake with Nicole.

    • deedee

      Agree 100%! Nicole’s horrible. She’s trying way too hard. and I like Cheryl she’s refreshing and I didn’t see anything wrong with her “accent”.

    • sv

      You all fail to miss the humor in her narcissism. I like Cheryl, but she was boring in comparison.

      • WHY

        exactly the reason for the change. she was way too quiet, no personality and no real input. didn’t anyone notice the “line up” change when nicole was asked to sit next to simon — presumably to boost her confidence? nicole will at least be a “character” for the show. the show is about the talent AND the judges.

      • JJ

        I thought she was okay. I thought she was sweet and refreshing. If they had waited a little longer, maybe after a couple of more cities, she would have eventually come out of her shell. If anything I thought the whole audition was boring, mainly because it felt like every other singing show. Still, I think it will pick up when they start going live.

      • RLH

        Could that have been editing though? How do we really know she was that quiet and “boring”? They knew when preparing the show to air that she was only there for one city, so maybe they had to make her appear that way. I enjoyed Cheryl myself and found Nicole to be extremely annoying.

      • xoxo

        Ive seen the show during taping and Cheryl was really boring. They only showed her best moments on TV. Plus, why not give a chance to an American girl? This is the American version of the X Factor after all…Good job with getting rid of Cheryl!!!

    • G-Mom

      I agree! I really liked Cheryl. I wish they had kept her. Whenever I can’t understand someone with an accent, I turn on the closed caption. But what am I talking about?? I didn’t like the show and won’t be watching anyway!!!

  • Christina

    Can they bring Cheryl Cole back? I could really do without Nicole

  • Lisa

    Loved it!! I was very skeptical and thought that it would be terrible or very “been there, done that” but the show really had a lot of heart. I think that I might need to keep watching!!

  • JC

    No more Cheryl Cole? I’m out.

  • MaryUTah

    Liked the talented contestants 100 times more than the crazy performers. Rachel Crow and Chris Rene were great. I liked the Answer as well. Need to see more good over 30 and groups – or will be like UK where only winners are typically the young boys or girls…

  • Step

    I was sooooooooo bored. The production of the show moved way to slow. I felt like I was watching America’s Got Talent with just singers.
    What happened to Simon…like someone neutered him. Singers he passed through, he would never allowed on AI. Simon was like all kumbaya….surprised they didn’t all hold hands and start singing. Unless Simon gets his snap back, don’t know if I will be watching. Not excited about seeing the next show. Would rather watch AI. I was disappointed.

    • hello!

      Because X factor is different. It’s not like AI where he was just there to judge and say funny things. He has a lot at stake on this show given that he is exec producer and will be a mentor to a group of contestants. If you watched the UK version you would notice the difference right away. He didn’t give a rat’s a** on AI because his name wasn’t attached to the show.

      • Step

        I know the X Factor is suppose to be different. I just think they dragged on the stories about the singers they did show. The show moved way to slow.
        There is nothing wrong with having a little more humor on the show. I think the Simon who doesn’t give a rat’s a** is way more fun to watch. That is what AI was missing and that is what the X-Factor is missing.

      • Snsetblaze

        I have to agree with Step that the production went way too slow. I will say I did like less sob stories but I thought they spent too much time on the judges. For example, with a 2 hour premiere, why did we have to have the judges introduced twice (except Nicole I guess).

        The audience was distracting. The auditions were also a lot longer so we did not get as many. I would have liked to see more groups (since most of the ones they showed were in passing) and ,more singers over 30 (that long-haired woman they showed for two seconds looked interesting). I would have liked to see a few more divisive singers (not bad singers).

        I did like that LA Reid did not always agree with Simon and I loved him bopping to Chris song with frown on his face.

        I do wonder if the producers knew ahead of time that the one guy was going to drop his pants. Personally, I cracked up because of the reactions (especially the people walking out), but then again, the tv audience had everything blurred out so we weren’t “traumatized” like the judges and audience were.

      • Snsetblaze

        And I have to agree that Simon did lose a lot of his sting – so far – and was not that interesting. Paula seemed more lucid though.

      • xoxo

        You are incorrect!!! Simon Cowell started Pop Idol which he brought to America as AI….His name is very much attached to it. Fuller gets a credit as the creator which is a total rubbish…

    • Lem

      American Idol was purely a singing competition. On X-Factor, you don’t have to sing per se….you just have to have “it” — so Simon wasn’t soft, it’s just a slightly different concept.

      • Step

        So you can be a bad singer…..but if you have it that is what matters. I really think singing is still important even on the X-Factor. lol

      • Eli

        You need to be able to sing to win, but not necessarily be able to make good music.

        I don’t know if that made sense, but that’s the best way I can think of describing the difference between X-Factor and AI/Voice

      • @Eli

        No, it didn’t make sense.

      • supercilla

        I somewhat see it like:

        American Idol is about singing. Christina Aguilera and Barbara Streisand would win.

        X Factor is more about performing. Britney Spears and Madonna would win.

        In the X Factor the performance can have backup dancers, props, pyro, you can dance. In American Idol it’s basically just the contestant singing.

      • Troy Soldier

        In other words, if you have a cute smile, Simon will give you $5 million and a producer will supply the Autotune.

      • Delon

        @supercilla

        Correct.

      • hello!

        You all have it wrong. The X Factor is about finding that person who can do all three – sing, perform and dance. They are looking for the next Beyonce, not the next Britney. J.lo and Britney couldn’t win because they can’t carry a tune, as opposed to Beyonce who can do both.

      • Jonathan

        Chris I also go by effort (HR) when I’m rninung MP runs unless I’m in the final build up phase (last 6 weeks before the marathon) and then I try and hit my target pace.If I tried to run my target Mp at the moment I’d only manage around 2 miles

    • sv

      You complain about Simon lacking his “snap” – and yet you say that you’d rather watch Idol, the unfounded nice-fest that it is? I’ll take sort of nice Simon any day over dopey dawg Randy and his two companions, J “I look pretty and can’t say anything mean” Lo, and Steven “f– a duck” Tyler.

      • Step

        I would just rather have Simon back on AI.
        I complain because I was expecting so much more. I was expecting Simon to be Simon who was always very honest with his opinions. I missed that about him.
        Right now there is not much difference between Randy, JLo, Steven or Simon. Well Steven is more sappy than the rest.

      • HTC

        I don’t want Simon back on AI. I really thought I’d miss him, but I didn’t. X just reminded me of how annoying Simon and Paula can be when they sit together.

    • Steve

      too slow… ummm i dont think thats the problem here… if this is too slow you must have an extremely small attention span… just sayin…

    • Donna

      @ step i agree with u i was shocked at Simon with some of the people he put through. I am also shocked that they allowed an idiot airtime like that jerk that came out on stage and stripped and then danced around with his junk exposed. I mean really was that necessary um NO. Further more he did this knowing that there were children in the audience. If i were a parent i think i would be ready to press charges. I really was not pleased with the show. I was really looking forward to watching it but now i am not sure if i will even bother. TOTALLY DISGUSTED!!!!

      • Ellen

        I agree with you completely.

      • xoxo

        Oh please…take that stick from up of your ass…

    • Genevieve

      Surprisingly well-written and informvatie for a free online article.

  • miss america

    I didn’t know Kim Kardashian was a judge. And Randy Jackson lost some weight!!!

    • nodnarb

      And Ryan got so much hotter!

      • V

        ^LOL

    • oh boy

      She reminded me of Kim K. too.

  • Angellique

    I liked it! To me is more like The Voice than Idol and that’s good. I think it has the potential to deliver a great talent, let’s hope so! I’ll keep watching!

    • Xfactor

      You know The Voice copied parts of X Factors but still couldn’t pull it off. X Factors is going to kill AI.

      • Eli

        LOL, the voice is in a totally different league dude. Give it up, X-Factor won’t last.

      • @Eli

        X-Factor will outlast The Voice (which is a rip-off of the British version of X-Factor)

      • hello!

        The Voice and the X Factor can both coexist…it’s AI we need to get rid of.

      • xoxo

        Eli, you are correct! The Voice is in a different league. It looks like a poor little cousin compare to The X Factor!

      • Edgar

        Hi Sam,Thanks for the quick reference sheet since many a times I get cuofnsed due to which I have bookmarked your article.And I would really like to thank for your comments on my blog -2Was this answer helpful?

  • s

    It was okay. There were some talented people there but it also reminded me of ‘America’s got talent mixed with a bit of Idol’ eh

  • chris

    What was up with half naked guy? EWWW

    • yawn

      I thought it was pretty funny that Paula was acting so upset but she chose to keep looking until she got sick.

    • Gale

      How disgusting that they kept him on stage exposing himself for so long, all for ratings.

  • Lem

    LOVED Cheryl. Nicole was alright.

    Loved the show. Auditioning in front of an audience adds so much energy to the show. LA Reid also proves more valuable in critique than Randy….and Paula seems to have improved.

    I feel like instead of just waiting for what Simon had to say, that LA actually had valid things to say and people took him seriously.

    The talent was also better IMO.

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