With Simon Cowell officially returning to the original British incarnation of “The X Factor,” FOX confirmed on Friday (February 7) afternoon that the American version of the show is over after three increasingly low-rated seasons.
“I”ve had a fantastic time over the last 12 years, both on ‘The X Factor’ and ‘American Idol,'” Cowell blurbs. And apart from being lucky enough to find some amazing talent on the shows, I have always had an incredible welcome from the American public (most of the time!). Last year, for a number of reasons, I had to make a decision to return to the U.K. version of ‘The X Factor” in 2014. So for now, I”m back to the U.K. and I want to thank FOX for being an incredible partner and I also want to thank everybody who has supported my shows. America, I”ll see you soon!”
Adds FOX Entertainment Chairman Kevin Reilly, “To all of us at FOX, Simon is more than one of the most prolific TV personalities of our time — he”s part of our family. A consummate showman and partner, there”s no one more passionate or creative than Simon, and we feel so fortunate to have enjoyed such a wonderful, collaborative relationship with him over the past 12 years. Unfortunately, there is no ‘X Factor USA’ without Simon Cowell, but we understand and support his decision to focus on the international formats and on the next phase of his personal life. We wish him the very best, and it”s our sincere hope that we work together again soon.”
Reilly’s statement that “there is no ‘X Factor USA’ without Simon Cowell” is an evolution on what he told reporters at the Television Critics Association press tour last month. Asked specifically if “X Factor” could return to FOX in some reimagined form even if Cowell wasn’t judging, Reilly hedged a bit.
“There is no decision. I mean, I love him. He”s doing what he should do as a producer. Here”s the deal. The show underperformed this year. Simon himself would admit that. There were some very good things. I think they produced a really good show,” Reilly insisted at the time. “The ratings were not what we hoped, but this is a No. 1 brand around the world. I don”t know how many markets they are in, but it is the No. 1 or No. 2 show in many, many markets around the world. And during that lifecycle, there”s been markets where it”s been down and had some very tough seasons, and they”ve reanimated it with producing changes and different ideas. I”ve heard some of those ideas. They are interesting. If the show were to come back, it would not be in the current format we have. But the fact is, we”ve made no decision on it. I haven”t even really engaged him on it other than some general talk. We are going to blow through our option date, which is sometime this week, and we”ll make that decision over the next month, but no decision has been made.”
Well, now a decision has been made, ending the tumultuous life of a show that FOX hoped would give it a singing competition smash in both the fall and spring, but ended up potentially helping to dilute the “American Idol” brand.
From the beginning, “X Factor US” was a struggle for FOX. Cowell’s departure from “Idol” and the order for “X Factor” were announced simultaneously at a TCA press tour panel. However, even before “X Factor” could premiere on FOX, NBC slipped in with “The Voice,” which took several key pieces of the “X Factor” format — specially the looser age limits and the stars-as-coaches competition — and had a rousingly successful launch in the spring of 2011.
With Cowell hyping up potentially massive audiences for his FOX return, “The X Factor” kicked off in September 2011 with nearly 12.5 million viewers and a rating over slightly above a 4 in the key 18-49 demographic.
Driven by the promise of an unprecedented $5 million recording contract (and a soft drink commercial), the first season of “X Factor” concluded in December 2011 with Melanie Amaro winning and pretty reasonable (in retrospect) audience over over 12.4 million viewers and a 3.8 key demo rating. Amaro did, indeed, get her Pepsi commercial, but she was upstaged by Elton John and, less impressively, by Flava Flav.
Amaro’s first album, “Truly,” was delayed multiple times and it hasn’t officially been released. I’ll repeat that: The winner of “The X Factor” was given a $5 million recording contract and, as of February 2014, her album has not yet dropped.
Although the reunion of Simon Cowell and “Idol” bud Paula Abdul was one of the early promotional hooks for the show, Simon adjusted the “X Factor” lineup, keeping fellow judge-mentor L.A. Reid, but replacing Abdul and professionally handsome host Steve Jones . And Nicole Scherzinger, originally hired as a co-host, but elevated to judge-mentor after the early ousting of the allegedly unintelligible Cheryl Cole, was also replaced.
Hoping to make a big splash against the star-studded “Voice” panel, Simon landed Britney Spears and, with slightly less hooplah, Demi Lovato. Jones was replaced by a two-headed monster combining Mario Lopez and Khloe Khardashian.
On the eve of the second season, I asked Cowell if there was a point in the first season when he realized an overhaul was going to be necessary. Here was his answer.
The changes didn’t work.
The second season premiere was down to 8.7 million viewers and a 3.3 key demo rating. Again, “X Factor” got a bit of a bump as Tate Stevens won in a finale that drew 9.65 million viewers and did a 3.1 key demo rating.
Tate Stevens at least released an album, though it sold only 17,000 copies in its first week before vanishing.
Between seasons, Simon wasn’t done making changes.
Even before the season ended, L.A. Reid announced that he was returning to his untelevised duties, while The Britney Spears Experiment lasted only three months. Cowell kept Demi Lovato and added Paulina Rubio and Kelly Rowland. Mario Lopez was brought back to host alone.
At TCA press tour last summer, Cowell likened the show and its myriad changes to a dinner party.
“You invite people for dinner, and sometimes it”s a fun night,” he said Other times, it”s not as much fun as you thought it was going to be. This is a fun dinner party.”
At that point, I asked him point-blank about when in Season 2 he realized the dinner party wasn’t as much fun as he hoped.
“That”s a very difficult question to answer,” he said. “I suppose it was more of a feeling I felt that what we were doing was similar to what everybody was doing. I”m being honest with you. And I had this impatience to get on to Season Three so that we could do what I wanted to do.”
Again, the changes didn’t work.
This September’s premiere drew only 6.45 million viewers and mustered only a 2.2 key demo rating. December’s finale averaged only a 1.7 key demo rating and drew 6.2 million viewers.
Alex & Sierra, who grabbed the “X Factor” crown in December, were the show’s best winners to date, but they got a much smaller contract. We’ll see how they do.
That’s the long, strange history of “The X Factor” in the United States. I’m “proud” to say that I recapped every bit of it.
Sigh. Farewell, “X Factor.”