It’s been a big day for talent competition judges. Mariah is in and J-Lo is officially out at “American Idol,” while Britney Spears and Demi Lovato took to satellite to talk to journalists at the press tour about their stint as the new judges on Fox’s “The X Factor.” Joined by their counterparts Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid, the cozy foursome joked around like best buddies. Like best buddies, this left plenty of room for ribbing. “Britney… is a really good judge. Demi is a brat, but there’s something really likable about her as well,” said Cowell with a grin. “The show needed someone younger, because I’m in my 30s.”
Cowell wasn’t shy about assessing Spears, who with Lovato replace softies Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul. “Britney’s quite mean, which you’ll discover.”
“She’s a sweetheart!” Lovato protested.
“Sweet as a lemon,” Cowell shot back. But later in the panel, he added that sour quality may be critical to the show. “They are harder to please than me or L.A. That’s why we hired them. I said this earlier about Britney; the fact she’s been successful for so many years is testament to her star power, and Demi is one of the hottest new stars around right now. They are tough.”
Cowell likely wanted tough critics after the elimination of then 12-year-old Rachel Crow last season, when Scherzinger couldn’t bring herself to make the decision that would have saved her. “It was difficult, wasn’t it?” Cowell asked. “It was the girls’ fault, because they could have saved her. We do have an opportunity to save people like Rachel. [But] she’s grown up on the back of it; she’s having a great time. There’s no scars.” Though Cowell was questioned if there was an intention to raise the age limit of the show, he admitted there wasn’t. “We’re careful, though, who we screen at that age.”
Spears and Lovato may be valued for their harder edge, but they weren’t too tough — or revealing — during the panel. “I just feel being with Simon, Demi and L.A., it makes it so fun to do the show,” Spears gushed. “It’s inspiring to be around people like that.”
Cowell did reveal that Spears and Lovato should feel comfortable with their new jobs — but not too comfortable. “No one has any job security anymore,” he said. “We’ve always made a point of changing the shows whenever we think is necessary. The girls did a great job last year, but we felt we needed a change. I don’t envisage this changing for a while.”
The show is still in search of a host (make that hosts), however. “That’s the plan, to have a boy and a girl. We’d all like someone who hasn’t actually been a host before. [Executive Producers] Andrew [Llinares] and Rob [Wade] are screen testing some people; we should be making an announcement round about mid-August.”
Fans can also expect some strong talent on the show this season. “I think we’re seeing some really special talent,” said Reid. “We are in boot camp right now, so we’re starting to zero in on what we have now.”
That’s good news given the groups who performed last season, whom many considered subpar. “Luckily, the groups are better this year. Maybe it’s off the back of One Direction,” said Cowell, who said there’s already a front runner in the category, though he won’t rule out putting together a group from the single performers in the future. He also noted that this year, there’s a country singer who’s emerged as a strong player. “I think they’re going to be a huge, huge star.”
Cowell also had a reaction to the recent naming of Mariah Carey to the “American Idol” judges’ table. “I’m happy for her,” he said. “I like Mariah. I think she’s gonna find it difficult to say no… she’s very sweet.”
Spears, who had already been label very un-sweet by her boss, later weighed in with a slightly different self-assessment. “I think it’s kind of based on who I am… I’m a very honest person.” And she honestly didn’t come to the show to drive her own record sales. “I’ve done eight tours and have been in the industry for a while, and being on a show where you can give back [from that experience] is [great]. I’m here purely on the fact I love the show.” Hopefully she won’t get too cuddly; after all, Simon is watching.