On one hand, I suppose Wednesday (September 12) night represents the second season premiere of “The X Factor,” but you can almost sense FOX hoping that viewers totally ignore last fall’s introduction to Melanie Amaro and all of her vanquished foes. Sure, that was “The X Factor,” but this is *really* “The X Factor,” the way Simon Cowell intended.
So pull up a seat and follow along as we spend the next two hours seeing how Demi Lovato and Britney Spears stack up as judges and how “The X Factor” functions without a host.
8:00 p.m. ET. ZOMG! One Direction introing! Somewhere, Maude Apatow is very happy. And I’m very ashamed for referencing Maude Apatow.
8:02 p.m. Lots of clips. Demi Lovato says she young, but she knows what her generation is listening to. And… BRITNEY! She swears she’s really excited and she thinks she has a lot to offer.
8:04 p.m. Awww yeah. People gonna go nutty this season. Take that, “The Voice” [now airing over on NBC].
8:04 p.m. We have no host, so the into is done almost verite style, via news footage and FOX affiliate audio. How innovative. The Maysles Brothers Present “The X Factor,” everybody. People keep talking, but who are they talking to? It’s not a host. It’s… Us! Contestants are very excited to meet Britney and the other judges. “It’s really intimidating,” Britney tells… her manager. Odd. Still beats Steve Jones, right?
8:07 p.m. The first meeting between Demi and Britney doesn’t involve any face clawing, but it does involve Britney strategically drinking a Pepsi. The two younger judges admit that they’re excited and that they don’t know where they’re sitting.
8:08 p.m. Slight mockery aside, the documentary-style format here really does feel different. It’s obviously too early to say “better” or “worse.”
8:09 p.m. Meet Paige Thomas, a 21-year-old who’s looking forward to meeting Britney because they’re both hot moms. Kaci Newton, a blonde-with-a-twang notices Paige and mocks the run in her pantyhose with her sister. Kaci and Paige agree to share a mirror. Paige’s daughter Jade is adorable, but she also gets a greasy mark on Kaci’s pants. Uh-oh. Verite-generated controversy! It looks like without hosts, the backstage area is much less cluttered.
8:12 p.m. Our first contestant is Paige, who gives off a strong Rihanna vibe with her fetish stockings and hot-pink top with epaulets. Paige is overcome with emotion, which makes Britney get overcome. Singing “I’m Going Down,” Paige is pretty gifted. I don’t quite need all of the vibrato she’s using, but the dueling cutaways to cute Jade and increasingly insecure Kaci are priceless. Yeah, there’s a lot of bleating to Paige’s vocals, but she certainly looks the part of an R&B star. The crowd is pleased. Kaci is wary. “You are so bright and beautiful on-stage,” Britney raves, calling Paige “flawless.” “Girl, you a star,” L.A. Reid says, comparing Paige to… Rihanna. Well, duh. “I think you’re gorgeous and I think that you’re totally a superstar,” Demi Lovato says. Simon likes that Paige takes her parenting responsibilities seriously and calls this one of his favorite-ever auditions. “You are ‘Commercial’ with a capital-C,” Simon says. Four “Yes” votes, duh.
8:18 p.m. Awww… Britney waving at Jade. Kindred spirits. And Kaci is freaking out. “You look better than she does,” Kaci’s sister tells her.
8:22 p.m. “I stand out. I think I stand out,” Kaci says, looking at the competition. She and her sister cackle cattily.
8:23 p.m. Before we get to Kaci and her standing out, we’re gonna spend time with 50-year-old Shawn Armenta. He’s been doing vocal training and dance training in preparation and he’s doing an original called “Candy Girl,” which he explains is about the girls you meet at local bars. Let it be said: Shawn Armenta isn’t very good at the singing or the dancing, but if Flo-Rida got his hands on “Candy Girl” it could be a hit. “You’re like a mouse trying to be an elephant,” Simon says. Shawn thinks this is ageism from Simon. “Too many people copy me,” Shawn says. Demi tries telling him that not everybody is meant to live out their dreams. “That’s why you use auto-tune and I don’t,” Shawn shoots back. Ouch. “I feel uncomfortable with you up there staring at me,” Britney says. Shawn is sent packing, unconvinced that he’s been properly judged.
8:27 p.m. Montage of Britney Spears being allegedly clever. Lots of criticism from Britney. None of it is all that clever, but we’re supposed to be impressed. Simon is. “And everybody thinks I’m the mean one,” he says. On the soundtrack, “It’s Britney, bitch,” plays. I get it!
8:32 p.m. More on Britney’s vaunted honesty and meanness and whatnot. I mean, she’s making people cry.
8:32 p.m. Bieber-lookalike Reed Deming is a vest-wearing 13-year-old who does, in fact, answer to “Hey, Justin.” I like that the show doesn’t have a host, but it does have a totally random blonde hottie in a blue dress to interview Reed backstage. Casually. Like it was unplanned. Before Reed, we see Britney reduce Ma’Cayla Miller to tears. Can Reed actually sing? Or is he all vest, no voice? His voice cracks as he gets centerstage and Demi Lovato tells him how cute he is. Reed tackles Bruno Mars and he is… Disturbing. This isn’t a good song for a 13-year-old to be singing. “Excuse me. We want to hear a different song,” Simon says, properly stopping him. He’s prepared with a slightly more stripped down song and he still sounds terrified. It’s not that he isn’t a talented kid, but he’s got an uncomfortable mix of nerves and songs that mean nothing to him. The judges look much more impressed by this one. “Meh,” says I. “You’ve got steel in your eyes, young man,” Simon says, but he wants better vocals. “I think you’re so adorable and your stage presence just shines,” Demi gushes. L.A. compares Reed to Justin Bieber. “I don’t want to fall into the Bieber stereotype. I’ve gotta be me,” Reed says. “I think you are completely and utterly adorable,” Britney says, substantively. Four “Yes” votes for Reed and his vest.
8:39 p.m. More eye-daggers from Kaci. She hates everybody.
8:43 p.m. “By the way, Niles says ‘Hi,'” Demi tells Simon. Simon tries warning Demi to stay away from him, but she swears she isn’t going to date anybody for a year. Then he pesters her to try to get her to admit that she’s kissed Niles from One Direction. Nope. That conversation wasn’t at all weird.
8:45 p.m. “I want to be a legend,” says Kaci, already comparing herself to Michael Jackson and Celine Dion. Before she takes the stage, Demi and Britney are giggling about their shared love of tattoos and they agree to get ink after the show one day. OK. Kaci Newton time. Simon says Kaci reminds him of Britney. Kaci insists that she takes modern songs and tries to make them her own, starting with Katy Perry tonight. Oh, this is sad. Kaci’s… not good. Did we really build the first 45 minutes of this episode to humiliate this sad girl? Kaci starts off bad and gets worse and worse and worse. “This is going to sound odd, but it sounded like you were dying,” Simon says. “I don’t want to hear that,” Kaci says, still unclear and insisting that nerves got the best of her. She launches into an equally bad version of “Mercy.” The judges all vote “No,” with Simon twisting the knife by calling Kaci annoying.
8:53 p.m. Interesting. Auditions in San Francisco are introduced by a couple drag queens? Well… OK. We basically saw four auditions from Austin.
8:54 p.m. We start with an “island warrior princess” singer, whose name is flashed on-screen much too fast. I caught Mark Avey, a crotch-thrusting “raving lunatic.” Then there’s a scary drunk guy who looks like a plumber. San Francisco is a problem.
8:56 p.m. Some kid with floppy hair is taken aback by all of the beautiful women at the audition. He’s objectifying women left and right until he gets to… Quantrele Da’an Smith. He’s in a wedding dress, because he’s getting married to “X Factor.” His day job is decorating wedding cakes. [On a side note, “Braining Glasses Britney” is my favorite flavor of Britney. She looks intellectual, y’all.] Not surprisingly, Quantrele is singing a little Lady Gaga. Also not surprisingly, as bad a Quantrele is, his badness is exactly the sort of badness that a crowd of San Francisco auditioners is gonna lap up. The judges start out skeptical, but eventually the come to support that, say what you will, Quantrele gets the spirit of the song. “You were off-key a little bit, but for the most part you were really entertaining,” Britney says. Demi loves her lipstick. “If you imagine Madonna, Bobby Brown and Dracula had a child, it would be you… But in a weird way, I quite liked it,” Simon says. L.A. Reid says “No.” Demi and Britney say “No.” “Some days I have to embrace the madness,” Simon says, voting “Yes” and high-fiving Demi and Britney.
9:01 p.m. No host also seems to mean no bumpers in and out of commercials. So while “The Voice” takes 30 seconds before each ad break showing you exactly what you’re going to see in five minutes, this version of “X Factor” is creating… I don’t want to quite say “suspense,” but it’s doing something different. I’m kinda appreciating it.
9:05 p.m. Oh right. Groups. Emblem3 is our first group of the season. They’re three bothers, two biological and one adopted? We also meet Vincent Thomas, an Efron-esque actor from Los Angeles, who was previously a member of a European-based boy band. The men of Emblem3 look like they want to kill Vincent as he attempts to pass his wisdom along to them. “You’ve just gotta let it all out there,” Vincent tells them. Thanks, Vincent! The men of Emblem3 “want to be real always” and they insist they’re not a boy band.
9:08 p.m. Vincent Thomas is the first to audition. He’s got a thin, nasally voice and great hair. “It’s sad, so sad” he sings, mangling Elton John. Simon suggests that in a boy band, Vincent should be the one who doesn’t sing. The men of Emblem3 are all, “OH SNAP!” in the wings. “That was super-lame one of them says.”
9:10 p.m. After that fake boy band reject, it’s time to get to Emblem3. They’re doing an original song, called “Sunset Boulevard.” I don’t quite get what the group ethos is, but they’re actually pretty good in a sorta Wholesome Sublime kinda way? The audience loves them. There isn’t much to the song, but there wasn’t that much more to “Young Homie” and Chris Rene rode that one a long way. Doing a bad original is an awful idea on shows like this, but doing a surprisingly un-awful original is a good play. “I don’t like you, I love you,” L.A. Reid says. Britney calls them “funky” and “smooth.” “I think you guys are so cute,” Demi says. “We think you’re cute,” one of the guys says and Simon has to step in. “I loved everything about this audition,” Simon says. And Simon takes extra time to mock Vincent Thomas. “I predict big things for you going forward,” Simon adds, before the four “Yes” votes come in.
9:15 p.m. I take it back. There’s a “Coming up on ‘X Factor'” package, albeit without any voiceover.
9:19 p.m. Britney and Demi chat in the Green Room about how hard it is to say “No.”
9:20 p.m. Gravel-voiced Don Philip is a vocal coach from the Bronx. Hmmm… 10 years ago he did a duet with Britney Spears, but he wasn’t ready for the “fame.” He’s been concentrating on writing and producing since then. This is his last chance. Oy. Is Britney going to recognize him? Or is this going to be a Christina Aguilera/Tony Lucca situation? “Oh my gosh,” Britney says. She does, indeed, know that she’s supposed to know him. “Oh my God,” Britney says. “I used to record with him a long, long time ago,” she says. Asked what’s happened to him in the past 10 years, Don goes red and cries and says that he didn’t think he was worthy but, “This time I want my shot.” I’m disturbed by what we’re not saying about what happened to Don 10 years ago. Weird. Don’s singing voice sounds absolutely nothing like his speaking voice. That doesn’t mean it’s good. He slurs and whispers all of his words and it’s a little concerning to watch him. I need more details on what happened to him and what’s wrong with him. “The problem you have, Don, you don’t have a good singing vote,” Simon says. Don asks Britney for her opinion. Britney says that his voice isn’t up to the standards of what they want. She’s actually really supportive and honest in her answer. The judges all vote “No” and this is actually worse than Christina/Tony Lucca, because Britney had to break this guy’s heart. “I saw her face and I feel like I hurt her,” Don says backstage, doubled over. “I never meant to hurt Britney,” he says. Simon tries to reassure Britney that she did the right thing.
9:30 p.m. I’m trying to think if I appreciate “X Factor” more or less for that Don Philip segment. Because that was sure depressing. But it was also honest. Except for all of the ways in which it wasn’t honest. If you Google “Don Philip,” you’ll read the stuff “X Factor” didn’t show.
9:30 p.m. Off to Providence, Rhode Island. Jennel Garcia, an 18-year-old student, isn’t sure if she wants to meet Britney or Demi more. She comes from a small town, her dad designs race cars and she’s astoundingly bubbly. And then she starts performing and she’s a wee lioness. She’s probably the best singer we’ve seen tonight and she’s a natural performer, even if she’s a pole away from doing something a bit disturbing up there. She’s just an example of an performer you can easily imagine a career arc for. And we haven’t had that kind of singer tonight since Paige at the top of the show, probably. “I am so feeling you,” L.A. Reid says. “I was not expecting that. That was absolutely incredible,” says Britney. Demi wrote down “hot” in her notes. “You are on the money,” Simon says, comparing her to a young Pat Benatar. All “Yes” votes. “I didn’t expect them to like me that much,” Jennel says.
9:42 p.m. Montage of bad people. Simon tells one 14-year-old contestant to buy a puppy so that it can be a happy day for himself.
9:43 p.m. On a potentially better note, let’s meet 19-year-old Jillian Jensen. She’s also from Rochester, MA. She’s a “kinda” a Demi Lovato fan. They both have “Stay Strong” tattoos. And they were also both bullied in middle school and high school. Sniffle. [Wasn’t Jennel also from Rochester? I hope she wasn’t mean to Jillian.] As Jillian shares her experiences with the people who were mean to her, the editors cut to Queen B-style “pretty girls” at the auditions putting on their makeup, which is a bit disingenuous and cruel to those girls, given that *they* haven’t met Jillian or bullied her. I’m not sure why it was acceptable to use them as proxies for mean girls. “We’re both up here, the bullies who bullied us are at home watching TV,” Demi says. Sniffle. We wouldn’t be doing this if Jillian weren’t good. “You can feel that pain,” Demi whispers as Jillian sings, all emotion. People in the crowd are waving their hands in heart-signs. Sniffle. Close-up on Demi. Close-up on Jillian’s proud and overwhelmed mother. Close-up on a tear falling down Demi’s cheek. Manipulative? Yup. Effective? Yup. Standing ovation from the crowd. Standing ovation in the contestants’ room. Sniffle. Demi goes up on stage and gives Jillian a hug. Sniffle. L.A. says he’s never heard anybody pour their pain and experiences into a song like that. “I really don’t think you should be crying right now. You’re so amazing,” Britney says, calling her voice “raspy” and “sexy.” Simon calls it “incredible” and you can tell that he’s trying to keep his composure. “I cannot believe how amazing that just was,” Demi says. “Yes” votes all around.
9:53 p.m. Yup. That segment pretty much validated the selection of Demi Lovato as “X Factor” judge 100 percent.
9:55 p.m. Between segments, Simon tells Diminutive FOX Reality Guru Mike Darnell that he lost it. “Oh, you have a heart,” Demi tells him.
9:55 p.m. Wow. I wouldn’t have guessed they’d be able to milk that segment to end the show.
So? What do you think of the new “X Factor”? Did you like Britney and Demi? Did you like the absence of host? Did you like any of the singers?