Press tour live-blog: FOX’s ‘The X Factor’

Senior Television Writer
08.05.11 3 Comments


FOX’s ratings this fall are going to depend almost entirely on the performance of a single show: “The X Factor,” the Simon Cowell-produced singing competition that is not in any way like “American Idol” except in the ways that it is. I’m already sick of the promotion for this show, but I’m fascinated to see if it can succeed in a world where “Idol” exists (as opposed to the U.K., where “Pop Idol” ended as “X Factor” was beginning), where NBC has already had success with the “X Factor”-ish “The Voice,” etc. So I’ll be live-blogging this session as it goes along, to see just how confident Cowell, Paula Abdul, FOX reality czar Mike Darnell and the rest of the panel come across while they have to talk about “The Voice,” the awkward departure of judge Cheryl Cole, and more.

10:37: Simon is appearing via satellite for a 15-minute solo Q&A, followed by the entire panel appearing. FOX PR is smart. They know Simon will consume most of the oxygen in the room.

10:39: How would Simon say this show is different than “Idol,” and will its ratings be better? “I wouldn’t have made the show unless I thought it would be different,” he insists. He and FOX felt the show wasn’t ready last year. “We see this as a game-changer. WE’re going to try and change the rules, try and find a completely different kind of contestant.” The usual spiel about looking for “star quality.” Because he’s worked on “Idol” and “X Factor” for seven years, he’s viewed them as “totally different,” says their style is that “we show everything.” On the question of ratings, Simon says he wouldn’t do anything to “go for the silver medal.”

10:41: I ask Cowell about “X Factor” and “Idol” co-existing in America. “I see it in the same way as movies. In one year you can have 10 great movies, and in a certain year you don’t… There are a lot of dramas that exist over a 12-month period. The idea that there was only going to be one singing competition in America is crazy.” Says “The Voice” “did a good job,” likes that they’ll be on in a time of year where there aren’t other singing shows. “It’s 10 years since we did this, it’s a new decade, we have to find a new audience.”

“Did she call me a puppet-master?” -Simon in response to question about Cheryl Cole. He says they’ve produced the show in a lot of countries, it’s been a big show in the UK for a while, says many people made the decision. He felt Cheryl would be more comfortable doing the UK show than the American show, he offered her a chance to return to the UK show, then offered her a chance to return to America… “I guess that’s what happens when you make reality TV. Real things go their own way. You don’t always win.”

: “If it was a question of not getting on with Paula, then I wouldn’t be on the show.” He insists that he thought Cheryl returning to the UK would be a big headline and good for that version of the show, and for her. “When you have to make decisions as a producer, you have to make hard decisions, public decisions.” He still hasn’t commented at all on her brief performance on the American show.

10:46: Asked about comparisons to “The Voice,” he notes the UK “X Factor” was on first with that format. “I think when you watch the show, how we work with the contestants, how that is shown on the show, who you end up working with, it is very different to ‘The Voice.'”

Simon is asked about the warm-and-cuddly vibe of the J-Lo/Tyler/Randy “Idol” judging panel. “We didn’t go in intending to be mean,” he says. “It’s just in us.” They didn’t want to make a deliberate warm/cold contrast with “Idol.”

10:48: The American version hasn’t been changed much from the way the show works in other countries. Darnell pushed to lower the age limit to 12, and Simon says “he was right to do it.” They’ll also be doing a two and a half hour live show, which they haven’t done elsewhere. “We change our mind, week to week sometimes, based on what’s right for the audience.”

10:49: Does Simon have any early favorites yet? “In my opinion, out of the four categories… I could argue the case for 5, 6, 7 people who could win this show,” he says. Keeps hyping up the judge/mentor panel’s ability to help produce great performances “like you’ve never seen before on TV.”

10:51: Does Simon still feel that the American public is never wrong, given how often the runner-up has outsold the “Idol” winner? “If I didn’t trust the public, then we wouldn’t have the audience vote in.” Says you have to be careful what kind of contestants you put in, wants it to be “a talent competition, not a popularity competition.” He still thinks audience will get it right.

10:53: Simon implies that on some other singing shows, the producers try too hard to tell the audience who to like and who not to like. With “X Factor,” he wants the audience to make up their minds.

10:54: Given the age range, will he be kinder to the younger kids? He says it’s the opposite: “The 14 year-olds are quite lippy to me.”

10:55: “X Factor” host Steve Jones comes out on stage to interrupt Simon’s latest answer and introduce the rest of the panel. One critic can be overheard on microphone muttering, “We don’t like this man.”

10:56: As the producers and other judges are brought out, Fienberg suggests to me that we continue to only ask questions of Simon. A fine idea, but alas, the very next question is for Darnell and what he told Simon about making the show more American. “I’m not a believer in Americanizing these television shows,” Darnell says. “If they work in the UK, they’re gonna work here.”

10:58: L.A. Reid explaining how the “$5 million recording contract” prize will be broken down, given that there are recording costs, promotional costs, etc. Simon interrupts to explain that the winner is guaranteed $5 million in cash.

10:59: What would Paula like to say about her reunion with Simon so far? “It’s nice to be back in a demented relationship. It’s… like home.” Simon says “It’s more like ‘The Exorcist 2.'”

11:00: Which does Simon find more rewarding: producing this show, or being a mentor? He again insists they can make a star. “A TV show is one thing, but this is more about televising the process than trying to make a format. Unless you have stars on these shows, we won’t have a show.” Reid says “we have many who qualify,” sounding very much like Randy Jackson talking every year about how they have the most talent ever.

11:01: How does Paula feel this is different from “Idol”? She also raves about the talent, the scale, blah blah. Lather, rinse, repeat. “Simon is a completely different species on this show,” she says. “He’s turning into me.”

11:04: Transition! We go from Paula’s pussycat answer to a question of the former Pussycat Doll. Scherzinger asked about transitioning from co-host to judge after Cole was fired. She says she can empathize with the contestants because she comes from the same place, having been a contestant on the WB’s “Idol” rip-off “Popstars.”

11:07: Scherzinger asked about transitioning from co-host to judge after Cole was fired. Simon attempting to banter with her, but the satellite uplink delay is foiling him. Scherzinger says “I cried for days” after she was offered the judge position, she was so happy. “And Simon, you can’t get rid of me,” she adds, smiling.

11:08: A judge witnessed auditions in Florida where the judges got along super-well. Did the friction come later? Paula says they have a great working situation, and all respect each other. “It feels really good, it feels completely different, but we do get on each other’s nerves sometimes.” Scherzinger drops a Sonny and Cher reference to Simon and Paula.

11:09: Scherzinger asked about leaving “The Sing-Off” to do this show. “They’re two different animals and two different beasts,” she says, making yet another animal metaphor. Simon tries to make another joke at her expense, and once again the timing of the satellite feed kills it.

11:10: Uh-oh. The satellite link just went out altogether. Bye, Simon!

11:11: Now we’ll see if Darnell can clarify differences between “Idol” and “X Factor.” He cites the age differences, groups, mentoring, live auditions, “But there’s a little bit you can’t express – a little pixie dust.” He says the show is more performance-oriented, more variety-driven. “There’s a lot you can talk about, but honestly, when you watch it, it feels very different.”

11:15: Simon is back! And just in time to be asked about how they feel about contestants with prior recording experience, as compared to “The Voice” winner Javier Colon. “Who won ‘The Voice’?” Simon asks, seemingly genuine. Simon says, “As Paula will know, I’m all for giving people comebacks… Everybody deserves a third chance.” Even Paula has to laugh at that one. Simon says the lack of an age limit is “all about giving somebody a shot,” even somebody who had a record contract and it didn’t work out.

11:17: Simon hyping up that the winner not only gets 5 million bucks, but a Super Bowl commercial sponsored by Pepsi.

11:19: Will this be a different Paula in any way? Paula says it’s been three years since she and Simon sat next to each other. “I sit a bit differently, and that’s all that’ll be different.” Says she doesn’t think about what she’ll do in advance. Sounds about right, based on her years on “Idol.”

And that’s all, folks. If the goal was to convince us of the magical chemistry among the judges, the panel failed. Nicole seemed to be in a daze, L.A. Reid was subdued, and Simon was too far removed in time and space to successfully interact with any of them.

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