Last week, the trainwreck that has become The X Factor went off the rails completely. In what was billed as Rock Week, less than half of the contestants performed what can be considered actual "rock" songs. In-fighting between the judges, including many contradictory statements, topped off what ended up being the most ridiculous two-night affair thus far for the reality competition initially poised to overtake juggernaut American Idol in the ratings.
Let's wind the clocks back two years. In his ninth and final season as judge on Idol, Simon Cowell announced his departure from the series, intending to re-create his The X Factor for an American audience on FOX. What was left in his wake on Idol were two more departing judges (Kara DioGuardi and newcomer Ellen DeGeneres) and increasing talks of an eventual demise for the ratings giant. Veterans Ryan Seacrest (host) and Randy Jackson (judge) remained with Idol in its tenth season as producers scrambled to replace two seats on the judging panel, not the least of which Simon Cowell's. It's been an unspoken feeling that Simon's razor-sharp insults were a huge reason for Idol's nine seasons of continued success.
Eventually, as Cowell prepared his American remake of The X Factor, Idol filled the seats with international superstar Jennifer Lopez and Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler. What many felt would be the final nail in the American Idol coffin ended up providing one of the show's strongest years ever. Despite softer-than-usual reviews week-after-week, the judges displayed solid chemistry, while the singing talent was as solid as ever. Personal favorite Haley Reinhart may have only notched third place, however I won't deny the country talents of runner-up Lauren Alaina and winner Scotty McCreery. Who eventually has the strongest career remains to be seen.
The real story as American Idol ended was The X Factor. Plagued immediately with controversy (judge Cheryl Cole got the boot in favor of supposed co-host Nicole Scherzinger), the competition was poised to replace American Idol (another unspoken feeling) and ended up becoming its own disaster. Not helping matters much was the debut of NBC's own take on the singing genre, The Voice, featuring a unique gimmick of judges (Blake Shelton, Cee-Lo Green, Adam Levine, Christina Aguilera) remaining in turned-around chairs during auditions until the aspiring singers delivered their first note, at which point they'd decide to turn around in support of the act or remain in their blinded state. If that wasn't enough, the competition also divided contestants into four groups, one with each judge, a similar approach provided by The X Factor. Instead of an original idea, The X Factor looked like more of a copycat than anything else, despite originating the idea in Britain.
Leading up to its debut, Simon Cowell made a point of announcing that should the premiere of the series fall below 20 million viewers, it will be considered a failure. Cowell was forced to eat his own words and backpedal for all he was worth when the opening night numbers failed to score better than 12.5 million, a far cry from his self-imposed 20 million benchmark. He admitted his disappointment but conceited that the series would liven up during the live shows. Four weeks in to the live performances, and those numbers have yet to exceed the premiere ratings.
The remaining talent has proven to be erratic at best. To make matters worse, judge favorite Astro (a 15-year-old rapper) landed in the bottom two last week. His performances have been decent as far as rapping goes, yet his unbelievably bad attitude and arrogance can't quite back it up. He acts as though he's already Jay-Z or Kanye. Upon landing in the bottom two, the performers must "sing for their lives" delivering one final song to sway the judges (who get the last say on who goes) in their favor. Before performing, Astro took it upon himself to refuse performing until his mentor, L.A. Reid, gave him the go-ahead on what he felt to be a pointless obstacle in his way of moving forward. Once the song ended, he let it be known his feelings that if the audience didn't want him there, he didn't want to be there. At 15, he showed his age and hardly ingratiated himself to anyone, especially head judge Cowell, who had felt strongly towards voting off the young talent.
Perhaps the blame should be laid at the feet of the judges. Repeatedly, they have shown to have little criticism for any of the contestants, and certainly not the constructive criticism these people need to even think about succeeding in the music business. It all came to a head last week when judges criticized each other for choosing songs not necessarily known for being "rock" (for Rock Week), while each and every judge allowed at least one of their contestants to sing non-rock songs. It's the kind of hypocritical in-fighting that has made the show insufferable. Give me Steven Tyler's inanities any day of the week.
On top of that, the "judges" are a bust. L.A. Reid, clearly a smart man with a lot of knowledge in this business, is more concerned with his own image than actually shaping a young star for the future of the music business. Nicole Scherzinger literally acts like Maya Rudolph playing Oprah on SNL. She has all the movements, all the poise, all the grace of a seasoned musician with decades of success and endless knowledge... except she came from The Pussycat Dolls. And she started on Popstars, one of the original singing competitions. Paula Abdul is exactly what we don't want: not Paula Abdul. She actually has decent remarks and isn't full of the ridiculously useless "You're good at what you do" and "It wasn't your best, but I love you anyway" comments. And Simon continues to serve himself and himself only. And maybe that's not a bad thing. He wants one of his Girls to win and he wants them to do well. He's the only one in it to succeed. After all, it is his show.
Admittedly, Cowell has the best talent in the competition in Drew Ryniewicz, Melanie Amaro and Rachel Crow. However he didn't get to this set of contestants on his own. During the week in which the judges would choose their set of four contestants, he chose physical attraction to contestants Simone Battle and Tiah Tolliver over actual talent. He actually voted against Melanie Amaro being in his top four. Amaro has a strong shot at winning the $5 million grand prize and yet her mentor left her in the cold until the other judges asked how he could let her go and keep the less-talented Simone and Tolliver. Realizing his mistake, he twisted the rules for himself and allowed five girls to go into the top 16.
I write all this as though it makes a difference. The show has been renewed for a second season already, which means the producers won't have to sweat it out for a few weeks, deciding what should stay and what should go for a potential second season. It's a done deal. They've been rewarded for producing a substandard competition series. The judges will return next year, the grouping will return as is and the theme weeks will inexplicably return, even though if you're a country artist, you won't do hip-hop, just as if you're a rapper, you won't do rock. Or country. Or anything that isn't essentially spoken word.
The X Factor was meant to be the next big thing on television, taking the throne away from American Idol and re-establishing Simon Cowell's image on American TV. Controversy, poor judging and a lackluster host have contributed to a disastrous first run for the competition program. One can hope some serious tweaking and re-tooling will take place in Season 2 next fall, but one can seriously doubt that will happen too.
-Katy Perry is set to host Saturday Night Live in December for her first time. Expect plenty of jokes involving her cleavage.
-NBC has ordered a full first season of Friday fantasy drama Grimm. If only they had such success on the rest of their schedule. If 5 million viewers is considered a success.
-Plans for an online revival for daytime soaps One Life to Live and All My Children have been indefinitely scrapped. Online programming will be a much bigger force in the next few years, but I don't think daytime soaps for your grandmother will succeed on the internet. Sometimes, you have to let go, even after decades of "your stories".
Another column down, folks. Thank you again, sincerely, for reading any or all of this column. If you're a fan of The X Factor as I am (I know it seems I'm not, but I really am), I hope you enjoyed it. If not, there's always next week. I'll be back with a look at January's Golden Globes and which new programs I think will make their presence known at the telecast. Until then, stay tuned.