After months worth of hype and countless reports of behind-the-scenes drama, Fox finally debuted the American version of the hit international show The X Factor last night. Despite endless amounts of promotion of the debut, which featured the much anticipated reunion of Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, the show started off modestly in the ratings. 12.1 million viewers tuned in last night, which is a far cry from American Idol‘s 2011 premiere numbers (21.6MM viewers). Simon has stated all along that his primary goal for the show is for it to beat American Idol and, well, it just might end up doing that over time. It certainly worked very hard last night to differentiate itself from the 800 lb. gorilla of the reality singing competition genre. Here are the Five Ways That Make X-Factor Better Than American Idol:
1) Simon Vs. L.A. Reid Is The New Simon Vs. Paula
With its original, three-person panel of judges, American Idol got a lot of mileage from—and won themselves a lot of fans by—focusing on the tense relationship between Simon and Paula. Like many great television couples of the past, the two bickered constantly, but over time, their relationship evolved from an antagonistic one into a more of a brother/sister dynamic. However, now that Simon has got a true titan of the music industry like L.A. Reid sitting opposite him at the judge’s table, there are bound to be some testosterone-laden, mano y mano flareups. Last night’s ep featured one such moment, where the two went toe-to-toe over a young black woman named Simone Battle who had the body of a Pussycat Doll and, well, the voice of a Pussycat Doll (which is to say, not much of a voice at all). Simon thought she had the talent (meaning: body) to become a “star,” while L.A. Reid—who famously told P!nk, “You’ll be a pop star, All you have to change is everything you are”—didn’t think she had the pipes to move along in the competition. Simon came out on top of that battle, but who will win the war?
2) X-Factor Is Not Afraid To “Go There”
The opening moments of the program last night featured 13-year-old (more on that in a bit) Rachel Crow singing “Mercy” by Duffy. “What’s wrong with that?”, you ask. Well, not to sound like an uptight prude or anything, but it was a little off-putting for this viewer to see a teenager (just barely one, at that!) singing lines like “My morals got me on my knees” on national television. Then there was the whole Geo Godley incident, where an old, overweight “Internet blogger” dropped his drawers, nauseatingly exposing his wang to a crowd of thousands. It got so bad that Paula had to leave the dais to go puke backstage. And let’s not forget it only took the show 19 minutes to make a joke about how black guys have huge, um, packages. If American Idol is wholesome, PG-rated fun for the whole family, The X Factor is definitely more of a PG-13 affair.
3) Youngsters AND Oldsters Alike Are Welcome On X-Factor
The age range of competitors on American Idol goes from 16 to 28, but on The X Factor, they have dipped the minimum age to 13 and eliminated the high-end altogether. This resulted in not only last night’s inappropriate Rachel Crow moment, but also for the judges to sink their razor-sharp fangs into a couple of geriatric Marty and Elayne clones named Dan and Venita from some podunk town outside of Las Vegas. It seemed particularly cruel to wheel a couple of senior citizens out on stage solely to gawk at them, but then again, what else have we come to expect from the Fox network? Schadenfraude enthusiasts, this one’s for you.
4) The X-Factor Is About Performing, Not Just Singing
The early stages of the American Idol tryout process is, of course, full of trainwreck personalities (William Hung, anyone?) looking to grab a hold of their 15 minutes of fame. In contrast, the first episode of The X Factor largely focused its narrative on presenting redemptive storylines (a 42 year-old single mom looking to finally do something for herself, a recovering meth addict looking to stay clean), but the previews for tonight’s episode promise more chances for Simon to tear down delusional contestants. However, the main difference between the shows in this particular stage of the competition is that, on the X-Factor, there IS a stage, literally, where performers try not only to win over the judges, but also a crowd of bloodthirsty thousands. As a result, contestants are not being judged solely on the quality of their voice, but on how they PERFORM the material (see Siameze Floyd, the love child of Prince and Antoine Dodson). Multiple shots of faceless behind-the-scenes music directors were on display, cameras trained on their knobby fingers, displaying all the while that old fashion values like “musicianship” hardly matter in this era of ProTools. It’s a somewhat cynical perspective, but we definitely appreciate their honesty.
5) Pepsi: It’s The Choice Of A New Generation!
Coca-Cola got an early jump on its flavored carbonated water producing rival by sponsoring the very first season of American Idol, and sticking with it all these years. However, this time around, all of the judges drink Pepsi. The most hilarious (and evil genius-y) thing about all this is that Fox, which broadcasts both of these shows, discovered a way to get their grubby paws on a massive chunk of BOTH of these multinational conglomerates’ marketing budgets. Product placement fetishists, rejoice!
PostScript: We’re gonna miss you and your luxurious hair, Cheryl Cole. Don’t change!