Fox’s highly touted “The X Factor” premiered Wednesday, and as of press time, it had failed to alter the course of human history. This is somewhat surprising, considering “The X Factor” has been perceived as a potential reality TV game changer since Simon Cowell left “American Idol” after nine hugely successful seasons to bring his British export to these shores.
First impressions on “The X Factor”: It’s a lot like “American Idol,” with pieces of “America’s Got Talent” and “The Voice” thrown in for good measure. This isn’t entirely fair to “X Factor,” since NBC’s “The Voice” lifted its teams concept before “X Factor” had a chance to debut over here, but the fact remains that the premise is far from revolutionary. That, and no show wants to be compared to “America’s Got Talent.”
The differences between “X” and “Idol,” in a nutshell: The talent field is wider, with contestants aged 13 and up allowed to compete; the prize is bigger, with a $5 million recording contract (and a Pepsi commercial during the Super Bowl!) going to the winner; and the latter rounds are bound to be more convoluted, with contestants divided into “Boys,” “Girls,” “Over 30s” and “Groups” fields. Already the simplicity of “Idol” is starting to sound sweet.
The draw is of course Cowell, the king of reality TV straight shooters, and the reason why so many judges on reality competitions these days A) have accents and B) are always yelling at contestants. “X Factor” reunites him with his “Idol” punching bag Paula Abdul, and also teams him with record exec Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger. Cheryl Cole, a pop star in the U.K., appeared on Wednesday’s premiere but didn’t last long; seemingly deemed too British for American audiences, she was handily dismissed and replaced by Scherzinger. Too bad, Cole was an interesting presence, and her thick accent recalled that of Sporty Spice, something not enough accents do these days.
“X Factor” also seems to be going for a warm and fuzzy vibe, which was established early when the judges heaped praise on a cute 13-year-old who mimed her way through Duffy’s “Mercy.” Paula told her, “you did exactly what we need people to do on this stage,” when the better thing to say would have been, “you are exactly why we don’t allow 13-year-olds in this competition.”
It’s way too early to judge the talent on the show; I don’t like picking my favorites on “Idol” until well into the finals rounds. But if there’s anything that stood out about Wednesday’s show, it’s how little it stood out. Of all things, “X Factor” seems to be lacking an X factor.