‘X Fac­tor’ fights ‘Idol’ com­par­isons

TV Week - - FRONT PAGE - BY JACQUELINE CUT­LER

The sea­son’s most hyped show, “The X Fac­tor,” asks the $5 mil­lion ques­tion: Who has the X Fac­tor, and what, ex­actly, is it?

Si­mon Cow­ell, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of the singing con­test, a U.K phe­nom­e­non, re­turns as a judge with former “Amer­i­can Idol” col­league Paula Ab­dul, record ex­ec­u­tive L.A. Reid and per­former Ni­cole Scherzinger. The show is Fox’s prime time for Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day, Sept. 21 and 22, and con­tin­ues on both nights un­til its Dec. 22 fi­nale.

Given that it is a Fox tal­ent show for singers, with Cow­ell and Ab­dul judg­ing, com­par­isons to “Amer­i­can Idol” are in­evitable. “It is dif­fer­ent,” Cow­ell says. “I was al­ways work­ing on both shows, and ‘Idol’ is a pussy­cat and this show is a tiger. Both are cats and one is cra­zier than the other. This is much more a re­flec­tion of my per­son­al­ity than the other show. In­stead of au­di­tions in a ho­tel room, these are in front of 5,000 peo­ple.”

Not that a pro­ducer would de­flect buzz, but Cow­ell ac­knowl­edges this show has at­tracted more at­ten­tion than would be ex­pected of his re­union with Ab­dul.

“I think part of the rea­son is we have had so many peo­ple come to the au­di­tions,” Cow­ell says. “We must have had 70,000 peo­ple. And they all Twit­ter now, and they started the buzz. It is a good show.”

Singers vie to win TV’s largest prize ever: a $5 mil­lion Syco Sony record con­tract. The win­ner will also be fea­tured in a Su­per Bowl com­mer­cial for Pepsi, a show spon­sor. Af­ter two weeks of au­di­tion shows, con­tes­tants hone skills in boot camp.

The 32 acts that sur­vive boot camp are then di­vided into four cat­e­gories: males 12 to 30, fe­males 12 to 30, ev­ery­one over 30, and singing groups. Each judge is as­signed a group and men­tors those singers. This be­comes a full-time ex­pe­ri­ence as they all live in the judges’ homes or a va­ca­tion home or an­other spot the judge chooses, says Ann-Marie Thom­son, head of me­dia for Cow­ell’s Syco En­ter­tain­ment.

Judges then halve the num­ber of con­tes­tants be­fore they de­but on the live show Nov. 2. Given the fe­roc­ity of the com­pe­ti­tion, Ab­dul sug­gests a sure-fire way for singers to stand out from the crowd.

“If you want to do re­ally well on ‘X Fac­tor,’ kiss Si­mon’s ass,” Ab­dul says, grin­ning. “His ego loves that. And the worst thing you can do is kiss Si­mon’s ass be­cause it an­noys me see­ing him gloat!” Ab­dul rocks a lacy white mini, a sil­ver belt and match­ing heels, purse and nails. She says she’s thrilled to work with Cow­ell again.

As be­fits Cow­ell’s arch hon­esty, he says, “She can be, at one point to­tally en­dear­ing, and within sec­onds the most an­noy­ing per­son in the world! I don’t know if she does it de­lib­er­ately. When we fall out, if one of us is re­sist­ing, it turns into a full-scale ar­gu­ment.”

If Cow­ell dis­misses some­one and Ab­dul cham­pi­ons them, view­ers can ex­pect a rea­soned busi­ness de­ci­sion from Reid, CEO of Sony’s Epic Group. Given that Reid was in­stru­men­tal in the ca­reers of Usher, Pink, Justin Bieber, Mariah Carey, Avril Lavigne, Ri­hanna and Kanye West, he re­lies on his gut.

“I don’t trust any­one else’s taste,” he says. “Would you let any­one dec­o­rate your home? It’s per­sonal. My choice has al­ways been to see tal­ent raw.”

As far as spot­ting who has the X Fac­tor, Reid says, “it’s a com­bi­na­tion of things that makes some­one. It’s mag­netism and per­son­al­ity. It’s in­ter­est­ing to see when some­one is too re­hearsed and too learned. That’s bor­ing.”

Au­di­tions, es­pe­cially when one’s fu­ture hangs on it, can­not be bor­ing. Of the judges, former Pussy­cat Doll Scherzinger knows that so well.

“It is the same au­di­tion process I got my start in with ‘Pop­stars’ and I just feel like I am still do­ing it,” she says. “I can em­pathize.”

She re­calls how ex­cited she was to guest host on the U.K. ver­sion, now in its eighth sea­son. Scherzinger has that naked am­bi­tion that Cow­ell seeks in a win­ner.

“I will find an op­por­tu­nity to be on the show,” she says. “I have my al­bum com­ing out. The main rea­son I am ex­cited is to give back in some way.”

Re­gard­less of coach­ing, even from Scherzinger (a win­ner of “Danc­ing with the Stars”) and Ab­dul (who has con­sis­tently rein­vented her­self as a dancer, singer and men­tor), what can’t be taught is the X Fac­tor. It’s what cat­a­pults some­one from anonymity to su­per­star­dom. The X Fac­tor seems elu­sive un­til that rare in­di­vid­ual has it and shines.

“Su­san Boyle, you could not de­scribe her as some­body hav­ing the X Fac­tor,” Cow­ell says, “be­cause of the way she han­dled the au­di­tion, she def­i­nitely had it. You have to have an open mind. Boy when they’ve got it they have got it. The au­di­ence gets it as well. And you feel it.”

“The X Fac­tor is some­thing you can’t quite ar­tic­u­late it,” Ab­dul says. “But it is a feel­ing and bear­ing wit­ness to some­thing that just hap­pened. When you see some­one that pos­sesses the X Fac­tor, you get goose­bumps. And you wit­ness some­thing that can be life-chang­ing, and you’re wit­ness­ing some­thing that just changes your life in a re­mark­able way.”

Si­mon Cow­ell is a judge on “The X Fac­tor,” pre­mier­ing Wed­nes­day on Fox.

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