We are two weeks into the live shows for The X Factor. I was a little behind because of Hurricane Sandy, but thanks to my DVR I was able to see the 16 finalists perform before this week's Wednesday episode. I'll be the first to admit that even though the show's second season has received an underwhelming reception so far, I have made it a point to watch -- although at times I found myself wondering why. Despite the cute and spunky Demi Lovato, and Britney Spears' animated and highly entertaining facial expressions at the judge's table, the audition episodes seemed poorly edited and chaotic, as they bounced back and forth to footage of the same cities week after week. I was hoping that things would be fine-tuned by the time the first go round of live performances aired last week. The show had all the elements for great TV -- slick production value, great staging and choreography, and even one of Khloe Kardashian's "high beams" made an appearance and was turned on for the entire episode (why her nipple didn't garner its own Twitter account after last week is beyond me). Yet after the first episode and subsequent elimination was all said and done, The X Factor simply failed to deliver.
In order to dissect what has gone wrong with this show, I think we have to go back to Simon Cowell's first year as a judge on American Idol. His acerbic, and at times dour, delivery made him an overnight sensation, and placed him on the country's pop culture radar. As much as we tuned in to see the talent on Idol, we also wanted to see how Simon would critique their performances and interact with Paula Abdul. His "tell-it-like-it-is" style was a hit with audiences and made for great television. Those days are long gone now that Simon is at the helm of The X Factor. The show has been a huge hit in the UK and several other countries. It's his brainchild, and in addition to being a judge, he is also a mentor. I believe because he has to wear so many hats, his demeanor has changed in front of the cameras. He is still curt and frank with his critiques, but I think he realizes the value of coming across as likable. Especially when you are the show's creator who is hoping for a long-term American commitment from both Fox and the viewing audience.
One big issue I have with the show is that I don't find myself rooting for any one contestant in particular. Last year, by the time The X Factor had completed the final auditions at the judges' homes, audiences had gotten to know the contestants and everyone had their favorites. Whether it was Rachel Crow, Chris Rene, Stacy Francis or season one winner Melanie Amaro, there was at least one who I hoped would win the grand prize. I'm not sure if this comes down to editing, or the interruption in the show's momentum due to Major League Baseball, but it's hard for me to care about who the winner will be at this point. Of course, part of my disinterest could also lie in the simple fact that I can't get worked up over the possibility of this season's potential megastar when we haven't heard much from the last one. Other than a Pepsi commercial, and an occasional TV advertisement for her debut single, where's Melanie Amaro?
Simon Cowell predicted massive ratings when he launched the USA version of The X Factor. He fell short of those expectations last year, and it looks like he will do so again this year. However, Fox must still believe in this show as it has already been renewed for a third season. The network obviously has a lot of faith in Cowell, but they are most likely going off his American Idol track record. Idol was at the top of the heap for many years in large part thanks to Simon Cowell, yet it was also the only show of its kind on the air. Thanks to the addition of The X Factor, as well as The Voice and a few other cheesy shows on other networks, there is an oversaturation of singing competitions on television. That probably won't help Simon in his quest for 20 million viewers.
Will The X Factor churn out a future pop star, or at least generate huge ratings somewhere down the road? In order for that to happen, I think Simon Cowell needs to get a better grasp on the American public. True, we have an undeniable fascination with the UK. This is evident by the way we have embraced certain musical acts, trends and public personalities from across the pond, Cowell included. However, we Americans are a fickle audience -- just as we giveth, we also taketh. It is extremely difficult to navigate a long-term career in this country's pop-culture climate. Even the Spice Girls fell out of our favor by the time the '90s were ending. Perhaps therein lies Simon's biggest miscalculation. He saw our love for him when he was a judge on American Idol, and mistook that for a green light to establish permanent residency without understanding us. There is no denying the man knows music, but as I watched him and L.A. Reid bicker over Paige Thomas's performance last week, L.A. hit the nail on the head as Simon raved about the song choice for Paige.
Reid simply stated, "It's a big UK hit... not in America."
Hopefully Simon paid attention and took the note.