The X Factor arrived on Fox Wednesday night like a bumblebee alighting on a pussy willow.
The bumblebee was the size of a food truck.
The much-hyped, heavily anticipated singing competition, which first began in England, was exactly what the previews indicated it would be and what Simon Cowell intended it to be: a show to out-idol American Idol, out-voice The Voice and outdo any other conceivable reality show. Cowell doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel here: Just ramp things up.
The two-hour premiere, a night of auditions, looked expensive – you could have fit the home tree from Avatar on the blue-lighted Los Angeles stage – with the ultimate prize of a $5 million contract for the winner, either solo singer or group, age 12 and up.
It was fun, with a few genuinely inspiring moments – a 42-year-old stay-at-home mom named Stacy Francis sang a very fine “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” It was also predictable. The only surprise to me was that host Steve Jones suggested a very happy Rupert Everett.
Cowell a Master Showman
The show started with a sassy, bouncy version of Duffy’s “Release Me” by Rachel Crow, a 13-year-old who was almost explosively cute (and already has her own IMDB.com listing – she appeared in an episode of Nickelodeon’s BrainSurge). This was followed by the now-traditional mix of outstanding, moving, promising and ridiculous performers, intercut with shots of the judges looking ecstatic or horrified.
Cowell is a master showman and long ago perfected his performance as himself – somewhere between the Phantom of the Opera dreaming of the perfect voice and a Roman emperor bored at the orgy. I’m always glad to see him sitting in judgment.
And Paula Abdul, who is holly to his ivy or thorn in his side, still specializes in shimmering globs of praise. Perhaps there’ll be enjoyable tensions or spats among the judges – Jones hinted that a rivalry was developing between Cowell and super-producer L.A. Reid. Well, get on with it, then.
(Fourth judge Cheryl Cole, who had judged on the British X Factor and spoke with a lovely accent in the first hour, was gone in the second half. She was replaced by singer Nicole Scherzinger, who could be described as Kardashinian.)
If there was nothing novel in this opening night of X Factor – it had no distinctive X other than its insistence on rendering every moment in capital letters – that may emerge as contestants are winnowed down and sent off to a “boot camp,” then regrouped into four categories and mentored by the judges.
Will the winner become a true star? Who can guess? The only reality singer who’s ever registered with me is that refracted moonbeam Susan Boyle. But if the show operates as it should – and you can bet it will – the suspense and momentum will build and grow along the way to the December finale.
And after that comes American Idol.