The Reality TV Guru

The X Factor premiere recap, Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The X Factor judges: L. A. Reid, Nicole Scherzinger, Paula Abdul and Simon

Welcome to the premiere of The X Factor! Wow, we’re in for a treat. Simon teams up with Paula again in his new show, leaving American Idol for good and perhaps for the better. We shall see.

The show kicks off with a glimpse of the four judges: Simon, Paula, Cheryl (later replaced by Nicole) and L. A. Reid. After zipping through several major American cities, we hear Simon’s very first reposte to be aired this for this show in that unmistakably incisive British accent of his. “Shut. It. And start singing.” It’s just the beginning as a comment comes from each of the other three judges, ending with Paula’s statement, “You get that this is a five million dollar prize.” Then we get short clips of a few great auditions and some horrid ones, complete with some on-stage *bleeping*.

The show is on the road, literally, as a trio of X Factor semis roll across a desert highway. From the cab of the front semi, the show’s host, Steve Jones welcomes us to The X Factor. The auditions begin in Los Angeles, with 20,000 people lined up for a shot at getting a personal audience with the judges. At stake is a guaranteed $5 million contract with Sony.

We’re introduced to the judges, who each have a little blurb. Simon explains, “I walked away from the number one show in America to launch a brand new show. The whole thing’s a gamble, but that’s what makes it exciting.” Next is A. J. Reid, Grammy award winning songwriter, producer and record executive with some big names in his portfolio. The third judge is critically acclaimed British performer Cheryl Cole, who (if you’ve read the news about this show) was eventually replaced in May by Nicole Scherzinger in an unpopular move. Finally, we’re reintroduced to the one and only Paula Abdul, Simon’s long-time sidekick.

The competition is organized into four categories: Boys, Girls, Over 30’s and Groups. The judges will mentor one group each and “go into battle”. (Hey, they took a page from The Voice!) There will be live shows later in the season and we will be voting for the contestants in advance of the season finale just before Christmas. Ho, ho, ho! Who is Simon going to give coal in their stocking when the time comes?

But for now, they’re working together to find the stars amongst the many aspiring singers. The auditions are held in an arena in front of an audience of thousands of people. Unlike American Idol, this isn’t behind closed doors with friends and family hanging out in the room outside! In front of so many people, it’s certainly going to make any criticism from the judges that much more humiliating.

The screening process, winnowing out the hopeful wannabes from genuine talent, requires passing through three stages, each requiring a “Yes” to move to the next step. We’re introduced to 13-year old eighth-grader Rachel Crow. She’s directed to a very crowded holding room. She gets selected to go on stage, and her family get to be with her, after all. Mom advises her just to go out and have fun. Rachel steps out onto a large brightly lit arena stage and the first audition we see begins.

In a rare moment of levity with Paula draped over his shoulder, Simon jokes about whether there is any relationship between the judge Cheryl Crow and Rachel. Rachel says she’ll sing Murphy by Duffy and suddenly Simon gets serious and says, “Best of luck” as if this song is of a high level of difficulty.

Rachel does a few hip moves and dives right into the song, and the crowd cheers. She’s moving along quite nicely with the song, with a clear, melodic voice. The crowd joins in with her, clapping in time. Rachel gets better as she unwinds a bit mid-song. The crowd goes nuts! Paula begins, “What you just did is exactly what we need people to do on this stage… you blew us away.” Cheryl and A. J. lather on additional praise, with Simon concluding, “I think we’re going to be hearing a lot about you.”

One big change from American Idol is obvious — it’s the new generation Pepsi instead of Coke sitting on the judges’ table. And cue the primo commercial spot for, what else, Pepsi, with clips of Michael Jackson, Stevie wonder and other stars past and present. The motto: “where there’s pepsi, there’s music”. It’s all in small print, as if it were texted. It’s Sony Picture’s turn next, promoting another Adam Sandler slapstick comedy movie, Jack and Jill. Then it’s a Lady Gaga promotion for Google Chrome. My, how times are changing. Sort of, as the commercials run on and on for a bit. At least that part never changes.

Next up is Terrell Carter, 36, originally from Buffalo, New York, who sings an intro of Stevie Wonder’s Ribbon in the Sky. The crowd loves it. Cheryl says he “has the package” and the judges all say “yes”. Next is Ellona, 14. Short clip and four more “yes”. John Lindahl, 14, comes up and also gets four “yes”.

Then it’s Siameze, “I have the look. I have the attitude. I need a mike stand.” And he’s got a name, that’s for sure. He’s thinking girls are easy to get and he wants to market an energy drink called Simenergy. Si-men-ergy. It’d be tempting to say Sa-yo-na-ra about now, but that’s Simon’s privelege. On screen, Siameze Floyd, 30, is a hotel performer. Oh, dear, that’s one of Simon’s favorite put downs, “You sound like a hotel lounge singer.” Will it happen here? Siameze begins singing and then starts dancing frantically on stage, complete with leg splits. Eek, he’s doing it to the floor!

A. J. thankfully says no to Siameze because of lack of originality. Cheryl’s and Paula’s cups of Pepsi must be spiked with something, because they say “yes”. Simon, complimenting Siameze at first, changes his tack, “You are talented, but you are deluded.” Uh, oh, what’s next? “But I’m going to say yes.” Paula hasn’t changed a bit, but since when did Simon accept this nonsense? A. J. gives Simon a slightly dirty look, like “whut?” As Siameze exits, he takes the mike stand with him. It wouldn’t be altogether too surprising if he sleeps with it.

It’s day two at 3:15 a.m. and there’s already a crowd in line for the L.A. auditions. Next comes a back story about Dan, 70 and Venita, 83, from Pahrump, Nevada, married for two years. They go into the holding room, get hungry and find out that it’s $5 for a hot dog on site. Sorry, you two folks, the days of the 25-cent hot dog are long gone. They sing Unchained Melody. He starts singing, clearly off-key, but the judges are entranced by their heartwarming show with fingers touching. Ack, they’re both off-key as they go into a duet. Well, it’s a pleasant sight to see, even if it’s kind of rough on the ears. An entertaining and endearing audition, but they won’t be going any further.

We get some more clips of some off-the-wall (or was that on-the-wall?) auditions including a lady named Linda who get sent packing. Then we get someone like Miranda who thinks she can sing, but causes all of the judges to frown after the first note. Simon tells her she’s not a very good singer and she says he’s wrong. But he’s the one with the power to say no. He’s right.

We get more Pepsi promos with news that the winner will get to star in their own Pepsi commercials. That’s pop. And fizz.

Next up is Simone Battle, 21, from L.A. Asked if she’s a good singer, she says she’s fierce. Simon replies, “That’s annoying.” She sings When I Grow Up by the Pussycat Dolls. She’s trying pretty hard to please, with decent vocals and a bit of stage work. Afterward, Simon says she interests him. She gets positive reviews and then they ask her to sing another song as the decider. Those hot pants of hers are, shall we say, a bit distracting. L. A. didn’t really care for it, unexcited. Simon tries to talk him into giving her a try and L.A. doesn’t budge. Again, L. A. is overruled by Simon, with Paula casting the third deciding vote.

We get a few quick clips of some yes’s and no’s of various contestants, including some in ridiculous costumes. After the commercial break, we’re introduced to more contestants who say why they’d like to win.

Then comes a sad story about a mom, Stacy Francis, from Brooklyn, NY, 42 and with two young kids coming out of a bad relationship. She sings Natural Woman, well, like a natural woman. Her voice is pleasing to listen to, mature and fairly well polished. As she kicks into the song, the crowd cheers her on. She gets more and more into the song and the crowd loves it, causing Simon to smile wide. Standing ovation from the crowd, and all four judges, for that heart and soul. Stacy is so much in tears, it kinda makes you cry along with her. Simon says that was one of the best auditions he’s ever heard in his life. Here’s an early season favorite for the over 30’s, folks.

We move to Seattle for the second hour of the show. Next up is classically trained musician-singer Geo Godley. He sings Mister Stud and the judges sit with mouths gaping wide open. He drops his pants and there a big red X across the screen. A few fans leave the arena in disgust. Paula leaves the panel, about to barf. “What in the bloody hell was that?” Simon asks. The crowd jeers the guy while Paula disappears into the Women’s room. Paula eventually returns, pale faced. Here’s a big FAIL for the screeners. This piece didn’t even deserve the air time.

Next up is Marcus Canty, 20, a basketball player who aspires to earn a Grammy. He sings I Wish by Stevie Wonder. He starts off with a crisp rhythm and the crowd claps along with him. He dances along with the song and his vocals are pretty good as he captures the mood of the song. Some of the crowd get up and dance in the aisles along with him, Cheryl and Paula, too. Although his vocals weren’t extraordinary, he was on key and in rhythm and he was entertaining. L. A. compares him to Bobby Brown, Paula says he’s relevant and fresh, and Simon says he really likes him telling him “you are one to watch.”

Now we find out there’s been a change in the judging panel with Nicole Scherzinger replacing Cheryl Cole. And it’s also Nicole’s birthday. Next up is a group of three guys from Salt Lake City who call themselves “The Answer”. They sing a quick happy birthday ditty to Nicole. They sing Rolling in the Deep as a dancing trio, almost like you’d see on America’s Got Talent. “Oh, oh, oh, oh”, they’re entertaining. The crowd likes it and so do the judges. L. A. says yes and the rest of the panel follow suit, “yes, yes, yes”.

Next up is 23-year old Nici Collins, an event planner from Maryland. She’s way off-key, swinging her hips as she hits (or rather, misses) the notes. “I’m done,” she says. Yup, she sure is. Nicole doesn’t realize it, but as Simon put it, she has a horrible voice. Then a pair of ladies, mother and daughter, sing a Stevie Wonder medley poorly. Then it’s Darren Michaels, who doesn’t belong on stage with Simon calling it a “nightmare”. We get some more replays of Nici’s complaints about how they don’t recognize her musical talent. A large chorus group comes on and flubs it. Nici is still at it, having waited all day to confront the judges, and they turn around go the other way in a hurry!

The auditions are in “full flow” in Seattle with some yes’s and no’s. Next up is Chris Rene, 28, a trash hauler just out of addiction rehab, clean for 70 days, from Santa Cruz, with a two and a half-year old boy. He sings a song of his own, Young Homie. His voice and rhythm are in sync and he has a penchant for moving his hand around while he sings. It has a smooth hip-hop rhythm and feel to it and you can imagine a hearing song much like this on a hip-hop station on the airwaves or blaring out the windows of a chrome-wheeled, slick-tired retro car. Definitely original and fairly well executed, with quite a bit of vocal variety that hits the notes quite nicely. L. A. loves it, stands up and puts his hand to his chest. Nicole says she’s tripping on him. L. A. tells Chris that he is “the truth”. Simon says he has the feeling that he is sitting in his chair meeting a star for the first time. L. A. says yes, but tells him firmly to stay straight and Simon says no breaking that and says yes, too. So, this is the ending story for the night… a guy going from the gutter to a new level in life and song. Yup, yup.

Altogether, an interesting night. In some ways, it’s not that much different from American Idol, but removing the age and other restrictions allows for bringing in other talent that we would otherwise not see and listen to. Thumbs up. Good job, Simon.

Tomorrow night… a few clips of some good, some awful and a few scary judges’ comments. Stay tuned!

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