Some time in recent days and weeks, Simon Cowell realized that The X Factor wasn't shaping up to be the singing competition to end all singing competitions. The money was there, as was the support from Fox, but with little more than 12 million viewers tuning in to see who would win a $5 million windfall, it became clear something hadn't clicked with America.
And so on Monday, we learned that he had cleaned house: Gone are stiff host Steve Jones and simpering, whimpering judges Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul. Reports that Cowell was looking for more star power next season quickly followed. Mariah Carey's name has already been bandied about as the kind of A-list celebrity he wants, and she was even supposed to serve as Simon's right hand during the at-home coaching sessions (but that plan was derailed by Hurricane Irene).
But is she enough? Is she even the right Hail Mary play? The truth is The X Factor has strong elements going for it, boasting auditions in front of a live crowd, Simon's bitter tongue and the most diverse lineup of contestants of any of the broadcast talent shows.
Now if only it could rid itself of any remaining similarity to American Idol. Some ideas:
Hire a woman with attitude. It's sad to see Paula get the boot (not so much the breathy, grating, multi-accented Nicole). After so many years, she remains a kooky, fun-to-watch TV wonder. But she's a jumbo-sized reminder of what Idol was (and still is, what with J.Lo attempting to prop up every contestant as the next Celine Dion). The Voice's Christina Aguilera was a refreshing break from endless cheerleading and tears. How about a female judge who isn't there to be the nurturing one? How about, dare we suggest, someone with attitude. Maybe not Chelsea Handler exactly, but someone with equal bite.
End the fake feuds! For whatever terrible reason, Simon and Ryan's forced back and forth of fake put-downs became a hallmark of Idol. Who would crack the "better" homophobic joke this week? The point being, why continue an awful tradition? Do Simon and L.A. Reid need to be pretend-warring? Sure, on The X Factor the judges are in competition with one another, but unless Simon starts hiring hit men to take out LA's acts, let's not overblow the dueling critiques.
Rethink theme weeks. Again, so the show bears as little resemblance to Idol as possible, why not do something entirely different? Somehow, The Voice avoids it altogether between the battle rounds and the final weeks where the coaches hand-pick whatever song they feel is best. Since the judges on X Factor already get to choose the songs, why confine them to a musical genre or artist at all? Should an aspiring rocker really have to sing a Michael Jackson song, i.e. did being forced to sing "Dirty Diana" do Josh any favors? Exactly. We think it's enough to have the judges choose songs that let the contestants do their thing, and give the audience a sample of what future singles would sound like. Let Idol be the show to force country singers to do Broadway.
Nix that long-ass judges introduction. No more Carmina Burana. No more shots of them with the private jet, the Hummer, the limousine... It's fine to be the most blinged-out music show in the country, with the splashy set pieces and background dancers, but maybe less self-congratulatory back-patting from the judges for now. (That can come back when the show beats Idol in the ratings).
Or, go nuts with a less-is-more approach! Whether or not it does so successfully, Idol attempts to "put on a show" every week with "surprise" gospel choirs and firey screensaver-like backdrops. An alternate strategy might be to not suit up the contestants as if they were already stars on a world tour. Let the acts instead perform as they think is best (it's doubtful that Astro ever thought he needed dancers to do the MC thing.) The judges can be there to guide them, not to dream up elaborate music video-style productions.
Get a host with the most. For us, Survivor's Jeff Probst is the ultimate model host. He knows how to navigate the tough questions and appropriately console the eliminated. There's also So You Think You Can Dance's Cat Deeley and Top Chef's Padma Lakmshi, women who can have a conversation with anyone about anything and not have it be awkward (ahem, Seacrest's assault on Didi Benami). Replace Jones with someone warm and affable. Simple.
What do you think? Should X Factor changes its ways? Are there other things you hope are different next season?