Did Simon Cowell's faith in his pop princesses pay off?
Britney Spears and Demi Lovato joined Cowell and L.A. Reid as the new judges on the much ballyhooed premiere of The X Factor Wednesday night. Their unique personalities, combined with a new documentary style of presentation, reinvigorated the singing-competition show in its second season. We break down how the ladies did:
The Look: No over-the-top cleavage or fascinator hats here (yeah, we're talking to you, Christina Aguilera). The 30-year-old keeps her image sexy but simple with short, glamorous dresses and loose hair. Considering we mainly see her from the waist up at the judges' table, it's a surprisingly subdued look for the pop star. And we imagine some young girls will run out to buy thick-rimmed glasses to copy her cerebral-chic look.
The Attitude: Early on, her body language — crossing her arms and chewing gum — makes it appear she was holding back a little. But she eventually gets into the groove and appears perkier and interested in engaging with the auditioners.
The Honesty: Wow, who would have thought that Cowell was right to dub her "The Queen of Mean"? She tells more than one hopeful that they need a new teacher, are singing off-key or that she just doesn't "get it." But even those dismissive comments are nothing compared to when she tells the creepy "Candy Girl" guy, "I feel uncomfortable with you even looking at me." She doesn't go to Cowell-esque lengths to insult someone, but somehow, her bluntness is far more effective.
The Heart: The flip side of that honesty is that Spears is genuinely complimentary when she likes someone. She tells Paige Thomas she's flawless, that Bieber-wannabe that he's "completely and utterly adorable" and Emblem3 that they are funky and have smooth voices. She even lets down her former duet partner Don Philip as respectfully as possible: "I feel that you've been through years of hardships and battles, but your voice isn't up to the bars and standards of what we want."
TVGuide.com's Judgment: No train wrecks here (yet!). Spears is occasionally reserved, but when she speaks up, she means what she says with no frills. It's surprisingly refreshing and works for her. This no-nonsense attitude also shows that she's taking the job seriously. She's ... classy!
The Look: Neon, youthful, layered and funky — there's a lot going on with her attire, but most of all, it's fun. What pop-loving 20-year-old wouldn't like to streak her hair pink and wear a furry coat?
The Attitude: Lovato's bright and energetic demeanor matches her fashion. She brings enthusiasm, positivity and playfulness to the panel.
The Honesty: She tends to stay away from really harsh criticism, usually sticking with "Sorry, no." But occasionally she'll try to find reasons why some people aren't hitting the mark. When "Candy Girl" man tries to list all the hours he'd put into training, she tells him, "A lot of people work really hard for their dreams, but sometimes" it's not a fit for them.
The Heart: There's no denying that she empathizes with a lot of the younger auditioners and without reservation expresses her admiration. Genuine encouragement may come easily for her as a reaction to the depression and self-destructive behavior she suffered after becoming the target of bullies during her adolescence. When she hugs contestant Jillian — a 19-year-old who also has overcome bullying — it's an emotional moment that doesn't feel forced or fake.
TVGuide.com's Judgment: Lovato is as likable as it gets, and that's not just because she refrains from bashing the contestants. She saves that for her fellow judge Cowell, and their insult-swapping is entertaining. We never thought we'd see him smile so much! Our favorite Lovato zinger: When she tells Cowell that the audience will be "so impressed by your new outfit they never saw before."
The premiere also debuted a documentary-style of presenting the auditions, showing the behind-the-scenes drama without voiceover narration. Not only does this style keep viewers in the moment, but it also humanizes the judges and contestants. Lovato is a fan, and told the audience at Tuesday's packed premiere screening in Hollywood, "I was really excited to see that the people I really liked were nice [and vice versa for mean people]. And I think that that shows in their faces and in their presence. When that blonde girl [Kaci Newton] walked on, I was like, 'Oh my God, I hate her.'"
Check out other highlights from the premiere:
1) "They said I was annoying!" -- contestant and "mean girl" Kaci Newton to her sister after being turned away by the judges.
2) Creepy Sean Arminta, 50, gyrates, caterwauls and gazes meaningfully at the young women in the audience during his audition. When Lovato tries to let him down easily, he insults her and accuses her of using Auto-Tune.
3) Cowell decides to "embrace the madness" by putting through cross-dressing, wedding-dress-wearing Quatrelle, who simultaneously astounds and horrifies with his take on "Born This Way."
4) Huntington Beach trio Emblem3 gets the crowd and judges rocking out to their original song "Sunset Boulevard," and becomes an instant crush for millions of American tweens.
5) Don Philip, who once dueted with Spears and can't seem to let that go, breaks down after being rejected and bawls, "I saw her face and I feel like I hurt her. I never meant to hurt Britney. I'm sorry, Britney!"
6) Somehow, contestant Jillian is able to deliver a tearjerker of a performance despite being choked up by tears herself. Even Cowell is moved, prompting Lovato to comment, "Oh, you have a heart!"
The X Factor airs Wednesdays and Thursdays at 8/7c on Fox.
How did you think Spears and Lovato did their first time out? Who is your favorite judge? Which was your favorite performance of the night?