Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul judging thousands of aspiring singers, some of whom will make your ears bleed? Sounds like American Idol redux. At first glance, there isn't a ton separating Cowell's new music competition show, The X Factor, from its predecessors — until you stack up the details. Then Cowell's master plan for music show domination becomes all too clear.
In advance of Wednesday's premiere (8/7c on Fox), Cowell and the other X Factor judges help explain the five biggest ways in which their show will crush the competition.
5. He'll throw more money at the screen: How best to top his former colleagues at Idol? Take the Michael Bay approach! (And if you haven't heard, Fox has signed on for that, pronouncing The X Factor the biggest show on the planet.) Think va va voom aerial shots, grand entrances for the judges via helicopter and expensive arenas filled with thousands to host the audition rounds. And that's just the audition rounds! "When we started here [in the U.S.], we were only going to go with the network who was going to support it with their wallet," Cowell says. "The No. 1 question we had is: Why is this show different from everything else, and I've always said, 'If you watch it, you'll see the difference.'"
4. The judges won't be as nice as the judges on The Voice: The Voice coaches have it so easy, sitting in their big red chairs, pushing a button when they hear something purdy, hand-picking their favorite singers for their teams. Those coaches never have to work with someone they don't like. On The X Factor, however, producers assign each judge one of four groups to mentor — males, females, groups and singers over 30 — and not everyone will be happy with their team. To wit, singers only need three out of four judges to say yes to advance, so chances are all the judges will be working with at least one contestant they originally turned down. And in stark contrast to the latest season of Idol, which featured not one harsh word for the top 13 finalists, Cowell says the auditions are the "nice" rounds. Expect the fangs to come out afterward.
3. They've recruited a real sparring partner for Simon: Simon likes nothing better than a verbal smackdown — unfortunately, watching him take on Randy "for me, for you, it was just aiight" Jackson and Ryan Seacrest has been only a study in Cowell's patience. They're like window dressing compared to X Factor judge L.A. Reid, a record executive who counts Pink and Mariah Carey among his hits. And when Simon and L.A. face off, their disagreements usually add to the conversation about the talent, rather than detract from it. "We have both run record labels and we always wanted the No.1 record. We competed with each other and that's why I wanted him on the show," Cowell says. "I didn't want someone who was going to agree with me. I wanted someone who was competitive and he is the most competitive person."
2. There will be cry-offs between Nicole and Paula: Here's how new judge Nicole Scherzinger talks about the pains of the job: "It's hard because you really empathize. This isn't just a talent show. These are real people who have families who are struggling and it feels like their whole life is on the line, and you're a part of that. So for me, it's been very emotional. I have to say no to people who are losing their houses and people whose family just passed away the week before and it's been very hard for me." Even Paula, the former teary-eyed cheerleader champion of singing competitions, says she was taken aback about how emotional Nicole got during the audition rounds. "She was way ahead of me, which was amazing," Paula says. "It was like, wow, someone else is a crier."
1. Nicole will also be allowed to out-crazy Paula: Yes, Paula is still kooky and unpredictable — one first-round contestant makes her gag and she leaves the judging table — but Nicole is right on her heels. Simon has already said she spontaneously switches accents, and we're probably going to hear a lot about her having gotten her start by winning a singing competition herself several years ago. Eden's Crush, anyone? But she's a talkative one, and judging by the 90-minute mash-up of Episodes 1 and 2 screened for reporters, producers are going to let her ramble. Here's a sample, the answer to "What makes you a good fit for The X Factor?" "I can only bring my experiences and that's me having been on a show like this 10 years ago and being an artist, and bringing an artist's heart and soul, which we usually wear on our sleeve. I bring that empathy and compassion and understanding. But at the same time, I'm pretty tough. I've worked very hard to get to where I am and I know what it takes. Therefore, when I work with the contestants, I'm going to work to bring out the best in them ..."
Will you watch The X Factor? What are you most excited to see?