On last night’s episode of The X Factor, 13-year-old schoolchild sensation Rachel Crow tore the house down with her performance of Etta James‘ “I’d Rather Go Blind.” It inspired an interesting contrast in the judges’s reactions; Simon Cowell looked like a giddy school boy the entire way through the epic performance—the only time you ever see him smile like this is when he knows he’s found himself a cash cow—while Nicole Scherzinger looked as if she might lose it at any moment. We’re with Simon though — Crow’s performance was breathtakingly spectacular, and we’re thinking the girl might be a serious contender for top spot. So, with that in mind, we’re officially adding Rachel Crow to our list of reasons why The X Factor is better than Idol (especially if she promises to change her shoes!).
The X Factor
We have to applaud our MTV News colleague Jim Cantiello for the “Burning Questions” segment of his interview with X Factor judges L.A. Reid and Simon Cowell—mainly because he found a way to talk about unsung jams, and we love jams. First: did you know that X Factor contestant Stacy Francis was once Stacy X of early-nineties new jack swing quartet Ex Girlfriend? Neither Reid nor Cowell did. (Nor had we!) Cantiello did, though, and cited an Isley Brothers remix as a particular favorite. It turns out that Ex Girlfriend were launched by Full Force, whom we remember for their work with Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, but whom you might remember for their scene-stealing moments in House Party, or their colorful videos.
After months worth of hype and countless reports of behind-the-scenes drama, Fox finally debuted the American version of the hit international show The X Factor last night. Despite endless amounts of promotion of the debut, which featured the much anticipated reunion of Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, the show started off modestly in the ratings. 12.1 million viewers tuned in last night, which is a far cry from American Idol‘s 2011 premiere numbers (21.6MM viewers). Simon has stated all along that his primary goal for the show is for it to beat American Idol and, well, it just might end up doing that over time. It certainly worked very hard last night to differentiate itself from the 800 lb. gorilla of the reality singing competition genre. Here are the Five Ways That Make X-Factor Better Than American Idol:
1) Simon Vs. L.A. Reid Is The New Simon Vs. Paula
With its original, three-person panel of judges, American Idol got a lot of mileage from—and won themselves a lot of fans by—focusing on the tense relationship between Simon and Paula. Like many great television couples of the past, the two bickered constantly, but over time, their relationship evolved from an antagonistic one into a more of a brother/sister dynamic. However, now that Simon has got a true titan of the music industry like L.A. Reid sitting opposite him at the judge’s table, there are bound to be some testosterone-laden, mano y mano flareups. Last night’s ep featured one such moment, where the two went toe-to-toe over a young black woman named Simone Battle who had the body of a Pussycat Doll and, well, the voice of a Pussycat Doll (which is to say, not much of a voice at all). Simon thought she had the talent (meaning: body) to become a “star,” while L.A. Reid—who famously told P!nk, “You’ll be a pop star, All you have to change is everything you are”—didn’t think she had the pipes to move along in the competition. Simon came out on top of that battle, but who will win the war?
Happy Birthday, Leonard Cohen!
Leonard Cohen turns 77 today. To celebrate, read Mike Barthel‘s chronicle of Cohen’s song “Hallelujah” and how it became a television-montage staple, or listen to “Suzanne” or “Everybody Knows,” or pre-order the Complete Leonard Cohen box set that’s on the way. [Pitchfork]
Wilco, Coldplay Live on Letterman
This morning we mentioned that Coldplay had appeared on The Late Show to perform “Paradise.” They also recorded a full concert for Live on Letterman that streamed last night and is now available on demand. Tonight at 8PM ET, Wilco (featuring a newly jolly Jeff Tweedy) will do the same. [Live on Letterman]
If anyone has mastered the art of calculated frank talk, it’s X Factor impresario Simon Cowell. In a conference call promoting the new show yesterday, he had backhanded compliments for everyone (except L.A. Reid). He spoke to Paula Abdul‘s passion for contestants and its authenticity, saying that “she’s still prepared to argue” when the cameras are off?and then compared their reunion to “getting your old dog back from the pound.” As for Nicole Scherzinger, he said she “was [odd] in a fantastically self-centered way and she wasn’t even aware of it,” and then observed that “In every city she changes her accent.” They’re certain to react?and that’s the point. That drama is just as much part of the plot of The X Factor as the actual competition, and we kind of love it. (You can tell because we’re taking Cowell’s bait and writing about his comments. You’re welcome for the free press!)
Cowell also found a way to distinguish his new show not only from American Idol but also last year’s new challenger The Voice. He did Adam Levine one better by doubling down on the commitment to backstory and to learning about the competitors (which Idol does not do)?and then criticizes The Voice for not being good enough at it! If that wasn’t enough, he also gave his Top Five Least Favorite Audition Songs:
He professes to love “Ordinary People” but strongly dislike “At Last” and “Unchained Melody.” So auditioners would do well to avoid super-slow love ballads entirely.
Simon Cowell: Don’t Sing These Five Songs [Billboard]
[Image: Getty Images]
With the premiere of The X Factor less than two weeks away, the show’s promotional engine has pulled out all the stops, releasing an eight-minute extended promo?featuring two auditions?yesterday after FOX’s NFL coverage. After an oddly gendered set of judge introductions, in which Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid talk about how much they’ve given up in order to “gamble” on the new show, and Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul just talk about their excitement for the upcoming season, and lots of quick-cut visual glimpses at auditions, and some of the show’s ad libs, the promo gives us Rachel and Stacy, two contestants who wow the judges with their renditions of, respectively, “Mercy” (by Duffy) and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” That neither contestant would have been met American Idol‘s age requirement is, of course, not a coincidence, but both auditions are stellar nonetheless.
Never let it be said that Simon Cowell doesn’t have canny timing. It’s been nearly a month since the first television promo for Fox’s The X Factor premiered during the MLB All-Star Game, but over a month until the show itself premieres on September 21. With auditions taped but under wraps, the show is out of the news. So what better timing for Cowell to come forward with his version of the judges’ table drama that led to the replacement of Cheryl Cole with Nicole Scherzinger? His is certainly a story we want to hear.
The one thing about which Cowell isn’t entirely forthcoming is the exact reason why Cole was let go from the American version of the UK singing competition. (To be fair, this may be for legal reasons.) He merely explains, “After two cities [of US X Factor auditions], I offered her the job back in the UK, [as a replacement for the Fox gig,] which initially she accepted. And then unfortunately when it went public the negotiations fell apart.” Cowell’s stated rationale?that she’d be “more comfortable doing the UK show than the American show,” does little to contradict rumors that Cole’s Geordie accent had tested poorly with American audiences. (So much for airing Geordie Shore in the United States, MTV UK.)
As for the delay in announcing Scherzinger (who Cowell says has been a “revelation”) as a replacement? Cowell claims that when an agreement about the UK X Factor could not be reached, he generously gave Cole the “chance to come back to America,” which she declined (possibly because she’d be getting paid anyway). “I am sorry for the way it worked out as we were incredibly close,” Cowell said. “She is still grumpy with me.” We’re not too worried on Cowell’s behalf; we suspect he’s had lots of experience dealing with people who are “grumpy” with him.
Early on during last night’s MLB All-Star Game on Fox, the network took advantage of the number of eyeballs watching the game to debut their very first promo spot for The X-Factor, their new singing competition debuting this fall. And if there were any doubts before last night as to how Simon Cowell’s new show would attempt to differentiate itself from the newly nice —some would say toothless— American Idol and NBC’s ultra-positive show The Voice, they were eradicated approximately one-minute and seventeen seconds into this two-and-a-half minute long promo.
The promo begins in a hazy, fog-like state, with The X Factor judges Cowell, Paula Abdul (who, btw, is Botoxed to the gills), L.A. Reid and Nicole Scherzinger presiding over a parade of terrible singers. If things don’t seem quite right, it’s because they aren’t: No, the X-Factor contestants aren’t going to be horrible, and no, Simon Cowell hasn’t traded in his trademark skintight crewneck tees for a cabled pink sweater because this is all a nightmare! By now, the spot intimates that we should know that Cowell would NEVER be seen driving a wussy, electric Chevy Volt (Side note: weirdest product placement in a long time, right?); rather, he’s the kind of guy who rolls around downtown L.A. with X-FACTOR vanity plates on his $1.5 million Bugatti Veyron EB. And while he’s working, he’s not here to make friends; instead, he’s here to roll his eyes condescendingly at Paula Abdul! In short, he’s still the same A-hole S.O.B. he’s always been (which is something that Cheryl Cole would certainly confirm).
And that, Fox is betting, will be enough to get people to tune-in when The X-Factor debuts on Wednesday, September 21. Will they be right? Well, we’ll have to see now, won’t we?
In part two of our interview with international chart-topper Natasha Bedingfield (see part one here), we spoke to her about how her collaboration with Nicki Minaj, “Last Chance,” came about. Unbeknownst to us, it turns out that if it weren’t for her relationship with Eminem, the track might never have happened! Check out her video interview above –one in which she also charmingly chides Simon Cowell for not picking her to be a judge on X-Factor– for all this and more.
And below, we’ve got Natasha’s humdinger of a performance of her new potential summer jam, “Weightless,” live on the set of Big Morning Buzz Live!
Just six weeks ago we provided a primer to Cheryl Cole, the least-known of the announced judges of Fox’s forthcoming Simon Cowell-helmed reality singing show X-Factor, and ever since there’s been a roller-coaster of gossip about drama behind the scenes. Just a month after joining the show (and two weeks after the show’s first auditions), Cole was allegedly replaced as a judge by X-Factor host Nicole Scherzinger. Five days later, negotiations for Cole’s return to the UK version of X-Factor also fell through. But Fox and X-Factor producers Fremantle Media and Syco TV only today announced Cole’s departure from the American edition, set to launch this fall.
Why the delay? Apparently Cole’s contract stipulates that she gets paid whether or not she appears on the show. So while Cowell may have wanted Cole out (to the extent that she and he can no longer come to an agreement to work together in the UK), the show likely didn’t want to have to write off a buck and a half so easily. (This also helps explain why Cole’s replacement was someone already on the show’s payroll.)
Scherzinger has guest-judged on the UK X-Factor before, but will she be able to hold her own beside Cowell, L.A. Reid, and Paula Abdul?