News that Simon Cowell might bring top-rated British singing competition The X Factor to the U.S. airwaves has me feeling a little skittish. Maybe that’s because of my profound and deep-rooted fear of change.* Or maybe it’s because over in Jolly Old England, X Factor gobbled up American Idol‘s British cousin, Pop Idol, like the great white devoured that water-skier in Jaws 2.(For the record, Britain’s iTV yanked Pop Idol after only two seasons in favor of upstart X Factor.) And as someone whose career, social schedule, and emotional well-being are built around a deck of American Idol playing cards (yes, they do exist), I want that water-skier kept out of harm’s way.
Oh yeah, I know, an American X Factor could be brilliant. But having followed that series vaguely from across the pond, I’ve got five reasons I fear I won’t dig it as much as Idol — and I’m not even counting the fact that Leona Lewis’ voice leaves me feeling colder than bathroom tile in January. Without further ado…
1) For me, for you, X Factorlooks a little stagy, dawg: Indeed, X Factor tweaked its format in its current season so that contestant auditions take place in front of a live audience. (See YouTube sensation Danyl Johnson’s fine (albeit hokey) tryout to “With a Little Help From My Friends.”) And that just raises the risk of witnessing the kind of painfully contrived editing and “Oh golly!” reaction shots from the judges that we see on the dreaded America’s Got Talent (and Britain’s Got Talent). Simon’s ability to break into a “spontaneous” grin aside, there’s a reason he and Randy and Kara are reality TV judges, and not supporting players on Mad Men, Lost, and Desperate Housewives.
2) X Factor‘s mix of groups and solo performers across four categories — 16–24 males, 16–24 females, Over 25s, and Groups — seems weirdly incongruous: Call me short-sighted (you might be right), but I worry it’ll be harder to get my competitive spirit engaged when the contest is less apples-versus-oranges and more toothpaste-versus-shampoo, if that makes any sense. (Tell me that makes sense.)
3) Anonymous contestants will always trump celebrities: And yet the fact that X Factor‘s four judges also serve as mentors — one across each contestant category — seems designed to give even more airtime to talking heads and less to the talented kids looking to break on through to our hearts, minds, and iPods. (That said, I wouldn’t mind if Idol introduced Project Runway-style examination of contestants’ struggles with song selection and arrangement, clothing choice, and rehearsal woes.)
4) X Factor could create a glut of reality TV singing competitions. The true beauty of American Idolis that you can (unhealthily?) obsess over the show every year from January to May, then exhale for the next seven months. Or if not exhale, then at least change gears and spend all your free time following the Idol summer tour, wondering about record deals for Matt and Anoop, and trolling the Internet for details on upcoming releases by Kris Allen, Adam Lambert, Allison Iraheta, and Mishavonna Henson. (Yes, seriously, check out Mishavonna’s stuff on iTunes.) Let’s say, theoretically, Fox adds X Factor to its fall lineup — September-December — and then keeps Idol on the airwaves January-May. Will we end up with a situation many of us are currently experiencing with So You Think You Can Dance? That feeling of needing a few months away before you can even think about re-engaging? That pang of guilt that a fabulous crop of dancers’ auditions are currently clogging up your DVR? Color me concerned, perhaps even woeful, Tim Gunn-style.
5) Idol just keeps getting better: I know, I know, we live in a society where the 18-34 demographic is king, and where any show that lasts beyond four seasons runs the risk of a knee-jerk label of “uncool,” but recent incarnations of Idolhave been as strong as ever — perhaps even stronger. Season 7 gave us the epic Cook-Archuleta showdown — and introduced us to a deep bench of delights, including Jason Castro, Brooke White, Carly Smithson, and Michael Johns. And season 8’s Kradison gives Idol its best chance at three-pronged Billboard-chart success in show history. Why would Fox do anything to derail its money train, even if ratings have slipped a little in recent years?
What do you think, fellow Idoloonies? Are you ready for an Americanized X Factor? Does that prospect make you worry at all about Idol‘s long-term health? Could you see yourself tuning in to both shows, or would it be an either-or proposition? Share your thoughts below, and be sure to follow me on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak!
* Change-phobic things you might hear me saying in my free-time at home include: “Why are you adding scallions to that recipe? What would Martha say?” “But what if we take the air conditioner out and it gets hot again?” “How many times do I have to tell you the plates go on the right-hand side of the dishwasher?”
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