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'X Factor' kicks off with last-minute drama

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We can now all sleep at night: The cast of The X Factor has finally made its official debut. Simon Cowell’s much-hyped new talent show launched on May 8 with the first round of auditions in L.A., and featured Cowell with fellow judges Paula Abdul, British pop star Cheryl Cole, and music mogul Antonio ”L.A.” Reid, and hosts Nicole Scherzinger and British TV personality Steve Jones. (The series debuts on Fox in September.)

Reid, the former head of Island Def Jam Music Group and the only member of the judge quartet who has never appeared on a TV talent show, isn’t nervous about joining American Idol vets Cowell and Abdul. ”I’ve had more stars than anybody on the panel,” Reid tells EW. ”It doesn’t matter to me. I’ve had many years of rehearsal.” How does Cole, arguably the most popular judge on the original British version of the series, plan to win over Stateside viewers? ”I’m just going to be honest with the contestants and give them my best advice,” she says. ”Just help them, really, and hope the audience likes it.”

The biggest drama — per usual — surrounded Abdul, who didn’t sign her X Factor deal until hours before the first taping. Asked why the negotiations dragged on, Abdul demurred: ”Only Simon and I understand what went on. That’s all I can say.” Okay, Simon, start spilling. ”Part of it was money, as always,” Cowell says. ”But I kind of admire the fact that at the eleventh hour, she was prepared to play a bit of hardball. That’s one of the reasons why she’s survived so long in Hollywood. She’s a tough little nut.”

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