By Ken Tucker
Updated August 05, 2011 at 08:18 PM EDT

Before this morning’s X Factor press session for the Television Critics Association in L.A., my enthusiasm for this competition show was mild to nil. Another competition-show import, more snark from Simon Cowell, more ditziness from Paula Abdul. Big shrug. But the lively, goofy press conference made me think this could be the one of the best, messiest, most controversial Age of Narcissism star-making shows we’ll see this fall.

Why? Here’s why:

Simon Is, If Anything, More Arrogant Than Ever In that rabid-cat-purring-in-a-V-neck-sweater sort of way, you know. From his opening greeting to the cynical press corps — “I don’t hear the applause” — to his constant interruptions and corrections of panelist-judges Abdul, Nicole Scherzinger, and L.A. Reid, Cowell is in fine form. Plus, he’s intimidated by the contestants on this show! He whined that the 14-and-unders who’ve auditioned so far have been “far more lippy” than the older contenders, that some of the kids “traumatized him.”

Paula Is More Unsteady Than Lindsay Lohan In Spike Heels In A Dark Nightclub Abdul was asked about the difference between Idol and X Factor; she said, “I sit differently.” Oooookay… A bit later, she did one of her swerves into unexpected sharpness, remarking of her reunion with Simon, “It’s nice to be back in a demented relationship.”

Scherzinger Is More Irritating Than A Family Guy Dream Sequence Speaking in an affected whisper, the former Pussycat Doll/Sing-Off judge is the very embodiment of Unearned Entitlement, murmuring on and on about how she was “brought to tears” by some of the auditions and that she even “cried for days” when she was offered the job as judge. The immortal description of Clive James re Liza Minnelli holds true of Scherzinger: “She can’t even descend a staircase with sincerity.”

The Prizes For The Winner Is Kind Of Insane Cowell said the winner is “guaranteed $5 million” plus a star spot in a commercial to air during the Super Bowl.

Host Steve Jones Is Aggressively Insufferable Jones’ brief introduction of the panel, full of smooth Welsh-accented smarm, suggested he thinks he’s a lot funnier than he is, and that he may prove a deserved target for Simon’s sarcasm in the grand tradition of the old Simon-Seacrest simmer-feud. Except that Ryan Seacrest comes across as a nice guy. Me, I sort of wish it was the old Sex Pistol Steve Jones who was hosting instead of this one. Or Brian Dunkleman. But this Jones will provide much amusement for sheer foolish overconfidence.

Count me in for The X Factor. Maybe even the two-and-a-half-hour Oct. 25 live show. Maybe.

Twitter: @kentucker