By the time the four celebrity judges made their debut at the premiere of Simon Cowell’s U.S. version of his British hit The X Factor, the audience had already been waiting for well over an hour. But this, Cowell explained, was for good reason. “The reason that we’re late, in the true tradition of reality TV, is that the guys who were making the show were an hour late,” he said. “So they were editing the show literally until the last second, which is why we were all delayed. So, it better be worth it.”
Was it worth it? Well, this former skeptic says yes. Cowell, along with his bosom buddy Paula Abdul and newcomers Nicole Scherzinger and L.A. Reid, sat down at the ArcLight Hollywood Wednesday night for a 90 minute-screening with an assortment of Fox employees, reporters, radio contest winners, and USC theater students. After the screening, the audience was treated to a bizarre and occasionally awkward question and answer session that debuted the tremendous chemistry between the judges.
The X Factor will eventually feature a mentoring aspect similar to The Voice, with each judge leading a group segmented according to age—anyone over 12 could audition. The premiere episode was your standard early audition fare, but with more drama than American Idol and fewer painful auditory experiences. Think longer, more fleshed out backstories (Meth addiction! Verbally abusive husbands! Someone named Xander Alexander!), and less of this. Also, the contestants performed in front of thousands of people instead of just the judges, and ranged from a middle schooler to an octogenarian. A few powerful performances stood out (watch out for Melanie Amaro), and one almost made Abdul vomit.
The X Factor will premiere on Sept. 21, but you can read about Cowell fighting with audience members and Abdul and Scherzinger’s jealousies after the jump:
Welsh host Steve Jones may be better looking than Ryan Seacrest: This dashing, accented gentleman will give Seacrest a run for his boatloads of money. A woman in the audience asked the female judges how long it would take for Jones to become a sex symbol, and Cowell immediately brought the Idol host into the conversation. “Do you think he’s better looking than Ryan Seacrest?” Cowell asked. “That never crossed my mind.” “Panties,” Abdul added. “Throw them at him. As many as possible.” Scherzinger agreed, but according to Jones, one particularly angry contestant did not. “He said I wear too much makeup, and I’m nothing but a stretched Ryan Seacrest,” he said.
Some egos were bruised during the audition process, but Simon doesn’t care: The most uncomfortable moment of the night came when a woman who said her friends had auditioned asked a long-winded question about the fairness of the audition process. After she went on about frayed nerves and second chances, Simon tried to lighten the mood and blame his staff. “This time I think you’re going to have to blame the producers, not us,” he said. “Obviously, we’ll obviously be having a long word with them afterwards to make sure that everyone does longer auditions.” Then the woman kept going, and asked if next time the contestants could have five minute auditions to more accurately judge their talent. “You’ve had three minutes, and I’ve gotten a measure of you,” Cowell said. Ouch! As it turns out, it was the woman’s son who had auditioned.
Paula and Simon will play up the banter: The two Idol vets clearly love to play off each other, and will most likely continue to do so all season. When Cowell introduced the show, he immediately took a jab at Abdul. “Paula, we were going to put subtitles on tonight,” he said. “If you don’t understand it, I’ll explain later what she was going to say.” Later when Scherzinger was talking, Cowell interrupted and Abdul quipped, “Simon— just because you’re not talking doesn’t mean you can’t listen,” and she later accused Cowell of voting to keep a contestant, “because he makes good telly.” When an audience member commented on the show’s age range at the end of the night, Cowell said his show “is all about giving older women a second chance,” as he stared at Abdul. He quickly covered his tracks, saying “I wasn’t talking about you, sweetheart,” but the groaning crowd got the message. It went on and on and on (in a fun way), so expect a lot of seasoned camaraderie from these two this year.
L.A. Reid thinks he’ll find the next Justin Bieber: Reid had to step away from his duties as Chairman and CEO of Def Jam (he is currently the Chairman and CEO of the Epic Label Group) to do the show, and he made it clear during the episode that he hopes the contestants make it worth his while. But have they so far? “There have been a few that really blew me away,” he said. “Today as we watched – Marcus in particular. He touched me. I thought he was amazing. Melanie was amazing; Chris Rene was amazing. We’ve seen many of them.”
Paula and Nicole don’t like the pretty girls: When someone asked if the judges ever fought, Cowell gave a polarizing answer. “I’m going to let you into a little show secret,” he said. “When some girls came to audition— if they were too attractive they were known as D.O.A. In other words, dead on arrival…Nicole was Sylvester the cat, and Paula became Tom from Tom and Jerry. We had to fight, me and L.A., to keep the attractive girls in the competition, because Sylvester and Tom didn’t want them in the competition… Watch the tape.” Abdul’s response? “I’ll watch the tape. Who edits it?” Zing!
Paula Abdul will dance this season: When asked whether she would participate in the choreography this season, Abdul straight up insisted she still had what it takes. Forever our girl! “There are several choreographers that are going to be rotating in and out, working with each of us and our acts,” she said. “But I’m going to be very hands on and do my thing, because I do what I do.” And how does Cowell feel about this? “I think it’s going to make Cowell wish he never hired me in the first place, because I’m really good at what I do. I can’t wait to do it. I’m excited.”