By Grady Smith
Updated October 31, 2012 at 10:50 PM EDT
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The X Factor starts its live shows tonight, and frankly, I can’t wait.

Season 2 of Simon Cowell’s U.K.-import competition show is loaded with talent that’s far more compelling than season 1 (sorry, Melanie Amaro –no, really, I’m sorry you had to be in this video). This season’s crop of contestants — shockingly, I’m finding myself rooting for LYLAS — have the potential to create viable vocal moments on stage.

So I’m hoping that the live shows, which will be hosted by Mario Lopez and Khloe Kardashian, showcase that talent more effectively than the early rounds of The X Factor has, because, let’s be honest, this season, which was supposed to establish The X Factor as the utmost singing competition on TV, has been a hot mess.

I believe that The X Factor, underneath all its contrived gaudiness, wants to be a great show. But the only thing standing in the way of that becoming a reality is, well, everything. So here are 10 recommendations on how to improve The X Factor as we head into the second half of the season.

10. Cut it out with all the Sony headphones

9. Quit it with the suffocatingly manipulative editing

The X Factor hates giving viewers a chance to form their own opinions about singers. During auditions, the second a performer opened his/her mouth, the camera cut to the crowd giving an instantaneous standing ovation just to make sure you knew that those notes sounded great (or, often, that those notes sounded kind of terrible, but the singer is really hot, so don’t think too much about that music stuff, okay?). This problem will (hopefully) be solved on live TV.

8. The scripted judges’ banter really needs to stop

Supposedly cute (and TOTALLY spontaneous) behind-the-scenes interactions like the one below are so glaringly inauthentic that they condescend to the audience. We don’t have to believe that the judges are old pals, especially when we know they were just meeting each other at the time of filming. The bratty rapport between Demi and Simon is the most real-feeling of any of those interactions, but even that is starting to feel forced. Just react to the singing (and each other) honestly — that’s all we want!

7. Britney Spears has got to step up her game

I’m not one of those people who constantly lowers the bar-of-Britney-success. She is a grown woman getting paid $20 million to sit and listen to talented teenagers, and she’s bringing nothing but weird facial expressions to this show. Take this recent performance of Beatrice Miller. Britney, wearing sunglasses despite facing directly away from the sun, shows no emotion, no connection to anything happening in front of her. (Are her eyes even open under there?) At the end of Beatrice’s beautifully inflected and totally restrained performance, all Britney says is, “She needs to control her loudness.” Huh?

6. What is with all the rainbow hair extensions?!

I mean, seriously — those weren’t cool when Lalaine tried to make them happen on Lizzie McGuire, and they certainly aren’t cool now.

5. Stop fueling the myth that only teenagers are relevant

To the producers of The X Factor, there is an inverse relationship between age and money making potential, and the only contestants that seem to matter to the creators of the show are the ones whose age starts with a “1.” Viewers are constantly reminded that performers like Carly Rose Sonenclair are rapturous and amazing and better than anyone whose ever sung any song, like, ever. Nevermind the fact that they also seem like performance robots whose ability to “emote” simply means bending their knees and raising diva hands — they’re flawless. Next season, I’ve heard they’re introducing an embryo category.

4. And stop hating on people older than 14

The seedy underbelly of The X Factor‘s heralding of youth is that the show walks all over the Over 25 category because they’re disgusting and gross and wrinkly, right? In these two short clips, LA Reid and the producers basically tell viewers that they have nothing invested in this category — so why should you? (Also, LA Reid is a terrible actor.)

3. Don’t let any more of the Kardashian Klan into the fray

One is already too many. (UPDATE: Just finished watching tonight’s show, and I’ve never agreed with myself more. Khloe’s hosting ability was truly wretched.)

2. Make the critiques mean something!

When producers want to create drama, they have the judges say meaningless — I mean seriously meaningless — words in a somewhat negative tone that makes the contestants cry. Then they add dramatic instrumentals, and we’re supposed to feel invested. Often the critiques come out of nowhere. “You do come off a little bit standoffish,” Simon says to the perfectly nice girl group Sister C. “I’m kind of scared that she might not be able to cope with the pressure of everything,” says Britney of seasoned Broadway performer Carly Rose Sonenclair. And then there is this clip of Demi giving Cece Frey the most frustratingly circular critique yet. “You took my advice, but it went a little overboard,” says Demi, who instructed the divisively wackadoo Cece that she needed to tone down her image. But what went overboard exactly? Her listening to you? Or was it her sassy performance? Does it even matter? #Nope

1. Simon Cowell, can you please come back?

I don’t know who this smarmy, upbeat man is that has been sitting in Simon Cowell’s chair all season, but he’s certainly not the Simon we fell in love with 12 years ago on American Idol. Cowell has become a caricature of himself. He’s too amused by his own crotchety-ness, which now seems put-on. Whereas once Simon used to seem genuinely surprised when someone sounded great (see his face at the 3:22 mark of Susan Boyle’s famous audition for a reminder), or genuinely frustrated when an act sounded horrible, he now emits the same grinning glee at both. “This will be so good for ratings,” you can see him thinking.

Part of the problem is that Simon used to be so consistently honest about every contestant every single time, but now he just feels like a rabble rouser. He stirs the pot at the judges table for the sake of creating debate. There is no more searing honesty. His superlatives are so overused they no longer mean anything. It’s hurt his brand.

Basically, this commercial sums up everything about how Simon has become way too self-aware (and willing to sponsor everything):

What are your thoughts on The X Factor this year? Any other ways you’d try to improve the series? Or is the show just fine the way it is?

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The X Factor

Simon Cowell, Demi Lovato, Kelly Rowland, and Paulina Rubio judge Season 3.
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