X Factor Ovation
Credit: Fox
Simon Cowell, American Idol

The judges certainly don’t! Their collective uttah indifference throughout season 2 — save for the occasional scripted standing O, shown above — has made it damn near impossible for me to feel that strongly about which of three talented but not awe-inspiring contestants should win. I tried to give The X Factor the benefit of the doubt this season. But if the judges can’t even remember these people’s names, why should viewers?

I wanted to like The X Factor more. I was set to really embrace its exaggerated pomp, delight in Britney Spears’ stankfaces, and spin this elaborate saga in my recaps wherein Mario Lopez and “Khloe Kardashian ODOM” turned out to be the ones pulling all the puppet strings. There was fun to be had within this crapfest, I just knew it!

That didn’t work. The song-and-dance productions were as clunky and forgettable as ever, Britney’s faces got real old real fast, and Mario and Khlomeister still can’t even figure out which camera to gape at.

Above all, the show is just devoid of any real character. Everything except the singing is so stilted and forced, and the only people trying to entertain the audience are the contestants. That’s insane! At this point it’s like an unintentional parody of a reality show with zero sense of humor about itself. I’ve had trouble finding a way to lovingly tease something that has no soul.

The chief reason The X Factor has no soul is because of the judges, each of whom acts consistently uninterested in whatever’s happening onstage. L.A. Reid can’t even bring himself to remember his acts’ names. Britney’s zoned out the whole time, her clipped critiques showing impressive range from “I think you look amazing” to “I think that was an amazing performance.” I suspect Demi Lovato could have brought some sort of youth-demographic insight to the mix, had she been surrounded by animated beings. But caught up in the Table of Privilege’s collective glassy stare, she retreated into super-seriousness and needlessly antagonistic nonsense. Occasionally she and Simon engaged in lifeless little tiffs. I don’t think Britney and L.A. have ever looked at each other directly. (I can’t even imagine it happening!)

Simon Cowell is the worst of them all — barely awake, looking insulted to even be spending his time like this. It’s his show, and he’s embarrassed, and he doesn’t care enough to inject any life into it. Why bother? It’s so bad. But he could — that’s what’s so disappointing to me. On American Idol, Simon’s cheeky nonchalance had bite; he had such a knack for timing and knew how to generate ultimate drama within just a few seconds. You knew he wanted to create genuine TV moments, so it was easy to let that happen. But with The X Factor, he’s just completely checked out, and the others have no choice but to copy him.

I know I know I know — reality singing shows are supposed to be about the contestants! But with no compelling center to this madness, the contestants look and feel out of place, too. There’s no sense of camaraderie between the mentors and their charges, or even among the acts themselves. Everyone’s so uncomfortable, you almost don’t want to believe they’re even on the same show. What’s especially horrifying is that the contestants know the judges don’t care — but what can they do? They’re pawns. And one of ’em’s about to get a $5 million recording contract!

Seems hard to believe, really.

Tonight the Top 3 acts — Fifth Harmony, Tate Stevens, and Carly Rose Sonenclar — will duet with celebs. Nashville-based country act Little Big Town will join Stevens, LeAnn Rimes will sing with Sonenclar, and Demi Lovato, the only X Factor judge with no act in the finale, will join Fifth Harmony. The girl group earned some of their best raves after performing “Give Your Heart a Break” and “Skyscraper” this season. (The “celeb round” is a reprise of last season’s finale, when R. Kelly, Alanis Morissette, and Avril Lavigne joined finalists Melanie Amaro, Josh Krajnik, and Chris Rene, respectively.)

Carly is a super-solid “alien” (according to Demi) with a perfect voice — she’s only 13, but acts like an old pro on her ninth life of stardom. Fifth Harmony = five hot girls with great voices and a cohesive vibe in-person but sometimes not so much onstage. I’m pulling for them to win, because I like underdogs and I bet if Simon cared AT ALL, he could’ve orchestrated some much cooler performances with them. Maybe someone at Syco/Sony could care enough to mold them into something marketable, and I think they’re genuinely adorable. But my money’s on country man Tate Stevens for the win — he’s been the top vote-receiver the most weeks, he’s a nice guy, and he’s consistent. Not an earth-shattering performer, but who really is?

Who do you think will win — and to answer my aggressively bleak inquiry: Do you even care?

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Episode Recaps

Simon Cowell, American Idol
The X Factor
Simon Cowell, Demi Lovato, Kelly Rowland, and Paulina Rubio judge Season 3.
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