Fox made the first two hours available for the media a few days ahead of time. I just finished it. There are probably no major surprises per se. We know the format well. There are auditions mixed with a few back stories. The editing is a bit looser than “Idol.” They tend to let singers go significantly longer than on “Idol,” which is a good thing when the singers are good. The cinematography, I think, is sharper and slicker than the work done on “Idol.”
Simon Cowell is engaged, at least, in a way we haven’t seen since the early years of “Idol.” He better be. He’s the creator! It’s comforting to see Paula Abdul and Simon together again. But folks seeking crazy Paula will be disappointed, at least in this first episode.
I really like L.A. Reid. He’s serious, as befits a record executive, but also carries real weight, too, given his pedigree. When he name drops, it’s for real (compared to, say, Randy Jackson.) He can get into the performances, too.
Nicole Scherzinger? Redundant, given Paula’s presence.
And if you like crowd reaction, it’s very much like “America’s Got Talent” on that front.
The usual editing tricks are put into play. The show gives the impression the auditions are all done in front of a live arena audience. But like “America’s Got Talent,” the talent is culled down to just a few for the four judges to see.
Former U.K. “X Factor” judge Cheryl Cole gets introduced like the other judges in the opening hour. She quit or was let go after the Los Angeles auditions, which is not explained. (I’m still not clear what happened there.) She is actually a fairly innocuous presence and her accent didn’t sound too difficult for this American ear to understand.
The first contestant, 13-year-old Rachel Crow, was shown during the eight-minute teaser reel that has already aired so I’ll bring her up by name. (I won’t bring any others by name since you all want to be surprised, right?) Rachel is precocious and cute with a magnetic personality. There’s no doubt she’ll go far in this competition, which is probably why the producers introduces us to her first.
One jarring part of this for “Idol” regulars: the Pepsi-logo-ed cups. This isn’t “American Idol” anymore. “Idol,” in fact, is alluded to but never by name. The show uses background pop music, especially during montages, very much like “America’s Got Talent,” which happens to share an executive producer with… Simon.
About 30 minutes in, there’s a conflict between Reid and Cowell over a “fierce” female singer. She isn’t very likable or warm, which is why Reid didn’t like her Cowell appreciated her ambition. Reid has more of an ear for radio hits. Simon, despite his bluntness, doesn’t have quite the track record of Reid, who helped build up the careers of Usher, Kanye West and Justin Bieber. Simon’s got Il Divo, Leona Lewis and the Teletubbies. So you be the judge on that.
After showing a handful of auditions in Los Angeles during the first hour with Cole as a judge, the show segues to Seattle, where Scherzinger appears as a new judge.
For reasons, I can’t ascertain, a dude comes up, sings badly and drops his pants to reveal his ding dong. (There better not have been kids in the audience!) Fast forward this bit if you are watching via DVR.
An impressive 20 year old comes on the scene, too, channeling Stevie Wonder. But even better, I could see a winner in a seemingly unassuming 18-year-old gal who has one of the prettiest voices I’ve heard in ages. She gave me goosebumps! “You have the gift, the soul, the spirit, the swagger, the X Factor,” Reid said. You’ll hear her at about the 9:30 p.m. point. Definitely wait for it!
At the end, we also get to see a trash hauler/former drug addict, who has mad rap/singing skills and a likable humbleness about him that will draw votes. The editors ramp up the histrionics to 11 but again, not a surprise.
If anything, these two hours definitely make me want to watch more!
“The X Factor,” debuts Wednesday, Sept. 21, at 8 p.m. Fox