Hard to put it into words, but we know it when we see it: that certain indescribable quality — that x-factor — some TV shows possess, which compels you to tune in, week after week, and urge your friends and your “friends” to check it out. Ensemble comedy “Modern Family,” for instance, has it in abundance.
And, Fox’s new singing competition — the one that’s, conveniently, already called “The X Factor”?
Nope — hasn’t got it.
The Simon Cowell-created reality series that was going to take down the country’s No. 1 TV show “American Idol,” hasn’t even put up a good fight in its first season here in the U.S. Heading into this, its final week, the first season of “X Factor” has attracted only about half the 20 million viewers Cowell said the show would deliver at a minimum.
These days, the network that had, in early September promos, warned you in to “Prepare Yourself for TV’s Biggest Event” is stressing that “The X Factor” has improved the network’s performance in the fourth quarter compared to last year, when the network’s new product “Lone Star” and “Running Wilde.” Where we come from that’s called “damning with faint praise.”
Meanwhile, Simon’s taken to telling Barbara Walters that when he bragged, back in August, that anything under 20 million viewers would be a flat-out “disappointment,” he meant the show would get to that figure “eventually.”
And the rest of us?
Well, we suppose we’ll have to re-classify “The X Factor” under:
Those Other Singing Competitions That Aren’t “Idol.”
Meanwhile, we suggest you not put any money on show host Steve Jones returning — or Nicole Scherzinger, as a judge/mentor anyway. The Reporters Who Cover Television are circling the two as the flotsam and jetsam of Simon’s effort to “improve” the show next season. For the record, Fox suits insist they won’t sit down until next month to talk to a few focus groups, comb through the data, present their findings to the producers and then let Simon decide who gets it in the neck.
Seriously, we already know What’s Wrong with “X Factor”:
1) NICOLE SCHERZINGER
Originally cast to co-host the show with Steve Jones, the former Pussycat Doll became a last-minute replacement for one of the show’s four judge/mentors, Cheryl Cole. In that role, Nicole has been a triumph of beauty over brains. Simon said it best, when he announced, after Nicole took to the stage last week to sing her new tune, “Pretty,” he would critique her performance Nicole-style:
I believe in you. You believe in me. You transcend the universe. God is smiling on you. Life is a waterfall and you are the ultimate rainbow.
(Simon’s pulverizing of Nicole also reminds us that while a lot of fun used to be poked at Simon when he was a judge on “American Idol,” he’s never set up for ribbing on this, his show. Come to think of it, none of the judge/mentors, also including Paula Abdul and LA Reid, has any sense of humor on the show, nor do they seem to be having any fun — two of the hallmarks of “Idol.” Note to “X” judges: stop drinking your own “Ooh! $5 million prize!” Kool-Aid.)
On the other hand, Simon has Nicole to thank for the most shocking singer-elimination in singing competition history. That’s when 13-year-old sweetheart Rachel Crow — she of the Best Back-story Ever (adopted crack baby!) — collapsed on stage, bawling “Mommy!” while the gimongous studio audience booed the nearly hysterical Nicole off stage for deliberately sending the judges into deadlock so she would not have to cast the deciding vote — because it was too hard — which wound up sealing little Rachel’s doom.
At a news conference Fox staged Monday afternoon in Los Angeles, to try to gin up more viewer interest in Wednesday night’s final performance episode and Thursday’s winner crowning, Scherzinger declined to confirm she’d be back as a judge next season, but did drop a big hint about speculation she may be back – as host -- when she complained, “It has been very hard on me, the elimination process. It’s something I could never have been prepared for.”
2) STEVE JONES
As chief time keeper and rule enforcer, the handsome show host Jones should have studied up on Ryan Seacrest, who manages to makes the wrangling of over-egoed singing-competition judges look super easy. The Welsh model turned TV show host manages to make it look grim, including one memorable moment this season when he told X-testants to stop hugging because he had an interview to conduct with the booted singer.
Ryan also has a big edge over Steve in that he’s a short guy. It really helps to be the same height as the “Idolettes” – sets them at their ease, which is something the X-testants don’t appear to have with Jones, who looms over many of them and has led to some very awkward hugs with booted competitors.
On the other hand, Steve lends a desperately needed daffy artlessness to the “Ooh! $5 million!”-ish-ness of “X” — like when he sumed up Lenny Kravitz’s results-night performance with, “Handsome man!” And who can forget the time when Kelly Clarkson was trotted out for one of her trademark “how not to style your hair” demonstrations while performing “Stronger,” after which Steve effused “Bravo Kelly Clarkson! What a set of pipes! Extraordinary!”
In recent episodes, Steve has been noticeably minus the carefully tended 26-hour facial growth that is the standard for American reality-show hosts – a clear sign the situation is dire. We all know somebody’s gotta pay for the show’s lousy ratings — and, because we’ve watched lots of CBS’s “Undercover Boss” we know that when the top guy (Simon) tries to figure out what’s gone wrong with his vision, some poor middle-level slob usually gets it in the neck. That would be you, Steve.Various tabloids are already reporting Too Tall Steve’s contract will not be renewed. Which would be ironic since the original guy host was going to be Corbin Bleu — best known for his participation in “High School Musical” and the short-lived Ashton Kutcher-produced CW model soap “The Beautiful Life: TBL.” Only then co-host Nicole ixnayed Corbin and Simon then presented her with Steve, who got the Nicole thumbs-up. And now there’s talk that Scherzinger could replace Steve next season.
X-testants don’t so much “sing” on “The X Factor” as battle for the spotlight against an army of surging dancers and an arsenal of strobe lights. The gag in Hollywood is that “X” has caused more seizures than Pokemon. Some brave Fox suit might suggest to Simon he ratchet down the pretentiousness about 18 notches — but is a guy who stages his interview for Barbara Walters’ “Most Fascinating People” special while seated in his back yard, literally surrounded by a ring of fire, likely to listen?
4) CRUELTY TOWARD CHILDREN
“X Factor,” unlike “Idol,” admits competitors as young as 12 years old. And from this we have learned that while many Americans enjoy wiling away an evening watching judges give the hook to 24-year-old booty shakers, most Americans do not enjoy watching judges humiliate a 14-year-old boy to the point of tears, on the premise he isn’t taking their “Ooh-$5 million Prize!” seriously enough.
5) GROUPS CATEGORY
“X Factor,” unlike “Idol,” divides competitors into four categories: Boys, Girls, Over 30’s (competitors over the age of 30), and Groups. But American singing-show viewers, anyway, love back stories. Group “back stories” have a tough time competing with Adopted Crack Baby and Reducted To Rolling Burritos To Pay The Rent Guy.
Making things worse for the groups, the show’s four judge/mentors were so unimpressed with the crop that auditioned this season they instead made up two groups on the spot, using leftover wannabe X-testants who hadn’t made the cut as individuals. This taught us that a bunch of singers who lacked sufficient chemistry as individuals were probably not going to suddenly cough up enough chemistry when thrown together into a unit – particularly when saddled with gag-inducing group names like Lakoda Rayne and InTENsity. Group Division Mentor Paula Abdul learned this too when she quickly found herself with no mentees left in the competition.