Simon Cowell launched his new and improved “X Factor” Wednesday night — with pop stars Britney Spears and Demi Lovato replacing judges Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger — and scored the show’s second-smallest audience ever.
About 8.7 million people watched the two-hour “X Factor” second-season opener, which — in case viewers had forgotten all about last season — opened LinkedIn style with the résumé presentation:
It’s a “global phenomenon” the titles said, while unrecognizable global stars whizzed by in images.
It “introduced One Direction, the first UK band to have a No. 1 debut album in the US,” the titles continued.
And, of course, there’s that $5 million prize.
Anyway, those 8.7 million people who tuned in Wednesday were about 1 million shy of the crowd that watched Matthew Perry’s new NBC comedy, “Go On,” make its time-slot debut Tuesday at 9.
This season, “X” has shelled out about $15 million to secure the services of Britbrit, and another mil or two for Demi. That’s part of an effort to goose its ratings after the first season failed to clock the 20 million viewers Cowell forecast before its unveiling in September 2011.
Demi’s and Brit’s qualifications were explained right off the bat Wednesday.
Demi voice-over: “I know what my generation is listening to right now.” She brings the demographic cred.
Britney voice-over: “I’ve been doing this business since I was 8 years old.” She brings the experience cred.
“To have sit there and be opinionated on people living their dreams is really hard for me,” Brit was seen telling her manager in a candid moment. Yes, she brought the possibility of emotional breakdown — which, it is well known among TV industry suits, is younger-viewer crack.
Yet Wednesday’s season debut finished behind last season’s unveiling among 18- to 34-year-olds and teens, as well as in the 18-to-49-year-old demographic.
From 8 to 9 p.m., “X Factor” competed against this season’s third episode of NBC’s “The Voice” and did particularly poorly, snagging only 7.7 million viewers in that first hour. “The Voice” clobbered it, attracting nearly 11 million folks.
“The Voice” also beat “X Factor” in all key age brackets in the hour, including the aforementioned 18- to 49-year-old guys and chicks, and 18- to 34-year-old chicks. “X” did win among 18- to 34-year-old guys.
“They don’t want people to see this first episode,” Cowell whined to reporters last week after NBC announced at the last minute that it was adding a Wednesday night episode of “The Voice” this week, at the exact same time as his “X” debut.
But, he forecast: “Three nights in a row [of ‘The Voice’] is too much.”
He was wrong.
Last fall, the episode that aired the night before Thanksgiving — when large swaths of the TV audience tune out to head over the river and through the woods to celebrate the holiday at Grandma’s house — logged 8.6 million viewers.
Wednesday’s show puts Cowell even further from the 20 million viewers he cockily had forecast would watch before long.
Early in the season debut, viewers were treated to a montage of bad singers, with Britbrit telling them how bad they were. “And everybody thinks I’m the mean one,” Simon said, though we don’t think the Brit Is The Other Simon story arc is going to have legs.
Later, a guy with whom Britney had recorded a duet 10 years ago gave a lousy “X” audition as part of his comeback effort. Simon made Britney deliver a judgment, though you’d think she would have been recused — like a Supreme Court justice.
“I feel like, through the years, maybe you’ve gone through a lot of hardships and battles but your voice isn’t really up to the bar and the standards of ‘The X Factor,’ and what we want,” she said grimly.
Simon got up from his chair and patted her on the back, because it was the least he could do after ambushing her with a failed singing partner from her past. How many other former Brit-partners can the producers dig up before she cracks? It would have to be a lot — she seemed rather more resilient than they might have hoped.
Demi came in for a lot of close-ups, too. At one point, backstage, she told Cowell: “Niall says, ‘Hi.’ ”
Cowell looked very surprised, as though he wasn’t sure she was referring to Niall Horan in the band One Direction — which, you know, was discovered on the U.K. “X Factor” and went on to have the first No. 1 something in something . . . we forget already.
“Have you kissed him?” Cowell asked, like some pervy father.
“Keep away from him. He’s pure,” Cowell added, which seemed to imply he assumed she is not. We sensed breaking celebri-news.
Demi seemed a bit taken aback by the whole Pervy Father story line she was being maneuvered into. “I’m not going to date anybody for a whole year!” she said stoutly.
Near the end of the episode, when a teenager who’d been bullied in high school exhibited a wonderful capacity to weep openly while singing Jessie J’s “Who You Are” — prompting anti-bullying crusader Demi to get up onstage to give her a hug — even Simon teared up. He popped a breath mint, or a pill or something, to steady himself.
To read previous Lisa de Moraes columns, go to washingtonpost.com/