So, was it as big as Simon Cowell said it was going to be?
The X Factor premiered tonight after months of hype, most of it centered on the return of Paula Abdul to Simon's side and the ultimate shake-up at the judges' table (Cheryl Cole, we hardly knew ye). But now, it's all going to be about the talent, or lack thereof, that the panel discovers on its search for hot young singers.
Sure it will be.
First of all, Cheryl was around tonight as they recapped the Los Angeles auditions and, for what it's worth, we didn't see any apparent, axe-worthy problems with her commentary (her thick Newcastle accent is charming!) or chemistry alongside Simon, Paula and L.A. Reid.
First out of the gate, audition No. 1, was 13-year-old Rachel Crowe, who sang a full-throated version of Duffy's "Mercy." The spunky, well-spoken kid is two years too young for American Idol, illustrating one big difference between the seemingly rather similar shows right there.
Second, she got to sing with music (which is shown being cranked up every time by a pair of mysterious hands). And third, the X Factor auditions take place on a concert hall stage in front of a big audience, so there's a chance to revel in more adulation if the judges love you...or be way more embarrassed if Simon rips you a new one.
So, OK, maybe they are doing something different here (besides slurping Pepsi at the table instead of Coke)...
But at the same time, not. The two-hour premiere included the usual mix between the ages of 13 and 83, some of whom we'll probably see when the show goes live (Crowe, Stacy Francis, Marcus Canton, Chris Rene, boy band the Answer), some who won't possibly make it out of the mentoring round (Siameze Floyd) and others whose names escape us already.
Simon seems a bit more tolerant of the crazies on this show, but that's probably because so many of them are either quite young or too old for him to respectfully insult.
L.A. Reid, in fact, was more of the hardass, though Simon, as always, remains the one with the meanest metaphors and similes. The two of them disagreed on more than one occasion—we actually were just as surprised as Simon when L.A. didn't reconsider his "no" vote after hot pants-wearing Simone Battle sang "Bulletproof"—but we dig L.A.'s cool professionalism.
And then, sometimes, they all just had to agree, like in the case of Stacy Francis, a 42-year-old single mom who belted out "Natural Woman" like there was no tomorrow.
If you were wondering about the X Factor promo in which Simon told someone, "That is one of the best auditions I've ever heard in my life"—it's what he told Stacy.
One thing Cheryl can be glad about: It was Nicole Scherzinger who was there for the Seattle auditions and Geo Godley, who dropped his pants while singing...eh, does it matter? He had a gagging Paula literally racing to the bathroom.
"That was offensive, disgusting, distasteful, upsetting—get him out of the building, please," L.A. insisted.
But the judges all came together again over Chris Rene, a 28-year-old trash collector, father and recent rehab grad, who promised the unanimous quartet that he would stay clean if they put him through.
"I've worked with some of the greatest hip-hop artists, like Jay-Z and Kanye West, and all of my boys would be proud of me today to tell you that you are the truth," praised L.A.
Concluded Simon: "Maybe you need the show, maybe we need you."
(Originally published Sept. 21, 2011, at 7:37 p.m. PT)