Sure, the second season of Simon Cowell's British import kicked off on Fox tonight, ostensibly to find the next big pop star. But we obviously couldn't help paying more attention than usual to the judges' table.
And (thank you, producers) we got to see Spears and Lovato be both awestruck and appalled within the first few minutes of Wednesday's premiere.
"You are so bright and beautiful onstage and you exude so much confidence. You're flawless," Britney praised 21-year-old Paige Thomas, whose little daughter watched from the wings as mommy blew the judges away with Mary J. Blige's "I'm Going Down" that merited a Rihanna comparison.
"I'm blown away. Your stage presence is absolutely amazing," added the equally pleased Lovato.
Cue the looks of horror, however, when 50-year-old Shawn Armenta got onstage and informed them that he had been rehearsing six hours a day for 18 months for his big moment.
Never a good sign.
"A lot of people work really really hard for their dreams and it's not for everybody," Demi said, trying to be nice after Simon had compared Sean to "a mouse trying to be an elephant." (Good grief, we've missed Simon on TV every week.)
"That's why you use Auto-Tune and I don't," the sore loser retorted.
And that's when Britney steeled her gaze, looked at him and said, "I want to know who let you onstage. I feel uncomfortable with you even staring at me." Chills!
Demi and Britney were recharmed, however, by 13-year-old Reed Deming, who, being young and a boy, instantly was compared to Justin Bieber.
The wee lad earned a unanimous pass to the next round after handily tackling Bruno Mars' "It Will Rain" and "Grenade" in a big-boy voice.
No such luck for perky Casey Newton, who reminded Simon of Britney. But the blond hair and southern accent were where the similarities ended.
"This is going to sound odd," Simon mused after Casey sang a few bars of "Firework," "but it sounded like you were dying."
It was a can't-believe-I'm-saying-this "yes," however, for Quatrele Da'An Smith, a 21-year-old cake decorator who began most inauspiciously by coming onstage with a wedding veil, pink lipstick. and no pants. But his exuberant performance of "Born This Way" proved infectious and he got three yeses.
The 311-reminiscent rap-and-sing stylings of boy trio Emblem3 also impressed the judges, with Britney exclaiming, "This is awesome!" midsong (an original called "Sunset Boulevard," mind you) and Simon predicting "big things" for them going forward.
"No, no, no, no, no—barrier!" Simon scolded a smitten-looking Demi.
While we won't really be able to see the judges' chemistry until the live shows later this season, if they're anything like the carefully edited episodes...we're in!
(Originally published Sept. 12, 2012, at 7:35 p.m. PT)