The X Factor USA: TV review
A bigger, brasher, and louder American X Factor sets the stage for tough competition over a $5 million prize.
If the average person’s greatest fear is public speaking then public singing has got to be potentially traumatizing---especially when it’s in a sports arena packed with thousands of screaming or heckling fans. The X Factor does raise the specter of a Roman circus.
In the reality show’s Wednesday night premier, Simon Cowell and his three co-judges hold singing auditions in Los Angeles and Seattle for the chance to win a $5 million recording contract from Sony and to appear in a Pepsi commercial during the 2012 Super Bowl broadcast. Brittney Spears herself, viewers were reminded, was in one of those.
With prizes like that a lot of folks took their chances---some could sing and some clearly couldn’t. One who couldn’t was a man in Seattle who gave an offensive performance in which he lowered his pants while chanting an original composition with the refrain “I’m a stud”. A large X was superimposed on the screen over his genitalia. Judge Paula Abdul left her chair and was followed by cameras to the bathroom where she claimed to have been sick.
In TV’s not so olden days, such a performer would have been removed from the stage and certainly edited from the show tape. The live audience seemed appalled by the act. We were warned that the American version of X Factor would be brasher but this was plain indecent. Cheryl Cole may have been grateful that she was replaced as a judge prior to this vulgarity.
Freak performance aside, there was a clear contrast between who would be voted past the first round and who wouldn’t. In only one instance was there a real conflict between the judges. An impressive 21-year-old Beyonce wannabe named Simone, who described her singing style as “fierce”, was inexplicably voted down by record industry executive L.A. Reid. His “no” vote created a clash with Cowell, perhaps providing a harbinger of conflict to come. Simone prevailed by capturing the three other judges’ votes.
For contestants like Simone who made the initial cut, delighted and sometimes emotionally wrenched families watching on backstage monitors were an integral part of the show.
There was an almost evangelical fervour in the footage of contestants and their families crying, shouting, and hugging each other. Everyone seemed to be encouraged to be on the X Factor set from grandmas to infants.
And the back stories of contestants were just as important as the talent in this first eliminating round. A 42-year-old single mother of two explained that the former man in her life had been telling her she was too old to sing since she was thirty and that this might be her last chance to prove how truly talented she is.
Her rendition of Aretha Franklin’s Natural Woman was a huge hit with the audience and tears of black mascara streamed down her face as all four judges voted yes. Cameras cut to yet another family member weeping backstage and holding the contestant’s baby.
In fact, Cowell made sure that 20-year-old Marcus’s fired-up stage mother didn’t feel excluded as he gave the singer his thumbs up. “This is for you and this is for your mother.”
With $5 million at stake, why shouldn’t the competition be a family affair?
The X Factor USA is on TV3 Friday at 9 pm