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Simon Cowell and the executives over at FOX have basically spent X Factor’s entire time on American television endlessly tinkering with the formula. They’ve tried incredibly famous judges. They’ve tried industry executives. They’ve tried current stars and former stars, Brits and Americans, and at no point have they ever had a four person panel that’s actually worked. They've always carried one or two pieces of dead weight that simply repeat everyone else and spit out cliches. During the first season, the show had Nicole Scherzinger. During the second season, it had Britney Spears, and now, there's a distinct chance viewers will be forced to sit through two snooze-fests in Paulina Rubino and Kelly Rowland.
The network heads would have us believe finding the right judges is a long and complicated process, but the truth is, it’s not. Finding the right judges is profoundly simple. Since no one actually involved with the show seems to get it, let me spell it out as simply as I can.
The goal is to hire people who have something to say and don’t rely on the same stock phrases. The goal is to hire people who can communicate effectively on television, not those who simply look cute or used to appear on television.
That’s it. It doesn’t matter whether they’re Britney Spears famous or complete and utter unknowns. The trick is to pick out people who don’t endlessly repeat themselves. You know why Cowell works? Because he comes up with fresh metaphors when he’s interacting with the contestants. He also doesn’t bullshit them. If they suck, he tells them. If they should be proud of themselves, he tells them. He actually analyzes the situation. Think of the judges like coaches of a high school sport. What you want is someone who offers very specific and very pointed comments, both positive and negative. What you don’t want is a fucking drone who says, “Play harder” or “Get ‘em next time.”
During the first episode, Simon told two teenage girls they needed to stop performing with their mother if they were going to continue. He told a recent high school graduate who sang “My Heart Will Go On” that he did a better job of crashing the Titanic than an iceberg. He commented on choreography, clothing choices and vocal ranges and even compared one contestant to Carrie Underwood. Demi Lovato, the only other holdover from last season who has shown great promise at times, told another her voice was Whitney-esque and called a quirkly couple “nerdy sexy”. She also openly talked about the pros of being placed with a certain group and tried to interact with the crowd. The rest, however, offered a whole lot of nothing. From “pitchy” to generic “I love yous” and “I’m a believers” to overly nice yeses, new judges Rowland and Rubio offered almost nothing of value during the entire hour. They didn’t have any unique phrases. They didn’t disagree with their fellow judges. They just uttered the same bullshit cliches and opinions we’ve all heard ad nauseum.
It’s still very early in the competition. It’s entirely possible Rowland and Rubio will greatly improve over the next chunk of episodes and become judges of real substance, but if that doesn’t happen, Cowell needs to get his head out of his ass and hire opinionated people willing to speak their mind and actually analyze what they’re seeing. I love X Factor. I think the format of its live episodes are the best of any singing competition on television, but this judging problem is an easy fix that needs to get worked out sooner rather than later. As the ratings indicate, something needs to change because obviously, people aren't interested in what they're getting.