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Simon Cowell has made no bones about wanting The X Factor to be network TV’s biggest and grandest reality competition series. It stands to reason the Season 2 premiere of Fox’s hit series would also be big and bold, featuring a blue carpet (instead of red), a handprint ceremony, and free treats for fans, all occurring back-to-back at the famed Grauman’s Chinese theater. I attended the event, and it was quite the night of festivities leading up to the premiere on Tuesday, but when the packed auditorium of people finally settled into their seats and the big screen popped open, the premiere left everything else in the dust.

Every time I watch an episode of The X Factor, I think about how well cut and produced the show is. If you think about the dozens of singing performances the judges are sitting through each day and how each episode encompasses days and days of shooting, that will give you a guess about how much material that is to slog through. The X Factor producers have finessed the format to include a few bad performances, while also featuring all of the contestants that fans will be able to root for over the coming weeks. It’s a delicate balancing act, and I think The X Factor does it better than anyone else on television.

Just finessing what other shows also do well isn’t enough to account for The X Factor premiere’s success. I think it could be argued that bringing in fresher faces as judges might also be a step in a new direction for reality competition shows, but that’s not really an X Factor exclusive, either. The Voice first featured Cee Lo in his “Forget You” prime and nabbed Christina Aguilera long before Britney Spears even considered a similar gig. American Idol, too, has been all over picking more relevant names to judge. Bringing on Demi Lovato—who currently has the number one song on the charts—and Britney Spears—who may have the most lasting pop reputation on the planet other than the aging Madonna—was a slick move, but it wasn’t special.

There are plenty of reasons the Season 2 premiere of The X Factor is so special, however. The first is in the way the judges and contestants interact. Early on, there’s a montage of Britney Spears cleverly cutting down the contestants she clearly feels are wasting her and their own time. It’s the perfect way to introduce the show’s most prominent new judge, but it’s also a great way to show the shark mentality that manifests itself in to each of the judge’s critiques. The meaner Cowell and Spears are, the easier it is for Lovato and L.A. Reid to be staunch in their criticisms. There are no bleeding hearts in this crew, but there are fair evaluations.

What makes The X Factor so special early on is the new format of the show, which allows the cast and crew more backstage access to both the judges and contestants. In the second season premiere, the camera sets up a feud between a bitchy young lady in a pink jumpsuit and a struggling single mother. It’s exciting to see the fervor in the contestants and how that sometimes turns in to overt cattiness before each person hits the main stage. The downside is that we get to see fewer performances, but overall, I think it is worth it to get to know the contestants that matter a little better.

I’ve only seen one episode of The X Factor's second season and I’ve already felt a little irritated at one point, nearly cried once, and found 2 or 3 contestants that I hope I get to root for all the way through. There’s never been a reality competition season that I’ve found myself able to identify with so early in to the game. Sure, a part of this might have been the big screen and the avid fans screaming and cheering around me, but mostly, I think the show’s winning personality is a credit to the cameramen, post-production people and other crew on the show. The Voice better watch out.

A premiere is a long event, and this one was delayed by the talent showing up late and the seating schedules being run inefficiently. Luckily, it was all worth it for the Q & A that followed, and featured plenty of silly questions and some pretty interesting facts. During the judge's time on stage, we learned this was Lovato and Spears’ first time seeing The X Factor premiere, that Lovato hated the pink jumpsuit chick almost as much as the audience did, and Simon and Lovato have a cutesy teasing, almost father-daughter relationship going on. Seeing the show on the big screen was a brand new experience, and one I wouldn’t have missed, but the best part was probably seeing Spears force a smile for a whole half hour.

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