Simon Cowell is back on television with his latest talent search, The X Factor, and Scott Malchus has the scoop. Meanwhile, Jeff Giles visits the Hamptons and ABC’s latest night time soap opera, Revenge. Will either get the Popdose stamp of approval? Read on, dear readers (that sounds stupid, sorry) READ ON! And leave comments. These writers are insecure and need to know that you’re listening to them.
Paula Abdul was on Letterman Tuesday night and he named off the long list of talent shows currently on television. It took him a good minute and a half. Afterward, he asked his guest, the former American Idol flake, er judge, ”What makes The X Factor different?” While Paula couldn’t come up with a real answer (imagine that), I’ll tell you: Nothing. Absolutely nothing. In fact, The X Factor is a hybrid of three popular talent search programs.
The first one is obvious, American Idol. As The X Factor was created by Simon Cowell and he serves as a judge (along with his old sparing partner, Abdul), it makes sense that this new series resembles the long running Fox show that made Cowell a household name (I don’t want to say star because the guy’s ego is already too fucking huge).
The second show that immediately comes to mind is NBC’s summer hit, America’s Got Talent. On that one, the contestants can rage in age from little children to senior citizens. They audition in front of a massive audience, sometimes drawing wild cheers, other times loud boos. On The X Factor, the age range is 13 on up. The people auditioning perform in front of a massive audience, sometimes drawing wild cheers, other times boos.
Finally, there is NBC’s latest hit, The Voice, which featured amateur singers performing for a celebrity panel of judges and getting placed into small groups. Those groups were then mentored by the judges throughout the contest. On The X Factor, contestants will be placed into groups of boys, girls, groups and over 35 and then mentored by the judges.
In the U.K. The X Factor began airing in 2004. Whether or not it was the first to come up with these format ideas is irrelevant. In the U.S., the show comes off as a copy cat, like it or not.
Wednesday’s first episode began the dragged out audition process which will lst for weeks. The judges were introduced like rock stars. We saw Simon Cowell step off an airplane in slow motion. We saw record mogul L.A. Reid descend in a helicopter. We saw Paula Abdul stand all sexy with backlighting. And we met Cheryl Cole, a pop sensation overseas, but a relative unknown in the States (they even included an ”And Introducing…” tag in front of her name. Cole seemed down to earth, bubbly and a real crowd pleaser. She was fired after just one round of auditions.
Her replacement showed up in the second hour when the audtions moved from Los Angeles to Seattle. She is reality series superstar, Nicole Scherzinger. The X Factor marks her fourth reality talent series (Popstars, Dancing with the Stars and The Sing-off preceded it) and this one is definitely the biggest production she’s ever been involved with to date.
There’s also some guy named Steve Jones (not the guitarist from the Sex Pistols, but boy that would have been fucking awesome) who is this show’s Ryan Seacrest. He didn’t do much in the first episode except look pretty and shake hands. So, he was kind of the Nick Cannon of The X Factor, as well.
If you’ve ever seen any of the aforementioned talent shows, then you knew exactly what to expect. Heartwarming back stories from some performers that lead to powerful musical number: The 13-year-old girl who would love the huge cash prize to help he folks buy a new house; the 42-year-old woman who’s been told she was too old since she turned 30; the fresh face twentysomething who made a deal with his mom- she gave him two years to follow his dream, and the clock is ticking out; and the former drug addict just out of rehab who’s seeking a second chance in life to make his son proud and to prove that you can turn your life around. These are all emotional stories and they’re made more powerful by the performances and the tears shed.
Of course there are some atrocities, including the dude whose pants fell down and exposed his junk. Paula was so disgusted that she ran to the bathroom and threw up. Or so she says. It makes for great television, anyway. And that’s all Cowell and his production team want, making an addictive television program that will get people to tune in twice a week until Christmas. Sure, he wants to find good singers so he can make a lot of money off of their success, but as his track record shows, he also enjoys putting through the total train wrecks simply because he knows it will create a stir and folks may talk about it on the message boards. The man is a master at manipulating the public. Will he succeed again? God I hope not.
We already have too many of these damn shows and as a fan of scripted television, I would hate to see a freshman series like Up All Night lose any chance of survival just because it got its assed kicked in the ratings. Furthermore, I’m just so sick of talent shows. Sure, some very, very talented people will have the opportunity to get their names out there. Perhaps with the $5 million dollar grand prize and record deal, the next Carrie Underwood or Kelly Clarkson could emerge. But I don’t need to watch The X Factor, especially when it doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
You want to know what’s wrong with network television? It’s airing at 10 PM Eastern, Wednesdays on ABC, and it’s called Revenge.
Which is not to say that Revenge is a terrible show — it really isn’t bad, if you have a moderate-to-high tolerance for a certain style of hammy acting and hokey dialogue. But the fact that this glossy primetime soap is hitting ABC’s schedule the same week the network severs ties with All My Children just goes to show you that the people running these companies don’t know what they want or how to get it.
The show does a nice job of parceling out its twisty premise over the course of the pilot episode, shuttling between the shadowy past of its protagonist, Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp), and the present-day havoc she’s made it her business to wreak upon the cabal of unscrupulous Hamptons residents who ruined her father’s life. And VanCamp is appropriately icy in the role, even if she is surrounded by actors cast adrift in hollow archetypes (particularly Gabriel Mann, who really needs to dial it down as eccentric youthful billionaire Nolan Ross).
But when you get right down to it, Revenge is, as one character puts it, “Same people, same parties, same everything.” These are the same artfully knotted assemblies of impossibly beautiful people carried away in assumed identities, lustful affairs, and fiendish plots that the soaps have been dishing up for years.
These stories always carry a certain appeal, which is why so many of the daytime serials lasted for decades — and why the last few are still clinging to life, and why All My Children is scheduled to join One Life to Live online next year, after ABC moves that show off the schedule too.
But Revenge doesn’t do anything these shows haven’t done before — even its fancy conceit of putting a pair of expensive pumps on The Count of Monte Cristo is nothing new — and since ABC has a terrible recent track record when it comes to being patient with serial dramas that didn’t cost half this much, it’s hard to believe it’ll be given much of a chance to develop.
Bottom line: Revenge is a pretty, fairly pleasant distraction, but shows like this one can’t afford to fall into that category anymore. The future of this genre, insofar as it exists, lies in series that don’t waste time substituting fabulous locations and beautifully filmed location shots for three-dimensional characters and plots that dare the viewer to turn away — and networks that don’t unnecessarily ratchet up the stakes by plowing millions of dollars into overboard promotional campaigns.
Find something else to do with your Wednesday nights. ABC will follow suit soon enough.