“The X Factor” premiered on Fox television Wednesday night with two new judges, Britney Spears and Demi Lovato. Before the episode aired, Madonna gave a shout-out to Britney on Facebook, writing, “Britney Spears – wishing you luck tonight on your X-Factor debut!! #GoodLuckBritney.”
Pop princess Spears, 30, and former Disney star Lovato, 20, replaced last season’s Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger. On Wednesday, they joined music producer L.A. Reid and X Factor executive producer Simon Cowell at the judges’ table for their first taped audition show.
Spears refuted claims from Simon Cowell that she was ‘mean’ when dealing with contestants.
She has been judging contestants for the upcoming season of “The X Factor” for several weeks, during which time Simon Cowell has observed that the pop princess is much more critical of performers than he would have expected. Britney’s response is that she modeled her judging style after Cowell himself, the undisputed king of reality competition judges. It’s also safe to assume that Cowell provided Britney with plenty of instruction as to just what type of judge he wanted her to be – after all, it’s his show.
On Tuesday’s episode of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Britney explained that she felt it was in the best interest of the contestants to give them a brutally honest assessment of their prospects as an entertainer. “I prefer to be honest. I think that’s the best way to go,” she said. “I wouldn’t want to be told something and then waste seven years of my life. I feel like it’s the thing to do.”
With the long-term success of the show perhaps now depending on Britney Spears and whether she is an engaging and likable judge that America wants to watch every week might become clearer from the following recap.
The first stops on “The X Factor” audition tour were Austin, Texas, and San Francisco. Here are the highlights:
Getting things started in Austin was Paige Thomas, a 21-year-old nursing student and mom from San Antonio. Her adorable three-year-old daughter accompanied her to the audition. It didn’t take long for her to win over the new judges with her rendition of Mary J. Blige’s “I’m Goin’ Down.”
She wasn’t all cutting, declearing, “You are so bright and beautiful on stage,” and said Thomas was flawless. Lovato was similarly impressed by Thomas’ stage presence. Reid compared her to Rihanna, and Simon said it was one of his favorite X Factor auditions to date because Thomas takes her responsibilities as a mother seriously. She easily advanced.
Fifty-year-old Shawn Armenta, claiming he’s spent over a year in the recording studio honing his craft, warbled an original tune titled “Candy Girl.” He became feisty with the judges after they derided his act; when Lovato told him that not everyone is meant to be a singer, Shawn shot back, “That’s why you use Auto-Tune and I don’t.” Spears eventually chimed in, “I feel uncomfortable with you even staring at me.” We won’t see him again.
A 13-year-old Justin Bieber look-alike named Reed Deming had a false start when he attempted Bruno Mars’ “It Will Rain.” Cowell cut him off, saying Reed didn’t have the vocal muscle to pull it off. Given a second chance, Reed tackled another Bruno song, “Grenade.” Reid pointed out the physical similarities to Justin, but Reed said he just wants to be himself. Spears and Lovato both thought Reed was adorable, and Cowell told him they were looking at a potential future pop star. Reed will be back.
Quatrele Da’an Smith, wearing a wedding dress and lipstick and showing off a whole lot of leg, opened the San Francisco segment with an unusual take on Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Lovato said she loved him and his lipstick. Cowell joked that if Madonna, Bobby Brown and Dracula had a child, he would look like Quatrele. But he quickly added that he oddly enjoyed the performance. Amazingly, Quatrele passed through.
Spears was surprised to see Don Philip, a man with whom she collaborated 10 years ago. After he performed Beyonce’s “Halo,” Cowell flatly told him that he doesn’t have a good singing voice. Don turned to Spears for support, but she reluctantly confessed that he didn’t meet the “X Factor” standards. He was dismissed, and backstage, he awkwardly cried that he felt he hurt Spears.
Jennel Garcia, 18, brought plenty of energy to the stage with Grace Potter & the Nocturnals’ “Paris (Ooh La La).” Spears said she was not expecting that type of amazing performance from Jennel. Lovato gushed that Jennel combined a cute face with fire. Cowell suggested that she could become a young Pat Benatar. Jennel is headed to the next round.
Jillian Jensen, 19, connected with Lovato by recalling how she was also bullied in school and disclosing that she too has a “Stay Strong” tattoo. She had a portion of the crowd waving their arms in the air as she covered “Who You Are” by Jessie J. A teary-eyed Lovato walked onto the stage after the performance was over and hugged Jillian and said, “I’ve made it through it. I know you can too.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. All of the judges remarked how well she channeled her pain into the song.
While Spears was somewhat reserved, Lovato cheerily took control, asking the singers to introduce themselves and handing the mike to Cowell to comment on the performances. As the only judge too young to drink, she related well to the teenage contestants, complimenting them on their glitter, cuteness, lipstick and stage presence.
Cowell was somewhat paternal to Lovato, telling her to stop flirting with boys. He enjoyed Spears’ dismissals of contestants. “You’re good at this,” he told her. Reid said nothing controversial, but, as he did last season, he compared singers to artists who have “walked though my door.” In this round he found singers who resembled Rihanna and Justin Bieber, in his opinion.
“The X Factor” continues Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET.
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