Though some have said, “X Facor’s” premiere was dominated by young contestants, the focus was more on the judges than on the lack luster performances on display. All eyes were on Britney Spears and Demi Lovato, the new female judges last night.
The Spears joined the panel of the show for its second season alongside fellow newcomer Demi Lovato and original judges Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid and Simon was hugely impressed with the “Toxic” singer.
Simon Cowell has dubbed 30-year-old Britney Spears the ‘new Queen of Mean’ due to her harsh criticisms of some contestants, and as the first round of auditions got underway she certainly didn’t disappoint.
“I think you need to practise a little bit more,” she told 31-year-old salesman Chad Mosby, before saying to 41-year-old fitness instructor Amy Gibson: “I thought it was just kind of bad.”
The Toxic singer told 21-year-old student Josh McCoy: “The singing came in and it wasn’t very nice” and advised 18-year-old deli worker Will Thomas: “You need a new teacher to teach you how to sing.”
Spears was denying contestants with grimaces and a dry delivery. “I thought it was just kind of bad,” she told one. “The singing came in, and it wasn’t very nice,” she told another. “I felt like I was listening to Alvin and the Chipmunks,” was followed by “I think you’re like Vanilla Ice meets Lauryn Hill meets West Side Story.”
“I want to know who let you on stage,” she told the 50-year-old airline baggage handler, whose rendition of his original song Candy Girl was painful to watch.
“I feel uncomfortable with you even staring at me,” she said.
Cowell, possibly fearing for the safety of his Mr Nasty title, joked: “And everybody thinks I’m the mean one.”
Cowell showed his softer side last night as he was won over by a heart-wrenching tale of bullying from a US X Factor contestant.
The 52-year-old music mogul choked back tears and wafted his watery eyes with his notepad after 19-year-old Jillian Jensen gave an emotional rendition of Who You Are by British pop sensation Jessie J.
“I really felt for her,” he told his fellow judges. “The only time in my life I lost it. I’ve never ever done that.”
Youngest judge Demi Lovato, who struck an immediate bond with Jillian due to her own experiences as bullying victim, jokingly told him: “Oh! You have a heart.”
Jillian, a part-time piano teacher from Rochester, Massachusetts, became tearful as she stood on the X Factor stage and told the judges how she had been teased throughout school.
She described how the bullies would prank call her and mock her songs, and said she used music to overcome her sadness.
Jillian explained how 20-year-old Lovato had been an inspiration to her and said she even has a tattoo that reads “Stay strong” – the same words Lovato has inked on her wrists.
“We’re both up here. The bullies that bullied us, they’re at home watching us on TV,” the ‘Skyscraper’ singer said reassuringly.
After receiving a standing ovation from the live audience following her soulful audition in Providence, Rhode Island, Jillian broke down in tears on stage.
Lovato quickly rushed up to comfort the teenager, telling her: “I know exactly what you’ve gone through. I made it through it and I know you can too.”
Sending Jillian through to the boot camp stage of the show, all four judges were overcome with emotion and full of praise for the music teacher.
“I thought that was incredible,” Cowell said, while Britney Spears told the contestant: “I really don’t think you should be crying right now. You were so amazing.”
Record producer L.A. Reid said: “I have never ever heard anybody take their experiences, take their pain, take their emotions and pour it into a song like you did.”
Lovato added: “I cannot believe how amazing that just was. When you sang, you broke my heart.”
Cowell and Lovato, meanwhile, played up to the friendly rivalry that they are said to have enjoyed on set.
Lovato, who has been romantically linked to One Direction member Niall Horan, could resist telling Cowell backstage:
“By the way, Niall says hi.”
“Keep away from him. He’s pure,” the music mogul instructed.
Lovato insisted: “I’m not looking for anything. I’m not going to date anybody for a whole year and I made that clear to him.”
Asked by Cowell if she had kissed the Irish boy band star, she laughed and said: “No! That’s a weird question.”
Among the contestants to receive positive feedback from all four judges was 13-year-old Justin Bieber lookalike Reed Deming from San Antonio, Texas.
The panel were skeptical about the schoolboy’s vocal abilities as he performed “It Will Rain” by Bruno Mars, but put him through to the next round after allowing him to try a second Bruno Mars hit Grenade.
Boy band Emblem 3, from Huntington Beach, California had the girls in the audience screaming before they had even sung a note of their original song “Sunset Boulevard.”
Cowell, who had to stop Lovato flirting with the three teen boys – brothers Keaton and Wesley Stromberg and Drew Chadwick, told them: “I predict big things for you guys.”
Jennel Garcia, 18, from Rochester, Massachusetts, got four yeses from the panel after her rocking rendition of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals song Paris (Ooh La La).
While Cowell compared her to a young Pat Benatar, Reid told the high school graduate she was a “feisty little fireball.”
The judges also gushed about 21-year-old mother-of-one Paige Thomas, who drew immediate comparisons with Rihanna thanks to her side-shaved hairstyle.
The nursing student from San Antonio, Texas, struggled to fight back tears after her performance of Mary J Blige hit “I’m Goin Down,” brought huge cheers from the audience.
Reid, who discovered Rihanna, noted the similarities and said: “There was something very special about her and I see that same something special in you.”
The panel was also won over by Paige’s three-year-old daughter Jade, who ran on stage to hug her mother at the end of her audition.
Mother-of-two Spears looked particularly smitten, waving and grinning at the youngster from her seat.
There was less love, however, for 22-year-old Texan bank teller Kaci Newton, who was shown making catty comments backstage about her fellow contestants.
After a shaky performance of Katy Perry hit “Firework,” Cowell told her she was “annoying” and said: “It sounded like you were dying. If you were dying and suffering and singing, I think that’s what it would sound like.”
The music mogul also compared 22-year-old actor Vincent Thomas with a boy band member who couldn’t sing after he gave a less-than-inspiring rendition of Elton John classic “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word.”
There was no shortage of off-the-wall contestants too, including 24-year-old Saane Dakunivosa who auditioned in a tropical outfit with an extravagant flower accessory on her shoulder.
Mark Avey got noticed for all the wrong reasons as Cowell described the 32-year-old bartender as a “raving lunatic” following his on-stage pelvic thrusts.
And Lovato was forced to ask 57-year-old jobseeker Charles Spangler if he was drunk after his somewhat strange interpretation of Soft Cell’s Tainted Love.
Cake decorator Quatrele Da’an Smith also left the judges open-mouthed as he arrived on stage wearing a bridal veil, women’s pants, fishnet tights and bright pink lipstick.
But while 56-year-old Reid said a firm ‘no’, his fellow judges were won over by the eccentric 21-year-old’s rendition of Lady Gaga hit Born This Way.
“If you imagine Madonna, Bobby Brown and Dracula had a child, it would be you. But in a weird way I quite liked it,” Cowell said. “Sometimes I have to embrace the madness and today I am.”
Spears, meanwhile, was confronted with a tough blast from the past as she watched an audition by 32-year-old vocal coach Don Philip.
Don, who dueted with the pop princess 10 years ago, was desperately hoping to impress her, but his vocals weren’t up to scratch as he sang Beyonce hit Halo.
“I feel like through the years, maybe you’ve gone through a lot of hardship and battles, like your voice really isn’t up to the bar of the standards of the X Factor and what we want,” Spears told him as he sobbed on stage.
After receiving a ‘no’ from all four judges, Don broke down backstage and said he feared he had “hurt” Spears.
She told Cowell: “That was hard. Sometimes it’s kind of hard because I know what they’ve been through.”
The premiere week continues with an hour-long show Thursday (8 ET/PT, Fox).