X Factor host Steve Jones has gotten more criticism than some of the show's contestants: What's with his accent? How come he doesn't know the meaning of LOL? Why does he so abruptly cut off the judges? To name a few. Now he faces tabloid reports that he's already been fired. In a candid pre-final-three-performance conversation with Vulture, he takes on his naysayers, and talks about the infamous Rachel Crow elimination and whether he'll be back next season.
How has hosting the show been, compared with what you expected when you got the job?
I was overwhelmed with excitement about doing the job. But I’ll be honest, I’ve been taken aback. It’s been a lot more pressure than I expected, a lot more emotional. I’ve been critiqued to hell and back throughout the press and throughout the entire process of people watching it. Maybe I was a little naïve; I wasn’t expecting it to be so black-and-white. Half the people hate what I’m doing and half the people love what I’m doing. I suppose that’s kind of what you want. But I wanna be liked by people, so it can be a little bit upsetting when people say hurtful things. If you can’t handle it, go home and hide under your bed.
Do you actively read what people are writing on Twitter or Facebook or elsewhere?
I’m not trolling through newspapers looking for my name, “What are people saying? What are people saying?” But I think Twitter’s a valuable medium for the show to get people to watch it, and I’ll do whatever needs to be done to secure the success of my show. I’m on Twitter and I’m seeing what people are writing, and some of them [laughs] are just so angry. It’s weird; it’s such aimless hatred, but if you take the time to reply to it, and say, “Well, listen, my accent may not be as Welsh as it was when I left Britain, but I have to enunciate” — if you explain to people, they tend to appreciate that.
People are surprised to find out you’re an actual human being.
Yeah, of course. One of the most hurtful things about the show so far are people calling me rude and belligerent, and that’s not me at all. I’m very respectful of all the people I meet. Sometimes I suppose I come off as quite rude when I’m interrupting Paula or Simon, but that’s the job, and if I don’t do it they’ll find somebody else who will. Simple as that.
Have you made changes or adjustments based off criticism you’ve heard?
You have to let it roll off. The moment you start trying to accommodate everybody who’s got an opinion about yourself, you’re dead. I accept that some people don’t like my hosting skills. I accept that I certainly don’t like everybody on TV, so it’d be naïve of me to expect everybody to like me. I’m not gonna start second-guessing what people think of my hosting. I’ve been doing this for eleven, coming up to twelve years, so I have my style and I’m proud of that. I don’t think I have the capacity for change. It’s all or nothing. It’s simple as that. I can’t change. [Laughs.] I won’t.
For me, your hosting style is different than watching you on a talk show, or even right now in conversation.
It’s quite comical to me when friends say, “Well, we don’t get all your personality coming across on the screen.” And I’m like, “Well, yeah, it’s not a two-hour audience with Steve Jones, it’s The X Factor, I’m there to move it along.” If I was there taking up all the air time, I think people would say the opposite: “What the hell? Who the hell is this guy? Why is he talking endlessly? Who gives a shit about him? It’s about the contestants.”
How hard is it to wrangle the judges?
I know people are watching just me on the stage attempting to stop the judges from talking endlessly — because they will, they have a lot to say. Paula could start talking at minute 1 and finish at minute 120, you know? But at the same time it’s a team effort. There’s someone in my ear guiding me and saying, “Steve, that’s long enough, now,” because I’m not totally aware of the time. I haven’t got a stopwatch in my hand. So I need somebody in my ear saying, “It’s gone on too long, we need to cut it now otherwise we won’t have time for the big decision at the end of the show.” It’s kind of like, if I’m being told to do it, then I have to do it.
Let’s talk about Rachel Crow's elimination. When she collapsed after getting the results, what were you thinking?
That’s all instinct in that moment. I don’t love seeing Rachel do that, but one of the aspects of the show I do love is that anything could happen. In that moment when Rachel had collapsed, it was just jaw-droppingly bad. I really didn’t know what to do. It’s difficult to have clarity. But I just wanted to get down there and comfort her.
As she was crying, there was a moment when you stepped back, touched your ear, shook your head and said, “No.” I’m curious what you were responding to.
That was somebody telling me to get in there and grab Rachel, and I shook my head: “No. I’m not going in there and separating her from her mother. No way.” I have a filter as well. I’m not like a robot that’ll do anything I’m told to do. I mean, ultimately, if I don’t want to do it, I simply won’t, and I didn’t want to get in there when she was being comforted by her mother.
There was a moment when you were reading some Twitter comments on the air, and you read LOL as “lots of laughs.”
In that moment you’re saying stuff, and then afterward you’re like, “Shit, I got that wrong.” I know it’s “laugh out loud,” but I’m reading it for the first time, and sometimes you stumble over your words. At the risk of sounding like an idiot, it isn’t easy to read out loud. It’s not rehearsed. I mess up occasionally; I’m human.
Have you had any conversations about Season 2?
I can’t even expect to see myself on the show just yet. I haven’t had that conversation. Hopefully I’m involved in the second season! I’ve had a whale of a time doing the first season. But I’m sure we’ll look at the first season as a gigantic pilot that’ll become more refined. We’ll know exactly what we want to get across in the second season, we’ll go in there with a clear view of what we need to do. But as I said, I’ve gotta get confirmation of my involvement in it first. We’ll see! Fingers crossed!