Pretty much the most important thing Fox and Simon Cowell want you to know about the upcoming season of The X Factor is that Britney Spears is Not. That. Innocent. Cowell rewrote his master narrative in January when he dumped the super supportive Paula Abdul (and the lesser Nicole Scherzinger), and his new plan seems to be the creation of new judge Britney Spears in his own image. And so the refrain out of the audition rounds, the early marketing, and now Cowell himself has been the same. “Britney’s quite mean, you’ll discover,” he told critics at a press conference for the show. Is she really, though? If anything Spears, who appeared alongside Cowell and fellow judges Demi Lovato and LA Reid via satellite, was a slightly better-scripted version of the deer in headlights who greeted the press at Fox’s upfronts in May. “I’m not mean,” she whined-protested with a smile. Lovato also jumped in to stick up for Spears. “She’s a sweetheart who’s very honest,” she said. “As sweet as a lemon,” Cowell replied.
Then there were Spears’s prepared responses about why she joined the show, which were all about “giving back” and not so much about crushing hopes and dreams. “I’m just a very honest person,” she managed to concede. (She likes all kinds of music, too! “I’m actually a huge fan of hip hop. I love rap … I like cabaret music. I love bands.”) But Cowell obviously thinks Spears’s alleged mean streak is a big selling point for The X Factor. When asked about the news that American Idol had snagged Mariah Carey, he dismissed it quickly. “I like Mariah. I think she’s gonna find it difficult to say no. You have to say no to people,” he said. “She’s sweet. I’m happy for her.”