After months of lead-up, The X Factor finally premieres tonight. Simon! Paula! Other lunatics! The show doesn’t reinvent anything — not its structure, nor its attitude, nor its aesthetic, emotional beats, and sob stories — but that doesn’t make it bad, it just makes it a hybrid. X Factor draws heavily from Idol, of course, but it also cribs the America’s Got Talent’s audition format, with contestants getting up onstage in front of an audience right away, and The Voice’s proclivity for contestants who pluck viewers’ heartstrings. You know what you’re getting when you tune in, and that’s okay. Because X Factor is pretty good if you like that kind of show, and as all evidence shows, boy oh boy does America like that kind of show.
The selling point for X Factor, clearly, is having Cowell back in the mean seat, dashing the hopes and dreams of pathetic creatures with a dismissive hand wave and a terse, “I’m sorry, it’s a no.” But L.A. Reid is no slouch in that department either, and after years of watching Simon bicker with Paula, it’s nice to see him bicker with someone coherent. For her part, Paula’s … still Paula, slurring her words and tearing up at any performance that’s mediocre or better.
X Factor’s only major misstep is Nicole Scherzinger. Cheryl Cole’s ousting makes even less sense after tonight’s episode: She judges one early segment of the show, and then Scherzinger steps in, though the former Pussycat Doll doesn’t bring anything to the judging table. “People like you inspire me,” she sobs to one contestant. To do what? Go on more reality shows? Paula’s loopiness is at least tempered by her enthusiasm and warmth, plus she seems incredibly thrilled to be at the judging table. Sure, when the spirit says move, Paula dances like a spider monkey on quaaludes, but Nicole’s major contribution to the episode is ruining the emotional impact of a hard-earned standing ovation by having to tug her dress down to cover her crotch. The premiere plays up the disagreements between Simon and L.A. Reid, but one wonders what a series of debates between Paula and Nicole would be like. (Probably like this.)