Before it can create a music superstar, “The X Factor” has to become a TV sensation itself. And the odds are in its favor.
The talent competition imported from the U.K. may be the most buzzed series about of the new TV season, and no one’s buzzing about it more than creator Simon Cowell, who hopes the Midas Touch he applied to another Brit translation, “American Idol,” will produce just as much television gold.
PopcornBiz takes you inside the chatter from the all-star team Cowell’s assembled – including his bicker-y former “Idol” judge Paula Abdul – to learn why, with $5 million and an major recording contract at stake, “The X Factor” may be the biggest reality talent competition yet.
Simon Cowell (Judge, Creator and Executive Producer): I wouldn't have made the show unless I thought it was going to be different. We see this as a game-changer. We're going to try and change the rules. We're going to try and find a completely different kind of contestant. Our job as judges is to find people who've got star quality, turn them into stars, and I've got a panel who can do that. For me, because I've worked on ‘American Idol’ and ‘The X Factor’ for seven years, the shows were completely different, even though they were both talent competitions. Our style is we pretty much show the audience everything.
Paula Abdul (Judge): When we appear together on ‘The X Factor,’ it will have been three years since Simon and I sat next to each other. I'm telling you right now I don't think about what I'm going to do, how I'm going to be. This is a real reality show, and you are going to get a real inside view without manipulation, because I think that the television-viewing audience, they are too savvy. This is a different kind of show. What you see is what you get – the good, the bad, and the ugly – and I think it's a show that really gets behind the scenes as well.
Cowell: We’ve held back a lot for the first show in terms of what I would call different types of contestants to what you’ve seen before: very, very different backstories, the kind of stories I don’t think other shows would put on, but we are. And I think you’ll hopefully enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it when you watch it. It’s quite edgy, it’s very raw, it’s real life, but it’s a talent show, so the ones we thought were talented we put on the show, but they are different to what you’ve seen before.
Abdul: This panel feels real solid and tight. We all know what our positions are. We all come from an area of expertise and success within that. We bring experience. We bring stage performance. We bring amazing success as record producers and executives, producers, stage design and directing. There's a tremendous amount of talent on the panel.
Cowell: What I’ve seen with the show in the last couple of years in the U.K. with the kind of artists we’ve attracted the artists coming through are not just competing, they are murdering the opposition in the U.K. at the moment. And we hope to do the same thing with the show here. That was always the sole reason for making a show like this: can you find a different kind of artist who doesn’t just work within a competition show – because we’re always going to have a winner – but actually can compete with the big artists out there around the world? That’s what you hope is going to happen, and I will die trying until the end to do that.
L.A. Reid (Judge): With this platform, we are collectively seeing more talent in a day than I could see perhaps in a year in my job as a record executive. We are auditioning sometimes 50-60 contestants a day. I may see 50, 60 in a two‑year period, right? So just the numbers certainly increases the opportunities for us to discover the next generation of stars – and we are finding them, too. We are finding artists, contestants that we really believe to be true stars of tomorrow.
Nicole Scherzinger (Judge): I was honored to be put on the judges' panel when Simon asked me, because I had been in that exact place. That's how I got my start 10 years ago, through that exact audition process on ‘Popstars,’ and I know exactly what they are going through. I've been there. I can empathize with them. I come from a different place of compassion and understanding.
Abdul: Everyone says for all these years, 'You're so kind and nurturing.' Well, guess what? My whole career started behind the scenes, nurturing raw, untrained talent and helping iconic talent continue to soar. That's who I am. That's my experience, getting these acts ready and getting out there and performing. I have a background in set design. I have a background in stage directing. I have a background in understanding cameras and lighting. Simon's going to wish that he never hired me.
Cowell: If I didn't trust the public, then we wouldn't have the audience vote, and we'd make all the decisions ourselves. So I think you've got to be careful what kind of contestants you put in because at the end of the day, I think it should be a talent competition, not a popularity competition. And what we're trying to do is expand the voting system on this show, which is to allow as many people to vote in as many different ways as possible, like online voting. I have to trust the audience, and I think they will get it right.
Abdul: I get Simon. He gets me. I understand the nature of reality television. For me, I'm here to help make the best show ever, and Simon knows that. We get each other and you need that sense of familiarity and security in knowing that there's something that works while we're going to be showing everyone the differences of the show. It is completely different. It's like riding a bike. It's just that I'm riding at a higher level of intensity with a little power pack on the back.
Cowell: The great thing about working with Paula is within about five minutes of filming she’s not aware that the cameras are on anymore, and she’ll fight with you over something – sometimes important, often not. And that’s what I like about her: she is prepared to argue. So it’s like getting an old dog back from the rescue pound – It’s kind of grateful to see you and the relationship is back intact.
Steve Jones (Host): It was kind of like mommy and daddy had a trial separation, but now, they are back together, but they still argue all the time. It's tough for us kids.
Cowell: Paula can be a bit wacky at times, but Nicole actually wasn’t far behind in a fantastically self-centered way, which she wasn’t aware of and which I found really amusing. Every city we went to – and Nicole wasn’t aware of this – she changed her accent; when she was in New York she had this kind of Brooklyn thing going on, and then when she went to Dallas she became this Southern belle. I mean, she just changes every city you go into.
Scherzinger: I always say that we're one big happily dysfunctional family. Simon just loves to get under my and Paula's skin, but we just adore him for that. I've actually met my match. I actually found a bigger diva than myself.
Abdul: I was part of the start of 'Idol' and it was an amazing close to a decade. If we get a success like that it would be outstanding. It would be phenomenal. Simon says that were going to get bigger ratings. I'm not concerned about ratings. I'm not concerned about any of that. I'm concerned about showing something really unique.
Cowell: With regards to the question can we beat ‘Idol’: you don't enter something for the silver medal. You do it because you want to be number one. And for the next few months, we're going to shove everything at this to try and make it the best show on TV…It’s been 10 years since we did this. It's a new decade. We've got to find a nuance, and we've got to design and make the show for people who have never seen those shows before.
"The X Factor" debuts tonight at 8 PM ET on Fox