Britney Spears and Demi Lovato produced some fireworks and some waterworks on the second season premiere of “The X-Factor.” Show creator Simon Cowell got just what he hoped for by picking two of music’s biggest head cases to be judges.
With television now saturated by musical and variety talent shows, Cowell has smartly, in an evil genius sort of way, re-positioned “The X-Factor to appeal to the lowest common denominator among viewers.
Now, the show is no longer about contestants, but about how the judges react to the contestants. “American Idol” tried to tone down the more tawdry aspects of the talent show after Simon left.
X-Factor Premiere Top Contestants
— Jillian Jensen, 19, sang Jessie J’s “Who You Are,” but scored just as many points with her tear-jerker story about being bullied throughout her adolescence.
— Emblem3, sang an original song and scored. Boy bands are hot at the moment. Cowell is promoting One Direction. “I don’t like you, I love you,” said L.A. Reid. Britney and Demi were both impressed.
— Quatrele Da’an Smith dressed in drag to sing Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way.” He seemed to be trotted out, at first purely, to be put down. But only Reid rejected him. Cowell and the girls put him through. Is he an Adam Lambert without the talent, or sleeper contestant?”
— Reed Deming, 13, a Justin Bieber clone. He wandered off-key more than once, and Simon had to tell him to tone it down. But advanced on his cuteness quotient. Demi and Britney loved him.
— Paige Thomas, 21, bore a striking resemblance to Rihanna, but fortunately chose to sing Mary J. Blige’s “I’m Going Down.” She killed it and along with all comparisons to the Barbadian singer. Smart move.
— Jennel Garcia, 18, sang “Paris (Ooh La La)” by Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and impressed the judges enough to move on to the next round.
But the British television mogul has no plans to do the same. To the contrary, he’s sown the seeds for incendiary episodes this season, including parading obviously awful talent on stage for the judges to eviscerate and humiliate.
There’s no denying that Spears has had an exceptional career, but her qualifications to be a judge are questionable at best. She can’t even manage her own career or personal life. She’s 31, yet she continues under a court-ordered conservatorship.
Her father Jamie Spears and Jason Trawick, her former agent, now manager, fiancé and puppet master, make even the smallest decisions for her. A court last month refused to lift the conservatorship even over her personal life.
Among other things, Britney, who has been diagnosed bi-polar, doesn’t even know enough to take her medicine, according to the court hearing. Which of course makes her perfect for Cowell’s “X-Factor.” Who knows how she’s going to react at any given moment?
On the first show, she came off like a strident femme domme. “You’re going to see Britney and Demi, unfiltered,” Cowell eagerly promised over a clip of Spears demolishing a contestant. No doubt; she’s infinitely pliable.
In contrast, Lovato was the weepy submissive. Her most frequent comment of the night: “You’re too cute!”
The 20-year-old singer and actress has barely had a career. Her biggest claim to fame is the Disney Channel comedy “Sonny With a Chance.” But she’s better known for punching out a backup dancer and melting down during a South American tour with the Jonas Brothers.
The incident earned her a trip to rehab in 2010. When she emerged three months later, she said she had learned she was bi-polar, which seems to be an increasingly popular Hollywood malady. Previously she’d suffered from and eating disorder, cutting and rumored cocaine habit, the latter of which she denied having.
Longtime music executive L.A. Reid rounds out the judge’s table. He has more experience spotting musical talent than the other two judges combined. Reid is probably thankful to be collecting a fat paycheck, given the music industry’s precipitous decline. His reputation, however, can go nowhere but down sitting next to Spears and Lovato.
The show ends on a positive note when the best singer of the night, Jillian Jensen, 19, takes the stage and tells a hard-luck bullying story that causes Lovato to perk up. Bullying is a personal issue of hers, Lovato says.
Jensen is full of emotion as she sings, and Lovato starts to tear up. “I knew that you had been through a lot,” Lovato says afterward. “But when you sang, you broke my heart.”
At that moment, all eyes were on Lovato, right where Cowell wants them to be.