With the premier of Simon Cowell’s X Factor, Robert Steven Williams wonders if another singing show can last.
There’s no underestimating the taste of America, so it is too early to declare X Factor, Simon Cowell’s new show, a disappointment. But I must admit, I was surprised at how similar it was to Idol and The Voice.
I’m not a huge fan of this category, but I have watched a few episodes of The Voice and a couple of complete seasons of Idol. These are guilty pleasures, a curiosity, but far from must-see T.V. for me.
But I am fascinated by cultural trends, and there is no denying the power of these shows.
For me, the best part of Idol was watching Simon and Paula go at it. A Paula meltdown was far more entertaining than much of what I heard sung on stage. I thought Idol losing Paula would hurt them—shows how much I know.
And of course without Simon, it didn’t make any sense to me, but once again, I was proven wrong. Idol is a brand and J Lo and Steven Tyler did an admirable job last season, along with Ryan and Randy. I can’t say the same was true for the talent.
I definitely felt the contestant quality was better on The Voice, and from what I saw of X Factor, they’ve found some great potential, too. But last week I felt as if I was watching a parallel universe. Instead of seeing the red Coke cups, it was Pepsi. Instead of AT&T, it was Verizon that featured Simon in a commercial dissing the competition. Universal’s Jimmy Iovine was replaced by Sony’s LA Reid.
But of course the big double-take is seeing Paula and Simon reunited. If anyone had any doubts about Simon’s fake disdain for Paula, it’s clear these are scripted spats. I can’t be too hard on them, all of my favorite shows are scripted: Mad Men, Men of a Certain Age (R.I.P.), Modern Family, Weeds, The Big C, Treme and Boardwalk Empire.
Reality Television is far from real. Perhaps Curb Your Enthusiasm is a better comparison. Larry David outlines scenarios and lets his actors ad lib. I have no doubt that Simon does the same with his crew.
Perhaps the most intriguing drama is off-stage. The other Simon, Simon Fuller, is suing FOX and X Factor for ripping Idol off (Cowell may have been the reason Idol was such a hit in the US, but he didn’t have ownership). Fuller already sued X Factor in the UK for allegedly ripping off Pop Idol, the show American Idol was based on. From what I saw last week, it’s obvious why Fuller is pissed off.
At the end of the day, the real question is, how much contestant singing competition can America watch? At some point, we all have to say that’s enough. We used to love Guitar Hero, but there were only so many variations and copycats we could consume before we burned out. Clearly Cowell is betting were still interested, but America’s vote is still being tallied. Stay tuned.