Like most reasonable people, I did not watch the first season of The X Factor. This was in a pre-Phillip Phillips age when singing competitions did not interest me very much. Dancing, yes. Prosthetic movie makeup, yes. Scream-karaoke, no. But in retrospect I'm pretty sure Simon Cowell was glad I didn't watch that season either, considering what a clean sweep he made before the premiere of Season 2. Paula Abdul, Nicole Scherzinger, and Handsome British Host were all sent to the vast elephant graveyard of fired reality show officiants (Hey, Janice Dickinson!) and what followed was a months-long, overblown publicity stunt in which Cowell approached and/or hired megastars to be his new judges. He basically tried to hire anybody who'd ever gone platinum—making sure to leak each conversation to the press along the way—but at least one legit megastar took the bait: Britney Spears. A genuinely intriguing choice! Didn't her handlers make her stop speaking in public sometime around Blackout? Who even knew what kind of judge she would make? Would her X Factor gig be a career redefining (and reinvigorating) moment similar to Jennifer Lopez's American Idol stint? Or would this be another unflattering chapter of her life on par with Britney & Kevin: Chaotic?
The surprising answer came less than halfway through this week's Season 2 premiere: Britney Spears not only is not a train wreck, she's a likable, engaged, and genuinely thoughtful presence. Phew! Honestly, I was glad to see this because I don't think we as a society need to live through another era where we make Britney Spears cry in her car every day. No, Spears has her act together and behaves with nowhere near the Paula Abdul-esque pill haze I'd feared. The more surprising aspect, however, is that not only is Britney Spears not terrible at this job, but she's TOO GOOD FOR IT ENTIRELY. Because, I don't know quite how to say this without resorting to hyperbole, but The X Factor is THE WORST. Just absolutely the worst. I hate it so much, you guys. I want to push The X Factor into a mud puddle. I want to throw bleach on The X Factor's jeans. I want to push The X Factor off the side of a yacht and into the open mouth of a shark (do sharks eat GARBAGE?). I hope after this season ends Simon Cowell fires everybody, including himself, climbs into a helicopter, and flies directly into the sun. GET OUT OF HERE, THE X FACTOR.
Demi Lovato was fine. I mean, no she wasn't. She was whatever. One of those mean girls at the mall who agrees with everything to your face and then will stab you in your back the second you leave the room. She was almost aggressively insincere, her main talent was knowing when the cameras were on her and being able to feign spontaneity or basic human emotion during those times. Child-star stuff. We all know about her huge, overly orchestrated departure from the Disney Channel, but I don't care how many tattoos she has or how many songs are ghostwritten for her about cutting, she's still just a pretty rich girl who's had almost no life experience beyond the entertainment industry. You know? Don't talk to me about bullying if you've been famous since you were 9. Anyway, on the show Lovato was almost hilariously sycophantic, often waiting for Cowell or Spears to form an opinion before she'd follow their cues. Lovato and Cowell had a weird chemistry, like a Lolita-creepy uncle type thing, and their banter was nowhere near as charming as they thought. But all these shenanigans just made Britney Spears look even better: Whether she was just disengaged or just straight-up chill, I liked that Spears just sort of sat back and didn't put on any kind of front for the cameras. Hopefully Lovato will take to heart some of Spears' better instincts.
As for the episode itself, it should go without saying that The X Factor is the fakest fake that ever faked. First off, there were those behind-the-scenes, allegedly fly-on-the-wall moments filmed in the style of The Hills. By that I mean essentially scripted. From the blonde mean-girl talking trash on everybody backstage, to the kid who mistakenly checked out a man in drag, to the former boy-bander giving "advice" to a trio of tank top-clad bros, the whole enterprise made me long for American Idol's aggressively amateurish backstage interviews with Ryan Seacrest. As for the onstage performances, they were even more heavily manipulative than Idol's. Let's get something straight: When you are using an entire auditorium for auditions and thousands of people are in attendance, then the people who go on stage are carefully selected for maximum story potential. So it's just an absolute lie that the PRODUCER of the show would be "surprised" at each new person coming out. Knock it off, Simon. You know exactly what you're doing. But this total charade of mysteriousness made things all the more outrageous when someone from Britney Spears' distant past was trotted out, in essence, to fail in front of her. A potentially mentally unstable man who'd once recorded a duet with Spears ten years ago came out and sang with a raspy, time-ravaged voice and went on to plead with Spears to say "Yes." The whole spectacle was made even harder to watch by Spears' genuinely wrenching reaction. Everything about it seemed real, particularly in how internally she seemed to be retreating as it went on and on, even barely acknowledging Cowell when he came over to "comfort" her. Ugh, this show is shameless. "LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE" —Maya Angelou.
Anyway, I guess no write-up of this garbage is complete without mentioning the supposed emotional high point of the episode. A cute girl came out, immediately started crying when she saw Lovato, and they began trading stories of having been bullied. Which, fine. Ranting about the dilution of the bullying meme will win me no fans. But Lovato definitely made the situation about her, and Jillian Jensen ended up having adequate singing abilities. Did her raspy, limited voice project all the pain that the judges claimed it had? I wasn't hearing it. But watch and decide that for yourself!
Clearly I have a cold heart and am going directly to heck when I die. But still. After sitting through an hour and 45 minutes of this thing I probably became extra-immune to television fakery. Sorry Jillian Jensen, but I have a feeling the producers have thoroughly exploited your story and you probably won't be seen again. Who knows?
To sum up: Britney Spears good, The X Factor awful/evil. DO NOT WANT.
... How do YOU think Britney did?
... Anything else different about The X Factor this year?
... What was your favorite moment from the premiere?
... Are Emblem-3 the next One Direction?