“X Factor” is coming back for a second season in the fall, but not without a lot of changes. With host Steve Jones and judges Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul confirmed goners, it’s clear that the powers that be recognized that for all the flash and dazzle, the show didn’t work in its freshman year.
An early report has executive producer and judge Simon Cowell focusing on getting a bigger name to replace Paula. That’s great for the tabloid ink that would follow, but it should absolutely not be the primary goal. “X Factor” doesn’t need famous women on its four-judge panel.
It needs stronger women.
One huge weakness on "X Factor" was that the men and women on the podium seemed to be playing different games. Simon and fellow judge L.A. Reid were in competition with each other and played their parts well. They tossed barbs at each other. They criticized each other’s singers. Neither was unfair, and both were almost always pleasant to the contestants, but they gave the impression that each wanted to do better than the other.
Paula and Nicole? Not so much. Nicole traded insults with Simon, but you had to be paying close attention to find them amidst her rambles. Paula was out of the competition so quickly that she mostly just sat back and agonized over who to vote off. They were just taking up space, drinking Pepsi products and whining about their jobs.
And therein lies the problem.
Haven’t we seen enough of women playing the "It's too HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARD" role on these shows? Could “X Factor” really not find women more capable of being critical, telling contestants when they weren’t good enough and throwing elbows at the men on the panel?
Or did they even look? Because let’s be honest, the casting choices weren’t creative for the first season. Simon picked a friend for one seat in Paula, and then the show decided to slide Nicole over from her hosting duties when Cheryl Cole got sent back to England. Far from conducting a wide search, it just picked the easiest targets it could find.
That failed. What worked between Simon and Paula on “Idol” did not work on “X Factor.” Everything about the show is supposed to be intense, from the lavish production to the prize money to the hype, and Paula’s not that kind of TV personality. She needs Ryan Seacrest and Broadway Night, not this.
Nicole’s failure may be more surprising. When she’s performing, she looks like someone who could eviscerate Simon and L.A. in between the introduction and the chorus. But on the podium ... not so much. She spent the whole season trying out wardrobes and personalities to find one that worked, and none fit. And as the Rachel Crow debacle made clear, decisiveness is not her strong suit.
So here's what "X Factor" needs: Strong women. Judges who aren't afraid to throw some elbows. Ladies who know that judging means being mean to people every now and then, and who are comfortable with it. And women who want to win.
For example, how about Jennifer Hudson? The former “Idol” contestant wasn’t afraid to spar with the Simon as a hopeful on that show and still holds a grudge for her early exit. Bring her back to settle the score. Or find a record executive who’s unknown right now but can quickly make a name for herself by smacking the boys down with some withering comments.
Either way, the challenge is clear: Find women who can do the tough work and enjoy it, rather than just big names or pretty faces -- or the show fails.
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