Pop Culture

Simon and Paula bring back the bickering on 'X Factor'

Ray Mickshaw / Fox / Today
Just like old times! Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell are together again on "The X Factor" panel.

No “that was beautiful.” No “dawg.” No “it sounded pitchy.” Just much-missed bickering, constructive (and harsh, yet honest) criticism and dashed dreams. And no, this wasn’t “American Idol.”

It was “The X Factor.”

Fox gave an audience of 2,500 in Seattle an early look at the show, which was in town on June 28 to tape auditions in front of the judges: former “Idol” duo Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul, and new panel members L.A. Reid and Nicole Scherzinger.

From the get-go, it was obvious that “The Simon and Paula Show” – as Scherzinger called the pair – was back in full force, as if they were never separated by their exits from “Idol.” They went at each other immediately during the first audition (and almost every audition thereafter), with Cowell repeatedly calling the singer “a dummy” at one point.

But all that arguing? It’s done with love. “It’s been fun working with her again,” Cowell told TODAY.com.

Though he and Abdul are the biggest draws, former Pussycat Doll Scherzinger and record exec L.A. Reid shouldn’t be counted out. “It’s a great panel,” Abdul said. “We all work together really well.”

Some of the “X Factor” hopefuls might think the judges work a little too well together. The show requires a performer to receive three yes votes from the judges in order to move on to the next round, and at Tuesday’s first taping, things looked grim. The panel wasn’t there just to have fun.

Cowell was as sharp-tongued as he was at the height of “Idol” (he called one inappropriately-dressed wannabe “a rapping blow-up doll”), but Abdul, Scherzinger and Reid were not the cheerleaders some might have expected. After about an hour and a half of auditions, only one person advanced.

Though there was a lot of friendly ribbing, the judges had their eyes on the goal: finding the best person to win “X Factor’s” huge prize. “That wasn’t worth $5 million,” Reid told one hopeful who had the voice, but not the entire package.

There have been stories that Reid, the former chairman and CEO of Island Def Jam, is the new king of mean on the panel, but he denies this. “That’s absolutely not true. I think that was the very first day when I was a rookie and I didn’t know how to politely tell somebody I didn’t dig what they were doing,” Reid explained. “But since then I’ve piped down quite a bit. I don’t want the crown. Simon can handle the crown, but I can’t.”

And neither can Scherzinger, it seems. Of the four judges, she was the most supportive of the contestants, but that’s not to say she’s the Ellen DeGeneres of the panel. The singer made it a point to tell unlucky contestants what they needed to work on and what she liked about them, perhaps taking a cue from each of the other judge’s styles.

“I’m learning from L.A. (He) inspires me, he’s unbelievable,” Scherzinger said. “And I’m learning so much from (Abdul and Cowell) because they’ve been doing this for 10 years. I’m just happy to be part of it.”

“Yeah, it’s worked out great,” Cowell said of his panel. “I like the fact that we’ve all got opinions.”

But it’s not all just business. The four like to have a little fun as well – sometimes at the expense of each other – both onstage and off.

“I call (Abdul and Scherzinger) Sylvester and Tom because they’re like bitchy cats, the two of them,” Cowell joked of the two ladies, who sometimes banded together for quirkier hopefuls.

Scherzinger was a little kinder with her thoughts on Cowell. “Simon’s like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get, so he keeps it fun.”

“We’re having a great time,” Reid said of working with the other judges. “Sometimes, I want to choke them all.”

And if he does, the cameras will be there to catch it all.

“X Factor” debuts Sept. 21 on Fox.

Are you excited for the return of Simon and Paula? What about "The X Factor" are you most eager to see? Tell us on our Facebook page!

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