Can Simon Cowell finally find his ‘X Factor’ in third season?

By Rich Heldenfels
Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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Paulina Rubio (left) Simon Cowell and Demi Lovato backstage on the THE X Factor set in New Orleans. Season three of THE X FACTOR premieres Wednesday Sept. 11 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) and Thursday Sept. 12 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) (Ray Mickshaw / FOX)

In a video shot during the current auditions for The X Factor, show producer and judge Simon Cowell is asked which songs he is sick of hearing would-be stars do.

He begins naming names — I’m Yours by Jason Mraz, Katy Perry’s E.T., “early Maroon 5,” Etta James’ At Last, any rendition of Unchained Melody — and undoubtedly could have kept going if he hadn’t been interrupted. When you’re Cowell, and you have sat through years of auditions for American Idol and The X Factor, musical exhaustion has to creep in.

But a bigger worry for Cowell is viewer exhaustion. A hit in England and a globally franchised concept. The X Factor begins its third season on Fox at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday with yet another attempt to connect with a big audience. Cowell’s early predictions of success for the talent search have yet to come to pass, as the show vies for viewers who may have used up all their interest in music competitions on American Idol (which has been in a long period of revision as well), The Voice and other series.

So the new season still has Cowell at the judges’ table but in a new combination, with the returning Demi Lovato and two people new to this show but with experience in the form: Kelly Rowland, who spent a season on the British X Factor, and Paulina Rubio, who has been a coach on La Voz Mexico, the Mexican version of The Voice. Rowland and Rubio replace Britney Spears, a judge during the second season, and L.A. Reid, a judge for the first two seasons. And the second season lineup of Cowell, Lovato, Spears and Reid was a switch from the first season’s Cowell, Reid, Paula Abdul and Nicole “I can’t decide, don’t make me” Scherzinger.

The hosting chores are now handled solely by Mario Lopez, who came on board as co-host with Khloe Kardashian in the second season, succeeding Steve Jones from the first. Jones was bad enough, but Kardashian was even worse, wooden and awkward at the simplest of hosting tasks.

Then there’s the question of the singers and the presentation of same. The second season’s winner, Tate Stevens, demonstrated that a show wanting to be contemporary and youthful had a demographically different voting bloc, not necessarily one that was going to buy a lot of music. And the show through both seasons has had a jaw-breaking approach to performances, with lights, dancers and instrumental backing often overwhelming the performers.

So the show begins a new season with plenty of questions about whether it will find the “x factor” for success. A selection of auditions made available by Fox contained some very talented performers and one strong combination of vocal skill and personal story. And the interplay among the judges in available clips has been amusing and nowhere near as tense as in some previous combinations. But a show airing for hours every week needs more than singers; it needs a good package.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.


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