Simon Cowell, Demi Lovato, Britney Spears and L.A. Reid on "The X Factor.". (David Moir / Fox )
At the outset of the Season 2 premiere of "The X Factor" Wednesday night, Simon Cowell and his fellow bigwigs made it more than clear they were offering us not just two new judges, Britney Spears and Demi Lovato, and, at some point, a new host, but really a total reboot. We were introduced to the show as if for the very first time.
"'The X Factor' is a global phenomenon," creating "global superstars" like Leona Lewis, Cher Lloyd and One Direction, we were informed via title cards.
"Now … It's America's turn."
Still, you have to hand it to the producers as they attempt to shove aside rivals "American Idol" and "The Voice." Even skeptics wondering if "The X Factor" had proven in its first season that even Cowell's ego might not be big enough to create space on our must-watch lists may have found themselves sobbing emotionally by the end of the two-hour premiere.
It remains to be seen whether the young-girl demographic the show is courting by installing its two new judges next to Cowell and L.A. Reid will actually tune in. Certainly, it gave them every reason to.
"I am the youngest person on the panel," Lovato, 20, said, by way of introduction. "I know what my generation is listening to right now. I think I know what it takes to make a star."
She and Spears -- who was cold-hearted enough to turn away a guy she once sang with who'd lost whatever voice he'd had, clear-headed enough to spot a possibly dangerous contestant and wonder who let him in, and keen-eyed enough to see talent in a young man who wore a wedding veil and pink lipstick while giving an emotional performance of "Born This Way" -- proved they may also have what it takes to save a show.
Heck, even Cowell was showing his softer side and tearing up by the time the credits rolled. Next thing you know, he'll be teasing Demi about that boy she likes.
Oh, yeah. That happened, too.
But if Simon's gone soft (and I have my doubts that will stick), who will be the mean judge -- the one unafraid to unapologetically inform the untalented masses they may as well hang up their singing shoes?
Yeah, that would be Britney. After we were shown a quick-cut of Spears coolly critiquing talent-challenged contestants as her "Toxic" played underneath -- "just bad," "off key," "I don’t you have that wow factor" -- Cowell quipped, "And everyone thinks I'm the mean one."
(An aside: Since Spears is being so honest, I will return the favor and tell her she should immediately thank whoever negotiated the deal that gave her "And Britney Spears" billing and fire her hair-and-makeup person.)
But what's really going to appeal to viewers who are young and female (or just young and female at heart) are the contestants, and so far the youth-friendly mix includes Emblem3, a cute trio of guys (not a boy band, they insist) who performed an original song; a young nursing-student mother named Paige Thomas who Reid said reminded him of Rihanna; and 13-year-old Bieber-alike Reed Deming.
The teen-flavored kicker was the final tearjerking double shot of Jennel Garcia, an 18-year-old from Rochester, Mass., and Jillian Jensen, a 19-year-old also from Rochester, Mass. (They have to know each other, right?)
Garcia came in all bouncy and adorable and then, vowing to deliver her song as if she were singing it in her bedroom, let go and hair-flipped and shimmied the heck out of "Paris (Ooh La La)," as her mom watched proudly on the backstage monitors. Reid called her a "feisty little fireball," adding "I'm feeling you. I am so feeling you." Spears said called her unexpectedly "amazing." Lovato revealed that she'd written the word "hot" in her notes. And Cowell said Garcia could be the next Pat Benatar as he gave her a "big, fat yes."
The sweetness of sunny-smiled, startlingly sassy Garcia's triumph may have left us misty, but then Jensen sent us rushing for the Kleenex. Like Lovato, she told us, she'd been severely bullied in middle and high school. Like Lovato she had a "stay strong" tattoo. "The bullies that bullied us, they're all at home watching us on TV," Lovato told her.
When Jensen sang, her pain was palpable. After she'd finished, dissolving in tears, Lovato scurried to the stage to hug her and give her a pep talk. The other judges were left thunderstruck.
Reid said he'd never heard anyone pour their pain into their music quite the way Jensen had. Spears told her she shouldn't be crying because she was "very gifted" and had a voice that was "sexy," "raspy" and "incredibly beautiful." And a damp-eyed Cowell told the trembling teen she was "incredible," adding that it was the "easiest yes" he'd said all day.
Later, Cowell said he'd never broken down quite like that, and Lovato accused him of having a heart. Do you hear that, girls?
What did you think of "The X Factor" season premiere?
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