Looking back on Miami's X Factor auditions: Is Paula Abdul the new voice of reason?
Still feeling a bit rocky after two days spent in Miami soaking up auditions for Simon Cowell's new singing show, The X Factor.
Held before a roaring crowd of 3,000 or so Tuesday and Wednesday, these auditions offered the on camera judges a look at contestants who had been winnowed from a crowd of 7,000 hopefuls way back in April. For fans, its was a chance to get glimpse of the terrible twosome who topped Fox's American Idol for years, Cowell and co-hort Paula Abdul. For professional couch potatoes like me, it was a preview of Fox's big bet this fall; a sprawling singing competition that already feels like an odd collision between Idol, America's Got Talent and The Voice.
But even after two days, I still have some questions left.
How different will this show be? What I saw at the BankUnited Center felt like an odd mishmash of existing talent shows -- the glamour of American Idol mixed with the oddball range of performers on America's Got Talent and the commiserating between judges from The Voice. Eventually, each judge -- including Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger and former record executive Antonio "L.A." Reid -- will coach a group of performers to compete against the others. In Miami, the crowd was so hyped any remotely talented performer got applause, but I really only saw three or four singers with serious vocal chops over 30 or so performers, and a few of those voices didn't even make the cut.
Will Paula Abdul emerge as the voice of reason? In Miami, Abdul mostly cut out the antics that turned her into a punchline on Idol (except for the moment when she agreed with one singer that seeing ghosts was possible. Seriously.), preferring to needle Cowell when he says something odd or supremely cynical. "You have no idea what it's like to sit next to him," Abdul cracked, as Cowell compered one overeager contestant to an excited pet. Scherzinger seemed most taken with herself, offering platitudes to contestants which were sometimes at odds with her actual rulings as a judge. And when Cowell insisted that all superstar singers who come out of groups are "greedy" for the spotlight, Scherzinger disagreed strenuously. But Cowell, no stranger to oversize career goals, said he liked Scherzinger because she's "fantastically ambitious." And when Simon thinks you're ambitious....
Will they find real talent? After seeing how many aspiring singers and singing groups they sorted through months ago, it was surprising to note the level of talent among those who hit the big stage wasn't higher. Only a small handful of singers among the two audition shows I watched featured people with actual, professional-level vocal talent. Even given the necessity of creating great television alongside great performances, too many of the singers seemed placed onstage for their back story -- or worse yet, for reasons no one could really fathom (presumably, they have a heartrending backstory viewers will see when the she airs). Given that these contestants were chosen after days of auditions months earlier, it was tough to know why the talent seemed so inconsistent; I also wondered how much the judges -- Cowell, especially -- knew about each singer before they hit the stage.