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Focus is on new faces as 'X Factor' begins second season

She can't really say much about how everything went.

But St. Petersburg teen MacyKate Marshburn couldn't stop gushing about the new judges added to Fox's singing competition The X Factor; stars she met back in June while auditioning in Kansas City.

The 14-year-old said Britney Spears and Demi Lovato bring a much lighter chemistry to the show, inspiring younger singers to audition and watch. They join returning veterans L.A. Reid and show creator/executive producer Simon Cowell as judges in the show's second season.

"I feel like everybody's hyped (to see) Britney Spears, because she hasn't done so much TV recently," added the singer. "A lot of Disney fans are waiting to see Demi, who has had her problems and can really relate to us. It appears to me they have a lot more fun."

That may come as a relief to Cowell, who has complained for days about NBC's decision to pit an hour of its hit singing competition The Voice against tonight's return of The X Factor at 8 p.m.

Last year, Cowell told me an NBC executive assured him that The Voice wouldn't be a brazen X Factor rip off (the former American Idol star also executive produces NBC's hit summer series America's Got Talent). So during a teleconference with reporters last week, Cowell admitted he was "p---ed off" that NBC had added a third night to The Voice's debut week.

"It's a spoiling tactic," Cowell said. "They don't want people to see this first episode."

Cowell hasn't announced who will host the live episodes, though the star has said he's partial to using two people, admitting on Ellen DeGeneres' daytime show Tuesday that reality TV star Khloe Kardashian is "definitely up there in the running."

Still, as X Factor faces off against The Voice tonight, there are four issues to look for as the two shows air in the same timeslot for the first time.

Issue No. 1: How much is too much? The Voice returned Monday to 12 million viewers, but that was down nearly 40 percent from its February debut (to be fair, that was after the Super Bowl). Tonight's face-off will be the first time two highly-hyped singing shows clash directly, risking overload for fans who may already be tiring of spinning chairs, cheeky judge banter and heart-tugging feature stories on contestants.

Issue No. 2: Can Britney overcome her erratic image? Known for unreliable performances and stints in treatment almost as much as her music, Spears nearly walked off X Factor on the first day after a panic attack. Even as Cowell insists that Spears is the show's toughest judge, she comes across as disconnected and a bit passive in interviews.

Issue No. 3: Can either show break a big act in the United States? Cowell has a great track record of minting music stars on TV, including Leona Lewis, Susan Boyle and One Direction. But they all came from his British shows; so far, neither the U.S. X Factor nor The Voice have had much impact on music charts.

Issue No. 4: Can either show make us care about the contestants? As each program focuses more on unknown contestants and less on superstar judges, interest wanes. Cowell promises the retooled X Factor will show more of the audition process to get the audience engaged in the fight for a $5 million prize.

It's the final irony: amid all the talk of big-name judges and hosts, making the regular people shine just might be the key to victory in this new war of the singing competitions.

.to watch

The X Factor returns for its second season at 8 tonight on WTVT-Ch. 13.

Focus is on new faces as 'X Factor' begins second season 09/11/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 7:48pm]
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