The news that X Factor host Steve Jones and judges Paula Abdul and Nicole Sherbetflavors won’t be returning for Season 2 was as brutal as it was predictable. After all, producer/judge Simon Cowell had told People after the Season 1 finale to expect a “bloodbath” in the wake of the show’s decent ratings failing to live up to its megasized hype.
And yet while I applaud Cowell for attempting to reboot a show that was on many levels a creative disaster, I’m concerned by this tidbit from a Hollywood Reporter story on the shakeup: “Cowell has decided that the show needs a bigger celebrity on the panel next season.” If Cowell thinks that Mariah Carey — whose pregnancy kept her from having a role in Season 1 — can singlehandedly bail out his leaky ocean liner, then the show is headed for a disaster of Titanic proportions.
To that end, here’s my five-step plan for salvaging Season 2:
This isn’t high school: Popular girls don’t all have to be cheerleaders | During X Factor‘s first season, Scherzinger and Abdul all too often fell back on the outdated, completely depressing philosophy that female reality-show judges have to be nurturing, new-age softies, instead of smart, incisive cookies. What’s more, neither woman gave off much authority in the role of mentor: Scherzinger’s overreliance on silly dancers and laser shows were like 20-lb weights attached to the legs of her best contestant, Josh Krajcik, while Abdul spent too much time trying to dress her groups in seasonal colors instead of concocting daring, unexpected musical numbers. If I were Cowell, I’d pursue power producer Linda Perry — the woman behind hits for Pink, Christina Aguilera, and Gwen Stefani — as a mentor who could bring more creativity and edginess to the show’s sometimes stale arrangements. (If not her, then how about Sheryl Crow?) And I’m totally OK with the outspoken Carey assuming the Paula Abdul Memorial Chair: The woman co-wrote “We Belong Together,” and she’s not afraid to bring the diva bitchery to live television.
Robots can outperform humans in many areas, but not when it comes to hosting reality-compeition programming | Pity poor Steve Jones, who brought tall, chiseled good looks and magnificent hair to the X Factor stage, but not an ounce of actual personality. Sure, as an X Factor recapper, I’ll miss having Steve as an easy punch line generator, but as a viewer, I crave the easy way Ryan Seacrest keeps Idol in motion — without ever making me feel stressed out — not to mention the genuine empathy Cat Deeley shows to her contestants on So You Think You Can Dance. This might be a left-field choice, but how about Queen Latifah, a warm, funny presence who once hosted her own daytime talk show, and who, as a performer herself, would be able to relate to the highs and lows experienced by the show’s contestants? Plus, it’s doubtful that the Oscar nominee and woman behind “U.N.I.T.Y” would get intimidated by Simon and L.A. Reid.
The X Factor should never be confused with scripted television | One of the most grating aspects of The X Factor‘s first season was the trumped-up drama among the judges. Indeed, Simon and L.A. may know a lot about the music business, but they’re never going to steal an Emmy nod away from Jon Hamm or Hugh Laurie. Instead of wasting viewers’ time with five minutes of faux arguing at the end of every performance, why not give us a look behind the scenes at the show’s A-list mentors interacting with their charges. If Cowell can’t find juicy, organic drama as contestants and their advisors debate song choices and arrangements, choose their costumes, and stage their performances, then he has no business producing a TV show in the first place. Plus, what better way to differentiate the show from Idol?
Don’t be so beholden to pre-set categories | The rigid construct of four categories — Girls, Boys, Over-30s, and Groups — made little sense when fantastic female soloists like Jazzlyn Little, Caitlin Koch, and Elaine Gibbs were cut at the Judges’ Houses round, in favor of hopeless groups like Intensity and Lakoda Rayne. Here’s a novel idea: Let each of the four judges choose his or her eight favorite acts from Boot Camp — in any combination of Girls, Boys, Over 30s, and Groups — and advance the four strongest to the live shows. It might not result in demographic or gender parity among the 16 finalists, but it should make for a kick-ass competition once the live rounds begin.
Turn down the volume | Cowell needs to remember that you can’t create a star overnight — that it takes at least a couple of months. Which is why it felt so jarring in the first few weeks of live shows to see young, inexperienced performers overwhelmed by dozens of dancers, armies of backing vocalists, aggressive lighting, ominous set pieces, and blasting tracks. (Tiah Tolliver never stood a chance!) Cowell needs to rein in his “more! bigger! louder! faster!” instincts, and give his contestants room to grow. After all, you can’t defeat the competiton by simply trying to drown them out, but you can certainly give your audience a headache in the process.
What do you think of The X Factor bloodbath? Who would you hire to replace Paula, Nicole, and Steve? And do any of my proposed changes make sense to you? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps and commentary, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!