Landing Britney Spears to the tune of $15 million generated short-term buzz, but once the live shows began, viewers saw very little footage of the “Toxic” singer — aside from her offering the occasional generic platitude — working with her “Teens.” Cowell, for his part, seemed to communicate with his Groups category primarily via cell phone. This lack of meaningful involvement by the A-list mentors left the impression that the show was relying on teams of producers to help the contestants with their song choices, staging and costumes (a theory that was supported by my interview with creative director Brian Friedman and stories from other media outlets). Which begs the question: Why not take Spears’ fat salary and use it to hire mentors willing to spend a full work week on the X Factor set? We don’t care if the judges’ chairs are filled by lesser-knowns: If these newcomers are invested in and excited about the outcome of the competition, they’ll be less likely to regurgitate the same old lukewarm covers of “I Have Nothing,” “Hallelujah,” and “I Believe I Can Fly” that we’ve seen way too many times on reality singing competitions.
Cut the “Spontaneous” Backstage Banter
Look, we all know Tate Stevens is a nice guy and Arin Ray is a handsome young man. We don’t need these facts underlined and italicized with “hidden camera” footage of Tate consoling a crestfallen CeCe or Arin flirting with girl-group member Normani — especially when said exchanges seem as organic as high-fructose corn syrup. If we want semi-scripted dreck, we’ll turn the dial to the Real Housewives of Our Continuing Nightmares. (Oh, and it goes without saying we don’t want to see an absurd/fake red-carpet in the Season 3 finale. Thanks.)
Focus on the Real Drama of the Competition
One can only imagine all the tension and tears that spring forth from a dozen acts having less than a week to choose, arrange and condense their songs; stage and choreograph their performances; and make decisions about costumes, lighting and special effects. And yet, inexplicably, The X Factor producers never find time to pack any of that real-life intrigue into the show’s interminably padded two-hour performance shows.
Surprise Viewers With Unexpected Song Choices
There seems to be a prevailing mindset among reality-show producers that viewers will fear and reject offbeat or risky song choices. So how come Fifth Harmony scored its biggest Season 2 moment with Ellie Goulding’s little-known “Anything Could Happen,” while Emblem3 generated more buzz with its original composition “Sunset Boulevard” than it did with two months’ worth of covers? We’re not saying The X Factor needs to transform into The Obscure Satellite Radio Station Factor, but a little ingenuity would make it easier to swallow a steady diet of “Over the Rainbow,” “Hero” and “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
Human Hosts, Please?
It’s been painful watching the regrettably under-qualified Khloe Kardashian search for the correct camera like a puppy chasing its tail. But at least she occasionally wakes from her trance-like state (asking contestants “how are you feeling?” and trying to flirt with Simon) to press the judges with some much-needed follow-up. Far worse has been the experience of Mario Lopez delivering every one of his lines like he’s on the set of Extra discussing Jessica Simpson’s baby bump or Jennifer Anison’s holiday vacation in Cabo. Without the teleprompter, would he know The X Factor is a battle among amateur singers for a $5 million recording contract? In all seriousness, Simon & Co. could drag any two strangers off the street — at a fraction of the cost — and get better results, no? In fact, we hear that monkey from NBC’s canceled Animal Practice is looking for work…
Turn Down the Volume
The screaming audience members. The blasts of operatic music that crash up against recaps of the contestants’ performances. The squawking arguments between judges. The endless parade of Gospel choirs. The aggressive backing tracks. Sometimes it seems like the show’s producers are determined to reduce contestants’ actual vocals to mere background noise — which kind of defeats the purpose of the whole exercise.
Cut Down on Double Eliminations
Season 2 found us going from the Top 16 down to Tate’s confetti shower in a matter of eight weeks — and, frankly, that wasn’t enough time for us to form genuine attachments to most of the acts. Even worse, many contestants found themselves getting ejected just as they started to get comfortable on the big stage. Fox could remedy this problem by kicking off the Audition Rounds in mid-August and giving us at least 10-12 weeks of finals — without stepping on the toes of its precious MLB playoffs.
Differentiate Boot Camp/Judges’ Houses from Idol‘s Hollywood Week
If X Factor really wants to prep its acts for the brutality of the music business — and create some “Oh Em Gee, Dramz!” footage in the process — why not raise the standard-operating stakes of making contestants sing a capella in front of their competitors. How about randomly having contestants swap songs with their rivals a few hours before taking the stage? Or maybe pairing up acts, then forcing them to choose their songs off their rival contestant’s iPods? Plus, even though Judges’ Houses often yield some of the best performances of the season, we’d like to see more inside info on who’s choosing the songs and arrangements — and a deeper dive into the conversations between the mentors and their advisors about who to keep and who to cut before the live shows. Hey, if we can see the feet of the man behind the curtain, why have a curtain at all?
Bring Back Honest, Funny Simon — Or Kick His Impostor to the Curb
Guess what, Simon? It’s obvious to your audience that the live performance shows leave you bored as Mario Lopez in a room without mirrors. But if you’re unwilling or unable to cook up funny new metaphors and/or give truthful feedback to the show’s contestants — in other words, to do your frackin’ job, dude — then please step down from the panel and find a replacement who is. Yeah, it might be a little awkward to fire yourself from your own show, but trust us, it’s even more uncomfortable for your U.S. fans to watch your continued descent into irrelevancy.
Quit Pretending That YouTube and Wikipedia Don’t Exist
Fun fact for producers: Even though you infuriatingly refused to acknowledge it on air, most of us knew that Carly Rose Sonenclar had extensive Broadway and TV experience before she tried out for Season 2. We knew that Emblem3 was sitting on a cache of interesting original material that would’ve made them more marketable than a cut-rate One Direction (sans adorable accents). As The Voice proved with former Hey Monday frontwoman Cassadee Pope, full disclosure about a contestant’s prior experiences won’t doom him or her to an early exit, but it will remove the overarching suspicion that you’re somehow trying to dupe the viewing audience.
Allow Contestants to Slowly Get Comfy With Over-the-Top Set Pieces
Just as one’s first skydiving lesson doesn’t involve being hurled screaming and weeping out the side of a plane, X Factor contestants really should get a little time to get acquainted with the big stage and the live studio audience before they’re saddled with teams of backup dancers, swarms of background singers and complex light shows and costumes. In other words, we’d love to see these acts get a week or two of scaled-back production before they’re dropped in the center of Grammy-sized ridiculata. Who knows, with a less aggressive trajectory, maybe important details like on-pitch vocals wouldn’t get lost in the shuffle?
Finds Room for All of the Top 12 in the Season Finale
It might mean less time for product placement and homages to the overpaid mentors, but trust us, your audience will appreciate it.
What changes would you make for Season 3 of The X Factor? Sound off in the comments!