OK, kids... It's time for "The X Factor." There's been so much darned hype for this one that a premiere live-blog seemed appropriate...
So let's go!
8:00 p.m. ET Even the pre-credit sequence to this sucker is bombastic.
8:01 p.m. Cheryl Cole! That's sure to be a good sign.
8:03 p.m. Host Steve Jones is introduced to us in a truck on a cross-country journey. This reminds me that my "Wages of Fear" reality show is gonna be killer.
8:04 p.m. The competition is open to folks ages 12 and upwards, Jones reminds us. And the contestants have low-level aspirations: One wants to be another Elvis. Several want to be the next Jackson Five. This is, as we all know, all about dreams.
8:05 p.m. Time to meet our judges. Who is this "Simon Cowell" you speak of, Steve? Ah, L.A. Reid. I interviewed him last week. I wanted to call him "La." I was told this wouldn't be a good idea.
8:06 p.m. I'm glad we're not pretending the whole Cheryl Cole thing never happened. In fact, for now, we're pretending that Nicole Scherzinger isn't going to eventually be a judge. There's too much suspension of disbelief on this show already.
8:07 p.m. They're auditioning at USC's Gallen Center, which frequently draws dozens for Trojans basketball games. This is definitely the rowdiest crowd ever in that arena.
8:08 p.m. Our first contestant is Rachel Crow. She's 13 and since she's already been heavily featured in advertising, we know what's coming with that one. She's like a character from "Annie" brought to life just for FOX. "This audition is the most important thing I've ever done in my entire life," she tells us. Paula Abdul immediately calls her "lovely one." Oh, Paula. Welcome back. Simon asks her what she'd do with the money and Rachel quickly answers "My family has like NO money." They have six people in a two-bedroom house. She just wants her own bathroom. Seriously, just give this girl a Disney Channel show already. She sings "Mercy" and as we already knew, she's spunky and soulful. Frankly, I think she's a much better entertainer than she is a singer, but you can see how fantastically she feeds off the crowd's energy. [Cheryl Cole is really hot. I'm sad we're going to miss out on her.]
8:12 p.m. The crowd goes nuts for Rachel. Paula says that Rachel "delivered the goods on every level." Cole said that Rachel had her before she ever sang. "You have everything that every artist I've ever signed had," Reid says. Simon says that Rachel validated their decision to lower the age limit and predicts we're going to be hearing a lot about her. Of course Rachel gets four "Yes" votes.
8:14 p.m. I would like to take the people who complained about Cheryl Cole's accent out behind the woodshed. Geez, y'all. TEAM CHERYL! Seriously, America gets "Jack and Jill," but Cheryl Cole is gonna be too hard for us to understand? I know those things are unconnected, but I don't want to live in a nation that only gets the first and not the second.
8:19 p.m. So Steve Jones *is* hosting, but Nicole (who was originally co-hosting with him) is nowhere to be seen?
8:19 p.m. Terrell Carter is from Buffalo and he looks like he can beat me up. The ladies are in mid-swoon before a word comes out of his mouth. He over-sings something fierce, but Cheryl is quick to say, "You've got the package." He gets four "Yes" votes and leaves Cheryl sweating.
8:20 p.m. Ellona Santiago is 14 and has a pretty big voice. She's Thia Megia-esque. She gets four "Yes" votes.
8:21 p.m. John Lindahl has something Bieber-esque about him, I suppose. Simon asks him how hard he's prepared to work and he answers "As hard as you can imagine." He also gets four "Yes" votes.
8:22 p.m. OK. We've seen only good people so far. That means it's time for a freak. Meet 30-year-old Siameze Floyd, who has impressively feathered hair and vows to become a mega-star and have his own energy drink. He tells the judges that he'd invest the $5 million into his career. His performance includes a lot of strutting, a see-thru mesh top and multiple splits. Vocally, he's a good deal better than I would have guessed. I mean, he's awful, but he's aggressively and committedly awful and the splits are impressive after a while. Backstage, Steve Jones observes, "I can't take much more." The judges agree. Cheryl couldn't decide if it was genius or kinda weird "And I don't know what me answer is." "There is something kinda fascinating about you," Simon says. Paula praises his commitment, but tells him he lacks originality. This gives L.A. Reid a reason for his "No." Cheryl and Paula both vote "Yes," leaving things up to Simon. "You're talented, but you're deluded. But I'm going to say 'Yes.'"
8:27 p.m. I've understood every word out of Cheryl Cole's mouth so far. I know the night is young.
8:31 p.m. It's Day Two already!
8:32 p.m. Pahrump, Nevada? Where's Aaron Sorkin? Where's John Goodman? In Pahrump, we meet Dan and Venita. They're old. Possibly very. They're very disappointed that contestants aren't getting free hot dogs. Dan says they're doing this for America. Venita is 83 and Dan is 70. Simon asks them where they see themselves in five years. "Alive" would be the appropriate answer. They don't have one. They say, however, that if they win, they'll tour senior centers around the country. They're singing "Unchained Melody," Simon's long-time nemesis. They're extraordinarily sweet together. Sweetly grotesque, but sweet. Cheryl makes the most adorable "I just sucked a lemon" face. Sigh. How did we let her get away, America?
8:36 p.m. So, um... That was Dan and Venita. "You are gonna be remembered for that version. It was terrifying. I can imagine me and Paula being you in 10 years time," Simon says. Paula predicts that they'll live longer than all of us. "I didn't love the audition as much as your reason," Cheryl says. They get four "No" votes. As they exit, we see them in bright white light. Did they die?
8:38 p.m. Duo You Only Live Once "It was like you were singing and she swallowed poison, Simon says. That's followed by an awesomely terrifying version of "I Touch Myself" from a woman named Linda. A kinda cute blonde named Miranda causes L.A. Reid to speculate that she'll be talented. "It's like you and I had fallen out and you were screaming at me," Simon tells Miranda, who strongly disagrees.
8:41 p.m. That was a very quick commercial break. Impressive. Oh. The commercial is still going. That was pretty sly, Pepsi. You almost got me. Now if you need me, I'm going back to Diet Coke.
8:42 p.m. Simone Battle has the responsibility of bringing the "good" back to "X Factor." She thinks she's extra special, which doesn't mean she's talented. It just means she's a USC coed. Will she be able to sing, or just look good in those tight red shorts? Symone tells the judges that she's "fierce," which Simon immediately dubs her style a mixture between "a cheerleader, a hipster and a drag queen" and says her first album will be called "Honey Work." She struggles with the pacing of the Pussycat Dolls song and Simon stops the music before the first chorus is over. "What I like about you is that you really are fearless," Simon says. "I think that you've got potential once you find your own style," says the completely intelligible Cheryl Cole. L.A. Reid, however, disagrees and Simon interrupts to ask Simon to sing something else. She's got great raw materials. I'd want to coach the heck out of her. And I don't even mean that euphemistically. I think with mentoring, this girl is good. L.A. wasn't moved and Simon instructs L.A. what the show is about. "I can't be swayed. I just don't believe it," L.A. says. So that's "Yes" votes from Simon and from Cheryl, but what about Paula? "You are fierce," Paula says, sending Simon through.
8:47 p.m. Time to pretend that there's a rivalry between Simon and L.A. They each claim to respect the other, but they have several disagreements over various contestants. Nobody we see them split over seems all that good. No big loss.
8:53 p.m. Steve Jones can't pronounce "Los Angeles." I know he's Welsh, but come on.
8:54 p.m. Time to spend some time with 42-year-old single mom Stacy Francis. She was also featured in the big ad that aired after football two weeks ago. So we already know that this show will change her life and we know that she's reasonably talented and that her story of an abusive relationship is effectively emotional. [EVERY WORD CHERYL SAYS MAKES TOTAL SENSE.] Stacy has been told she's too old. "I don't want to die with this music in me," she tells Simon. If you ask me, she's fairly nasally on every high note and she struggles on the low stuff, but the crowd responds. And she makes Cheryl happy, so she makes me happy.
8:58 p.m. The judges all stand for Stacy. L.A. Reid says that Stacy raised his spirits and the hair on his arms. He's big on arm hair, L.A. Reid is. "This is your time, baby," Paula tells Stacy, blowing her a kiss. "I was completely and utterly blown away with every word you sang," Cheryl says clearly. "That was one of the best auditions I've ever heard in my live... You did more than sing it, you believed in it," Simon says. Guess what? Four "Yes" votes. I don't quite get the low singing tracks that are playing over all of the moments where the contestants aren't singing themselves. "Idol" does the same thing, of course. But it feels extra-distracting here. "I didn't know if he was gonna see it," says a tearful Stacy.
9:01 p.m. Oooh. A substantive "Dragon Tattoo" trailer, or at least one that includes plot rather than just Trent Reznor. I'm encouraged.
9:06 p.m. Oh no. The "X Factor" trucks are on the roll. And that can only mean one thing: We're about to lose Cheryl. NOOOOOOOO.
9:06 p.m. Welcome to Seattle. How will they explain the judging swap?
9:07 p.m. Well, we're going to re-meet the judges. That way we can pretend like this was always the plan. "And for the new city comes a big change... Yes, there's a pussycat in town," Steve Jones says. BOO. I'm going to resent Nicole all season, aren't I? "Let's hope I don't mess this up, OK?" Nicole says before the auditions start.
9:09 p.m. Our first Seattle auditioner is... A man in a shiny silver suit named Geo Godley. He's singing an original, which is ALWAYS a good idea. He's a writer, producer and a singer and his song is "Mr. Stud," featuring the chorus, "I'm a stud/Not a dud." This is gonna be huge. Then he drops his pants and exposes what is apparently an X-shaped phallus. Sadly, we'll never know what Cheryl would have said about this. Paula can't stand the audition and she storms out, as the audience boos. I can't tell if they're booing Paula -- who barfs a little off-stage, or Geo. "What the bloody hell was that?" Simon asks. You just know that a YouTube version of "Mr. Stud" is going to have a million views by Friday. Meanwhile, what's wrong with Paula? It's just an X-shaped penis. She probably didn't like Ashton Kutcher on "Two and a Half Men" either. Nicole claims to be traumatized. "I was in-key and everything was going well," Geo says.
9:13 p.m. Whew. Paula Abdul returned. Simon chides her.
9:13 p.m. I'm guessing 20-year-old Marcus Canty is going to be a talented chaser after the Geo Godley experience. His mother is only giving him two years to make it in music before he's off to college. And his time is nearly off. Then we get a "10 Minutes Later." Marcus is on the ground. The crowd is roaring. We'll see what he does... after the break.
9:19 p.m. Well can we watch Marcus perform, please? No. First we have to watch his clip package AGAIN. Steve Jones wishes him well. But can he sing? He gets the crowd singing and then launches into Stevie Wonder. He's a natural performer, totally comfortable with both the crowd and the stage. Vocally, it's not terrific, a bit too much Stevie-oke and the high notes cause him trouble. But the energy is terrific. Paula calls him "Sweetheart." L.A. Reid compares Marcus to Bobby Brown. Nicole mumbles something. "Everything about you is relevant, fresh," Paula says. Marcus reminds Simon of Usher and calls him "one to watch." That would be four "Yes" votes to keep Marcus from going to college. Everybody's happy and hugging.
9:30 p.m. Steve Jones does a better job of pronouncing "Seattle."
9:31 p.m. It's Nicole's birthday. She's abnormally excited. She squeals and jumps up and down. Cheryl Cole would have been more dignified.
9:32 p.m. Oooh. We haven't seen a group for a while. It's The Answer. They're from Utah. They look like an appropriately diverse trio and they start by singing "Happy Birthday" to Not-Cheryl, who melts. They sing "Rolling in the Deep," which I didn't need to hear again on a competition show. But they vow to make it their own. As solo artists, they're not all that uniquely talented, but they're better when they join forces in the second half. It's here that fans of "The Sing Off" would tell you that these guys are a nickel a dozen. The judges all like them. Four "Yes" votes.
9:41 p.m. Nici is 22 and she doesn't have a last name. According to the soundtrack, Nici is actually every woman and it's all in her. Uh-oh. I was unprepared for her awfulness. The producers fooled me. They didn't make her seem quite as deluded as the usual freak. But she's amazingly bad. How is it that some dude's wang makes Paula Abdul puke, but she can stomach Nici? Not-Cheryl says that Nici has range. "I feel like you did this on a dare," Paula says. "You have a horrible voice," Simon says plainly. Paula, Not-Cheryl and L.A. Reid all agree. "I am shocked and outraged," Nici says. Simon suggests it can't get any worse. That can only mean one thing... Montage of Sucky People!
9:44 p.m. Smirky, cackling Darren Michaels is clearly a joke performer. Sigh.
9:45 p.m. Simon compares The Sonnets to the music he has on when he's having a massage. I don't know what that means, but they suck.
9:50 p.m. That's a great "Fringe" ad.
9:50 p.m. Santa Cruz native Chris Rene is a garbage man. "I am what I am, but that's what I'm chasing," he says of his occupation. I like his hat. "I'm done with hauling trash," he promises. Boy. They're really making a lot of his occupation, aren't they? Ah, and Chris is also fresh out of rehab. This is a diverse sob-story he's got. He's singing his own composition, called "Young Homey." Hmmm... He's good and the song is not un-catchy once it gets going. In fact, "Young Homey," represent! But lose the falsetto. Otherwise? That's solid stuff and he deserves the standing ovation the judges give him. SLO-MO PAULA CLAP! Welcome back, Paula.
9:55 p.m. Not-Cheryl tells Chris that she's tripping on him. She *may* have missed the point of the song, but she says Chris has the x-factor. "You are a bright light. You lit us all up," Paula says. L.A. Reid tells Chris that he's The Truth. Simon thinks he's met a star for the first time. "Maybe you need the show. Maybe we need you," Simon tells him. Chris agrees that if they put him through, he'll stay on the right track. He reminds me a bit too much of Skinny Pete from "Breaking Bad." I hope he's OK!
9:59 p.m. That's it for the "X Factor" premiere. Sure, that felt exactly like "American Idol," but it felt like a decent "American Idol" audition episode and I'm OK with that.
10:00 p.m. One last thing: Bring back Cheryl Cole.
What'd you think of the "X Factor" premiere? Who'd you like? Who'd you dislike?