The Prize: A $5 million recording contract with Syco/Sony Music
Who's Eligible: Solo singers, duos, or groups ages 12 and up are eligible to compete. "You can be 12; you can be 112," explained creator, producer, and judge Simon Cowell in a promo for the show. "You can be in a group; you can have 100 people in the group. It doesn't matter."
The Audition Process: After producers' auditions, which aren't televised, contestants move on to auditioning for the superstar judges. The first time contestants audition for the judges, they do it in front of a live audience of thousands, and Simon encourages the crowds to speak up. At the first audition in Los Angeles, he told them, "The idea is we're trying to find a superstar. [...] And you're our fifth judge. Basically you're here to tell us who you like. You can be as badly behaved as you want, actually." But excessive booing is discouraged.
The Competition: After they make it onto the show, contestants are separated into four categories: young girls, young guys, "older singers" (which meant over 28 on the last season of the UK's version) and groups. They're then sent through music boot camp before facing another round of eliminations.
The Twist: After boot camp, surviving contestants will be paired with the four judges, who will act as mentors. This means the judges will be competing with each other — and Paula Abdul can't wait. "We are placed in a way that we compete with each other, which is interesting," she told MTV. "But it's a whole different ball of wax. I'm excited to be getting into that mentoring aspect. That's really my passion, that's what I've done for over 20 years."
Live Shows: In the final round, 12 singers and groups (who have all since moved into what's called "The X Factor House") compete for the title — and America's votes — in live performances, which often include dancers.
How to Win: Get America to vote for you. How can you guarantee that? Blow the audience away with originality and talent, and your chances are good. "Literally, the rules are off now," Simon toldUSA Today. "You can be as outrageous and as different as you want to be, and we'll encourage it."
The X Factor's two-hour premiere is Wednesday September 21 on Fox. A second two-hour episode airs the next night. Will you be tuning in?