Credit: Ray Mickshaw/FOX ©2011 Fox Broadcasting Co. Photo: Geo Godley Auditions in The X Factor USA Premiere

We're going to try a lightning-reaction review of this, the most-hyped and most-anticipated of variety entertainments: Simon "Quote Machine" Cowell's refurbushed baby, The X Factor.

Just watched it and came away feeling...interested but not exhausted. Curious but not exhilarated. Will watch again, but we want, need, expect, bigger chills. Bet we get 'em!

We've counted the ways in which we can avoid comparing it to American Idol and come up with the number zero, so let's just dive into it. The format and the presentation are within the realm of the familiar, some might even say veeeerrrrry familiar. 

There a few cosmetic differences — Idol's main colors are blue/Factor's are red. Idol does its auditions in a quiet studio/Factor's wanna-wins must impress an arena full of hooting clapperclaws. Idol's host interacts with the judges and soothes the talent/Factor's host flashes a toothpaste smile and cowers behind a fortress of sound equipment — but it's essentially the same. Folks sing and are either accepted, tolerated, or humilated.

Credit: FOX ©2011 Fox Broadcasting Co. Photo: A Group of Contestants Sing During The X Factor USA

We get some moving backstories (substance abuse! single parenthood!), some goofy jesters pantsing themselves and some truly talented people. It's a formula that works, because it registers with us on a human level. We all crave judgment! There are some red herrings, they set a few folks up to fail, but it's never truly cruel. The buffoons wanted to fail, the practiced and the inspired get a fair shake.

There's some amusing banter between the judges.  A well-publicized split between Cowell and former judge Cheryl Cole happened after some of the show was already in the can, so we get a taste of her advice before the footage ran out. She's charming, but her accent is rough to our ears, (more thick pint of Guinness than soothing Mrs. Doubtfire), and her replacement by Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger is welcome.

Simon is strangely velveteen, purring encouragement and honeyed words to fragile youths. Paula mumbles wisdom in her familiar golden-hazed stammer, and newcomer L.A. Reid comes off as half head-bobbing hand-dancer and half-grouch. A lot of time is spent building up a kind of rivalry between he and Simon, and we'll have to see how it plays out. He's used to surrounding himself with background goofs like Randy Jackson (surely Idol's eternal Ringo) and unused, perhaps, to strong personalities and successful businessmen. This is an intriguing matchup.

 

Credit: Ray Mickshaw/FOX ©2011 Fox Broadcasting Co. Photo: Chris Rene Auditions in The X Factor USA Premiere

There were some, "Ok, this is why we watch this stuff!" moments like the hot tranny mesh that was Siameze Floyd and the emotional heart-song of Marcus Canty.  There were some "The seeds are planted, but will they grow?" action like Simone Battle's fierce flashes of fashion, and there were some nutbags ready to be tagged for the cackle factory like Geo Godley, who even now, perhaps, is headed rubber wall-ward.

We weren't a big fan of the editing, it jumped all over the place with strange continuity jumps (easily marked by Paula's dresses), and some weird "Greetings from Heaven" post-interviews with the rejects floating in a white light, BUT overall they pulled off a complicated, enormous show, and we're looking forward to the months ahead.  It's a neat trick getting us invested in seeing these rough stones polished, and we're in for the long haul.

You're through to the next round, X Factor!

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