On Wednesday, Season 2 of The X Factor premiered on FOX and finally debuted its new and much hyped additions to the judging panel, Demi Lovato and Britney Spears. Simon Cowell, in a move that was rather cliche for a middle-aged man, dumped last season's female judges Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul and replaced them with younger versions of themselves.
Simon's motives for bringing in two younger female pop stars, both who have battled personal demons (though Britney's demon's got better publicity - Demi Lovato was hospitalized for treatment of emotional and drug issues in October of 2010) seemed, perhaps to the jaded pop culture cynic, pretty transparent. Simon wanted to attract younger viewers while also capitalizing on the country's fascination with Britney since her public breakdown. Plus, two young, emotionally damaged women would certainly pose no threat to the egos of he and L.A. Reid and they could continue to revel in being masters of the universe, in this humble blogger's opinion.
And, while those may have been Simon's primary reasons, last night's premiere suggested that there might have been a stroke of inspiration in his casting that was not immediately obvious to the public. While the show was rather heavy handed in its attempts to paint Britney as a shrewd and tough judge, even without the manipulation of the footage, Britney came to the table with purposefulness and offered honest critiques without feeling the need to hide behind empty platitudes. Demi, on the other hand, brought a certain charm and confidence to the the panel that was both unexpected and refreshing.
Also, in place of the patronizing and contentious SImon who has often treated his female co-stars with a disdain that borders on misogyny, there seemed to be an evolution into a kinder Simon. In addition to offering unsolicited praise to Britney, "You're quite good at this," he muttered to her early on in the judging process, he later showed genuine concern for a visibly upset Britney who had just passed less than stellar judgement on a contestant she had once recorded with.
With Demi, Simon shares a playful chemistry that almost borders on paternal at times, like when he good-naturedly scolds her for being too enthusiastic about a cute contestant or when he questions her about her relationship with Niall Horan from New Direction. "Have you kissed him?" he asks a blushing and giggling Lovato.
While some of these developments are new and unexpected, the show did bring back its heavy-handed overproduction and, of course, the parade of contestants whose personal stories of struggle, inspiration, and adorable toddlers have become synonymous with every prime-time singing competition.
Some critics felt that The X Factor couldn't actually get much worse regardless of who was on the judging panel. While it is too soon to tell if the bounce from Demi's and Britney's debut will lead to any long-term excitement about the show, they have at least given viewers a reason to hope and after last season's debacle, that in and of itself is an impressive achievement.
The X Factor returns on Thursday night for part 2 of it's season premiere. Will Demi and Britney continue to impress? Will L.A. Reid actually get five seconds of air time? Will the judges continue to graze on mystery snacks throughout the auditions? Check back tomorrow for answers to those and more of your burning questions.