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In 'X Factor,' X Marks the Spot... For X-cruciating
November 16, 2011  | By David Bianculli


I wanted to like The X Factor, I really did, and I'm usually impressed by Simon Cowell as both an on-air judge and backstage producer. But there are two things I just can't abide about his new Fox competition series, and they both came to a creepy, weepy head last week, when Willow Smith sang and Paula Adbul sobbed...

We're at the point in The X Factor (televised Wednesday and Thursday nights at 8 ET) where, as contestants are eliminated, there's room to fill -- to fill, as on American Idol and all its variants, with guest singers looking to promote and perform their latest pop releases.

But to start, as The X Factor did last week, with little Willow Smith (Will Smith's daughter) singing her follow-up to "Whip My Hair"? Please, no.

It's a talent show, not a nationwide showcase for how far promotion, contacts and packaging can get you. Then again... but I digress.


What usually irritates me about The X Factor was, in the case of Willow Smith, a bonus. This show has a habit of photographing its talent as though, for much of each number being sung, the zoom lens had yet to be invented. Camera positions and angles are so far away from the stage that you can't see the performers, just bright colors and geometric patterns. Finding Willow Smith in the picture at right is like playing a disco inferno version of "Where's Waldo?"

But with Willow Smith, that's no reason to complain.

It was worth complaining, however, when it came time, at the end of last week's live show, for the judges' elimination round.

The first two judges to pass judgment last week, L.A. Reid and Nicole Scherzinger, both voted to give the boot to guy group Stereo Hoggzz, sparing the girl group Lakoda Rayne. Both groups, it turns out, were ones Paula Abdul has been mentoring. In fact, so far during the elimination rounds, only Abdul's acts have faced elimination.

This time, though, she made a move that was unpredictable even by Paula Adbul standards. faced with having to send one of her beloved singing groups home, she opted instead to eliminate herself.


She began to cry, and said she couldn't vote. Wouldn't vote.

Protective Simon Cowell informed bewildered host Steve Jones, very firmly, that Paula was abstaining. Then after Jones called for Cowell's vote, he was informed, and informed the judges and the viewing audience, that Cowell's opinion was unnecessary.

If Paula abstained, Jones explained, then there already were two votes against Stereo Hoggzz, enough to send them home in a majority decision. When Paula heard that, she tearfully reversed herself, apologized to the girl group and voted against them so the Hoggzz could stay alive.

The Hoggzz were butchered seconds later, however, when Simon Cowell delivered his verdict, sided with the majority, and sent the boy group packing.

It was ridiculous, in part, for the overheated drama, and for the fact that -- due to Paula's hemming, hawing, sobbing and reversing -- The X Factor barely got its decision made in time.

But the truly absurd part of all this is: Why be a judge if you refuse to judge? I've heard of hung juries, and hanging judges -- but a hung judge?

My verdict, which I have no difficulty delivering: The X Factor had to establish its appeal, and its credibility, early. It failed at the former by falling millions short of projections.

And last week, with Paula's spineless stunt and Simon's cynical show of (temporary) support, it failed at the latter.

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