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'The X Factor' — Old and New
July 24, 2012  | By Bill Brioux

BEVERLY HILLS, CA—Last summer, the buzz about The X Factor made it sound like the biggest thing to hit TV in years. Then it arrived and, well, shrunk.

So it was almost cruel to see Britney Spears, Demi Lovato and Simon Cowell, along with L.A. Reid, blown up huge on the giant screens inside the Beverly Hilton ballroom Monday. The old and new X Factor judges answered questions via satellite from Florida, but it was like that old movie line from Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard in reverse: "I am small, it's my imperfections that got big."

The Hi-Def, big screen treatment was especially unflattering for Spears, who looked tired, over-tanned and just generally older. To be blunt, the 30-year-old pop star looked like Lovato's mom sitting next to the fresh-faced, clear-skinned, next generation Disney girl.

Fox tellingly provided just this one photo of the gang, taken on location rather than off the giant monitors. Fair enough — few of us could stand up to that kind of big screen scrutiny. It's just that Lovato did, both in pictures and in words.

Spears was asked why she was doing this, or rather, "what does it do for you?" She struggled to answer, saying she'd done eight tours, and this was different, and she just really wants to "give back and help people achieve their dream."

Cowell tried his best to keep things chipper and cheeky. When Lovato — being sold as the brat in this pack — told him "we're going to gang up on you — you're going to have two girls," his suggestive "I've had it" reply sounded a little too pat.

Always quick to stir the pot, Cowell was asked about the signing of Mariah Carey to American Idol--confirmed just that morning by Fox entertainment president Kevin Reilly — and he struggled to stay on the high road.

"I'm happy for her, actually, I like Mariah. I think she's going to find it difficult to say no."
What does that mean, he was asked.

"You've got to say no to people. She's sweet," he replied.

At the end of the session, I asked Lovato about her break from her career (she took time off a year or so ago to address an eating disorder) and whether that experience gave her any perspective on the star maker machinery the young X Factor auditioners may be embarking on.

She spoke about her little sister, who is launching her own show business career. "I worry about her all the time, but she's doing great," says Lovato, who has come to believe that people who are going to have an eating disorder, or some other problem, are going to have an eating disorder. "I don't really think fame has a lot to do with it," she says. Sure it can add pressure, and "sometimes makes the problem a little worse … but unless you're in a good place when you start working, I think it's kind of inevitable for these things to happen."

It was too bad the satellite conference ended there — it was just getting interesting.

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