AUSTIN — The X Factor’s first televised audition of Season Two swept the Frank Erwin Center on Thursday and Friday, with two new celebrity judges and a whole lot of spectacle in tow.
I experienced a bite-sized portion of the audition when I sat in on the final segment, which ran for about two-and-a-half hours Friday. The judges — now Simon Cowell, L.A. Reid, Demi Lovato and Britney Spears — were met with roaring applause from the crowd of 4,000 – and a notable number of Spears and One Direction shout-outs.
Cowell was easily the most congenial of the four to the audience, declaring Austin his favorite audition city and stopping to shake hands with those seated near him during breaks.
Pop star Spears has far more relevant experience in the entertainment industry than fellow singing competition judge Jennifer Lopez, but you’d never be able to tell from her brief, dispassionate critiques.
Twenty-two acts in total took the stage, akin to the flashy talent that marked the show’s first season. They included a handful of youthful boy groups (“This is the year of the groups,” Simon promised, a nod to his protégé), a few over-the-top dancers (look for a flamboyant AT&T rep who worked the stage to Rihanna’s “Hard”) and several older, “last chance” belters.
The best of the night was 22-year-old Megan “Mugsy” McCullough, a free-spirited redhead whose gorgeous, husky rendition of “Be My Husband” earned high praises from Cowell.
But the real story of the night was the new judging panel, which —despite the recent media attention —seemed to lack the kind of magic that the show’s glitzy premise requires.
Pop star Spears, 30, has far more relevant experience in the entertainment industry than fellow singing competition judge Jennifer Lopez, but you’d never be able to tell from her brief, dispassionate critiques. Her only meaty comment was directed to McCullough, who came dressed in a midriff-revealing leopard top much like Spears’ “Slave” ensemble. While Lovato suggested she cover up next time, Spears disagreed, saying that she’d spent her entire life being unfairly criticized for her outfits. “Rock on,” she advised.
Contrary to Spears, 19-year-old Lovato was a natural conversationalist with the contestants. Her energetic, biting personality is well suited to television – but her age showed. With a limited amount of experience in the industry, her critiques often rang hollow. “I think you need to spend some time figuring out who you are,” she told one contestant in his 30s.
Cowell and Reid remained the backbone of the panel, delivering rational if not compelling critiques. Their tension from the first season was non-existent; instead, Cowell and Lovato traded the most jabs (“Demi’s single,” Reid told one attractive male contestant; “Today,” Cowell quipped). Though mildly entertaining, their banter lacked the earnestness of Cowell and former judge Paula Abdul’s love-hate relationship.
The most telling interactions, in fact, were off camera - Cowell made a point to frequently chat with and look after Spears, who sat beside him.
If there’s a unique dynamic to this new judging panel, it’s yet to be found. The most telling interactions, in fact, were off camera - Cowell made a point to frequently chat with and look after Spears, who sat beside him. I got the feeling he sees something in her that he wants to draw out and nurture. As tepid as Spears came across as a judge, I think there’s a reason –ratings aside-- that Cowell brought her on board: Once upon a time, she personified the show’s namesake.
We’ll see how it all plays out when the second season of The X Factor premieres in September. Tune in this fall, and sound off below with your thoughts on the show’s makeover.