This week, one of the most highly anticipated reality-based singing competitions, The X Factor, premieres on FOX.
Simon Cowell, famously known for his candor on the first nine seasons of American Idol, is joined by Paula Abdul, L.A. Reid, Nicole Scherzinger, and host, Steve Jones to find the next music superstar. The winning solo artist or singing group will win a $5 million recording contract, the largest prize in television history.
Recently, Cowell talked with various press outlets during a conference call touching on different aspects of The X Factor, including keeping the music arrangements fresh and original, the importance of the contestant’s back stories, and how their mentoring process is essential to turning their contestants into bonafide stars.
With a $5 million dollar prize on the line, no one should be surprised that former Idol hopefuls showed up to the open auditions to try their hand at this new competition. Unfortunately, it sounds like we won’t be hearing too much from them.
“We did expect some people who we’ve seen before on Idol to come along, so I didn’t really have a problem with that,” Cowell said. “None of them did particularly well. It was quite nice to hear them a second time.
Something Cowell said to expect to see on the show are new, fresh takes on familiar songs to push the contestants to break out of their comfort zones and of course, sell songs on iTunes.
“Within about three weeks into the show you’re going to start hearing contestants way outside their comfort zone and hearing versions of songs you haven’t heard before,” he shared.
“Part of the reason for doing that is that you don’t want it to bbe like a bad sound-a-like, and secondly, we’re going to sell downloads on iTunes, so you have to come up with unique versions. And that’s part of the test of contestants within the show, who can come up with the most unique version of the song, otherwise, it’s just boring.”
On the topic of the contestants, Cowell teased that the back stories of the contestants are not the typical stories that the audience might expect from the singing competition.
“It’s quite edgy, it’s very raw, it’s real life, but it’s a talent show, so the ones we thought were talented we put on the show, but they are different to what you’ve seen before,” he said.
Cowell also emphasized that the back stories of each contestant are crucial, as he believe if he finds the contestants interesting that the viewing audience will also find them interesting.
Another big aspect to the show is the mentoring process, which Cowell stated starts as soon as the contestants are broken up into their given categories and work with their given judge for the entire length of the season.
When asked about The X Factor’s mentoring process in comparison to the mentoring process on NBC’s The Voice, Cowell said that the two approach the process very differently.
He boldly stated, “Well, they didn’t do it as well as us, if I’m being honest with you, and you will genuinely see the difference , I think, on this show. I kind of expected them to do something like that, but that’s the nature of the game when you make reality shows.”
“It is a necessary part of the format that you really do mentor these contestants. And look, it’s not just what you do during the show; anyone can mentor. The point is, can you mentor someone through the show and actually create a star? So, you’re going to have to judge X Factor on what we do compared to what they did on The Voice.”
He was quick to note that the group he mentored on the U.K. version of The X Factor last year, One Direction, came in third, yet they currently have the biggest selling single of the year, as well as the biggest selling album.
Cowell said what was frustrating about Idol’s process was that, “we as people who work in the music business weren’t allowed to do anything with the contestants on a week-by-week basis and they would make these awful decisions.”
He continued stating, “I do think that if you have the right artist and they have the right person working with them, you can demonstrate on the show each week the kind of record you’d be releasing after you hopefully won the competition.”
For those who have won past competitions like Idol, but have lackluster record sales, Cowell believes the issue boils down to lack of originality and an out-of-date process.
“I think some of these contestants haven’t done well, because they win [due to] popularity, not because of having a unique talent they’ve demonstrated on a week-by-week basis,” he said.
“And that’s why you have to update the process; you have to do something different, and you have to take risks. So, we’ll wait and see what happens.”
The X Factor two-night premiere continues on Thursday, September 22. “Auditions #2” will highlight the live auditions in Miami and Dallas.
The X Factor airs from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on FOX.
Check out an extended preview of The X Factor below.