The X Factor USA

NICK MORRISON follows Simon Cowell across the Atlantic.

american Cheryl Cole nick morrison Rob Young Simon Cowell TV X Factor


Everything is bigger in America – SUVs, skyscrapers, pre-1988 Monica Geller – and X Factor USA is no exception. The show is slicker and shinier than its UK predecessor, but without the sardonic edge of the parent programme.

In the months leading up to the premiere, the gossip mill was in overdrive about the make-up of the new panel. Simon Cowell? Check. Crazy old Paula Abdul? Check. Cat that won’t cop out L.A. Reid? Check. But it was the will they/won’t they flirtation with everyone’s favourite Geordie lass that had us salivating – they were together, they were apart; they were on a break. Finally though, it was official, and Cheryl got off the plane (in LA)!

However, in a move as smooth as L.A. Reid’s scalp, CC was excised from the panel after only one set of auditions by the masterful line, ‘With a new city comes a new judge’, to be replaced by World’s Sexiest Woman™ Nicole Scherzinger. Mrs. Pussycat does a decent job, weeping when appropriate and standing up dramatically during particularly hair-raising auditions, but overall the panel lacks chemistry. L.A. seems to be in a groove of his own most of the time while Paula Abdul (America’s answer to Sinitta) squeals like Santa Claus. On Prozac. At Disneyland. Getting laid.


The premiere episode featured the four judges with Welsh rare-fit Steve Jones on hosting duty, and the talent came thick and fast. The tone was set by spunky 13 year old Rachel Crow, who pleased the judges with her brassy version of Duffy’s ‘Mercy’ (although it lacked Shirlena Johnson’s tribal flare). She was followed by hot-panted Simone, armed with a high belt and the legs of a Greek goddess – also through to bootcamp.

The US producers are clearly going for less of a freak show element – even barmy old couple Dan and Venita and nob-flailing Geo Godley were treated as loveable eccentrics rather than people in need of a good sectioning. This, combined with a slightly more restrained use of montages than one might like, gives the sense that you’re just watching endless droves of people sing for a minute then disappear, with none of the archness and sly comment of the British show.

That said, a good programme is all in the editing, and XFUSA does not disappoint. Over here, if an auditionee looking like the lovechild of Frida Kahlo and Susan Boyle is given ten minutes of camera time, you know she’s going to be good. There, the result remains completely unpredictable. Hilarious diva Xander Alexander earned an entire segment for his catty putdowns and prodigious sass, but despite a good performance of a poorly chosen song, he was turned away by the judges.

On the other hand, James Brown tribute act Dexter Haygood yelped his way through I Got You to a nonplussed crowd before his homelessness sob story was shown, suddenly turning his audition into a brand new bag. It’s this surprise editing combined with dramatically placed ad breaks that make the show so unexpectedly fresh.

Unfortunately, there’s no point in watching the rest of the series (which comes in at a whopping four hours per week) – we’ve already found the winner. 18-year-old college student Melanie Amaro blew the judges away with a note-perfect performance of Beyonce’s Listen, effortlessly nailing every riff and run. She’s the kind of winner the show needs in its first series: a powerful belter, cute as a button and reet oop Clive Davis’ street.

It’s a strong start for the new series (even if the ratings were lower than Simon’s plunge neck) and with talent like Chris ‘The Truth’ Rene and Nick Voss, it’s four big YESES. *Louis Walsh seal clapping*