After months of hype and headlines, Simon Cowell’s "X Factor" is finally debuting in America next week. The question is: Will anyone care?
In the past year, our DVRs have been filled to the max with reality singing competitions, from the revamped (J. Lo on a kinder, gentler "American Idol") to the remixed ("The Voice" has swivel chairs, you guys) to the reviled (ugh, "Karaoke Battle USA"). These days, the casual TV viewer needs a doctorate in “Reality TV” to keep track of all the various karaoke contests.
So, as a public service to fellow confused and overwhelmed TV addicts, I’ve broken down all the shows that are sure to feature overwrought renditions of Alicia Keys' songs and judges sipping from sponsored soda cups. (Example: "Idol" is Coke, "X Factor" is Pepsi. "The Sing Off" is…Coke 2?)
Practice your scales, warm up your pipes and dig in!
Season 11 premieres on Fox in January
Premise: Small town folks with big voices get plucked from obscurity
Weepy Judge: J Lo, although we’re not buying it
Hard Ass Judge: Randy, although we’re not buying it
Token Genre Judge: Rock legend Steven Tyler, although we’re not sure he knows that he’s on television half the time
Host’s Greatest Asset: Seacrest’s bank account.
Guest mentors: Ranging from the A-list (OH MY GAGA!) to the A-list…from the '90s (Babyface!)
Prize: $1 million contract with Universal; destined to play state fairs for years to come
Do the Judges Mentor: Nope. Nor do they judge. Everyone’s brilliant and amazing!
Ratings: #1 show on TV, performance shows averaged almost 26 million viewers a week!
Age Range: 15-29
Recent Backstage Drama: Producers bickering in the press with Simon Cowell, J.Lo contract negotiations, PIA TOSCANO AND MARK BALLAS SPLIT OMG.
Biggest Star(s): The Holy Idol Trinity of Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and Chris Daughtry.
"The X Factor"
Two-night US premiere on Fox, September 21 and 22
Premise: Simon Cowell sets out to destroy "American Idol." Also, a bunch of famous people take talent show contestants under their wing to guide them to superstardom with over-the-top musical performances and TONS of backstage drama
Hard Ass Judge: Simon Cowell, although we hear L.A. Reid isn’t exactly a teddy bear
Weepy Judge: Paula Abdul, America’s favorite zany aunt
Token Genre Judge: Nicole Scherzinger, representing all those major label artists who will never, ever, ever have a successful solo career despite getting a crapload of money thrown at their promo
Host’s Greatest Asset: Steve Jones kinda looks like Jon Hamm/Taylor Lautner/Rupert Everett’s secret lovechild, plus the added bonus of a Welsh accent!
Guest Mentors: Mariah Carey, Jennifer Hudson, Kelly Rowland and Usher are all rumored to be involved
Prize: $5 million contract with Sony Records … that will never ever ever be recouped
Do the Judges Mentor: Yep, that’s the whole point of the show
Ratings: TBD, but recently, pundits are predicting a less-than-brilliant debut. (Sad face.)
Age Range: 12-112
Recent backstage drama: Cheryl Cole out, Nicole Scherzinger IN. More is sure to roll out as the series begins. Simon loves leaking tidbits about the contestants to the press.
Biggest star: The British version’s third season unleashed Leona Lewis. But let’s be real. This show’s all about Simon Cowell.
"Karaoke Battle USA"
The Top 4 battle tonight night on ABC
Weepy Judge: Carnie Wilson
Hard Ass Judge: Joe Levy
Token Genre Judge: Brian “the Cowboy” Scott (that’s really his name, by the way)
Host’s Greatest Asset: Joey Fatone used to have Justin Timberlake on speed dial. That’s worth something, right?
Prize: Bragging rights as the King or Queen of Karaoke. No, really. They say that on the show. You win BRAGGING RIGHTS. (There’s also a vague mention of a Hollywood Records “recording” and a trip to Ireland to compete in the World Karaoke Championship.)
Ratings: LOL no.
Backstage drama: There is so little buzz around this show, it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.
"America’s Got Talent"
Season 6 wrapped up on NBC earlier this week
Premise: Ventriloquists versus vocalists versus hula hoopers
Hard Ass Judge: Piers Morgan
Weepy Judge: Sharon Osbourne
Token Genre Judge: Howie Mandel? (Hey, someone’s gotta rep for all the obsessive/compulsive stand-up comics from the 80’s.)
Host’s Greatest Asset: Nick Cannon is married to Mariah Carey
Prize: $1 million, plus a show as a headliner on the Las Vegas Strip
Ratings: A top 10 summer hit, #1 in its timeslot all season, ranging from 9.73 million to 15.28 million viewers.
Backstage drama: This week, lots of diehard fans were shocked that creative group iLuminate only placed third in the finale.
Age: All ages
Biggest star: She’s from the British series, but Susan Boyle broke the Internet and the album charts.
"The Sing Off"
Season 3 premieres on NBC September 19
Premise: No instruments allowed for these a cappella groups.
Hard Ass Judge: Ben Folds, who might just be the most honest and fair judge on reality TV
Token Genre Judge: Shawn Stockman, giving the show some R&B credibility
Weepy judge: TBD! Will new judge Sara Bareilles (replacing Nicole Scherzinger) need Kleenex? We’ll see!
Prize: $100,000 recording contract with Epic Records/Sony Music
Host’s Greatest Asset: Nick Lachey’s dimples!
Ratings: Last year’s December run ranged from 7.64 million to 9.51 million viewers
Biggest star: The self-titled major label debut from season 2 winners Committed peaked at #171 on the Billboard 200 chart
Age Limit: All ages, although college groups are often the most heavily-featured
Season 2 premieres after the 2012 Super Bowl on NBC
Premise: Industry experts cast the show blindly, based solely on a contestant’s voice and a fancy “No Whammy No Whammy Stop” button that twirls a futuristic barber chair. Then there were weird battle rounds in a boxing ring, and convoluted voting, and a kitchen sink.
Hard Ass Judge: Adam Levine is really competitive and really flirtatious
Weepy Judge: Christina Aguilera’s bionic shell cracked when results were announced
Token Genre Judge: Blake Shelton brings the Nashville crowd to primetime TV.
Bonus Crazy Judge: Cee Lo!
Do the Judges Mentor: Yep. "The Voice" cleverly copped a lot of "X Factor’s" shtick before it premiered.
Guest Mentors: Sia, Reba McIntire, Monica and Adam Blackstone gave the hopefuls advice
Host’s Greatest Asset: Carson Daly being on a hit show again means Jimmy Fallon is allowed to bust out his “Massive Tool” impression.
Prize: $100,000 and a recording contract with Universal Republic Records
Biggest success story: Although winner Javier Colon peaked at #17 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart, Christina Aguilera and Adam Levine’s Maroon 5 rebounded from so-so releases with a #1 collabo, “Moves Like Jagger.”
Age Limit: None!
Ratings: Xtina and company slayed the competition, besting ABC’s juggernaut "Dancing With The Stars" and a Gaga-themed episode of “Glee.” It enjoyed roughly 10-12 million viewers week to week.
"Majors and Minors"
Premieres September 23 on the Hub TV Network
Premise: 12 young performers are mentored and encouraged by famous people!
Judges: the show is more about motivating than critiquing.
Hosts Greatest Asset: Joby Harte’s name is fun to say! Joby!
Guest Mentors: “Idol” alums Adam Lambert, Jennifer Hudson and Jordin Sparks, Brandy, “X Factor” winner Leona Lewis, Colbie Caillat, Avril Lavigne, Sean Kingston, will.i.am, Ryan Tedder, Mike Posner, Claude Kelly
Prize: Recording deal with Boardwalk Records/RCA Records and a cross-country concert tour
Ratings: TBD, but the Hub is a blip on cable’s radar, so don’t expect massive things
"The Glee Project"
Season one wrapped up in August on Oxygen.
Premise: Ryan Murphy and his cronies set out to find new “Glee” cast members!
Hard Ass Judge: Ryan Murphy, a delectable villain who sniffed “You don’t inspire me” to trembling teenagers like he was a catty Slugworth. Werk, diva!
Weepy Judge: Choreographer Zack Woodley shed a few tears over contestants’ emotional auditions, but "The Glee Project" was refreshingly devoid of reality TV archetypes
Host’s Greatest Asset: There was no official host, but casting director and judge Robert Ulrich was a likeable softy
Guest Mentors: “Glee’s” second tier cast, like Max Adler, Dot Marie Jones, Darren Criss (twice!), Jenna Ushkowitz and Harry Shum. (In other words, Lea Michele’s agent likely laughed and gave a “talk to the hand” when Oxygen asked her to shoot a reality show.)
Prize: An 8-episode arc on “Glee’s” third season. And surprise! There were two winners! And the third and fourth placers scored mini arcs, too! And a fan favorite won $10,000 despite dropping out of the competition because he loved Jesus too much. Basically, everyone wins on “Glee"! (Except the viewer, who now will have approximately 50 new characters to meet at McKinley High.)
Do the Judges Mentor: Yep! They were all heavily involved in every challenge and gave each contestant lots of direction.
Ratings: Strong word of mouth and good reviews eventually helped the finale wrangle a respectable 1.2 million viewers, a 172 percent increase from the embarrassing debut.
Age range: Unclear, but they were casting high school student characters, so all the hopefuls were in their late teens/early twenties
Recent backstage drama: Who’s Ryan Murphy allegedly feuding with this week?
Biggest star: Will Gleeks embrace Damian and Samuel when their characters debut this season? (My guess: yes.)