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'The X Factor' Interviews: Simon, Paula, Nicole and Steve Talk Mentoring, Fights & 'The Voice'

by Laura Prudom, posted Sep 16th 2011 10:30AM
Next week, Simon Cowell will attempt to take over America using three little words: 'The X Factor' (premieres Wed., Sept. 21, 8PM ET on Fox).

Already a smash hit in the UK (where episodes have been known to capture over 60 percent of the country's audience in a single airing) and across the world, Cowell's answer to 'Idol' is certainly competing with its predecessor in terms of buzz right out of the gate, thanks in no small part to the promised reunion of Cowell and his former 'AI' sparring partner, Paula Abdul.

Following a preview of the first two episodes, AOL TV caught up with the two 'Idol' alums, plus fellow judge Nicole Scherzinger and charming 'X Factor' host Steve Jones, to get their take on auditioning in front of a live audience, the rivalries already forming between the judges and whether or not 'The Voice' stole their thunder.

"The number one question we've had all along is 'Why is the show different from anything else?' and I've always said, you've just got to watch it, you'll see the difference," Cowell told us on the red carpet, quite confident about the show's wide appeal. "I don't want to tell people what they're gonna like or what they won't like -- you've got to watch it, you're gonna make your own mind up."

Though the concept of "mentoring" contestants has been an integral part of the UK 'X Factor' for eight years, the idea of judges taking the artists under their wing had been unheard of in the U.S. -- at least until 'The Voice' premiered earlier this year, eager to rush out ahead of 'X Factor' and establish the format first.

Unlike the general "mentors' favorites" presentation of 'The Voice,' each 'X Factor' mentor will be assigned a specific category (girls, boys, groups and older singers) and must then whittle their choice of contestants down to the few that will face the audience votes. This adds to the rivalry between the judges, as each tries to prove that their category is more relevant and appealing to modern music fans than the others are.

I asked Cowell how 'The X Factor' would distinguish itself from 'The Voice' in terms of its mentoring, and whether he felt that the NBC show had tried to steal their thunder.

"I was expecting it," the music mogul smirked. "But rather than making it part of the format, you've got to make it something that's actually real, which is, there is a need for it. We have a job to do and we can make the contestants better -- that's gonna be the difference. You're gonna see a real hands-on involvement and more importantly, you're gonna hear something different than what you've heard before, and that's why we did this."

On 'The Voice,' all the mentors were established artists in their own right, whereas 'X Factor' offers the same dynamic it has in the UK; mentors who are both performers (Scherzinger and Abdul), and record industry executives (Cowell and L.A. Reid).

L.A. ReidThese differing areas of expertise inevitably lead to personality clashes and a cheerfully competitive atmosphere between the judges; fans may come in expecting to see familiar sparks flying between Cowell and Abdul, but they probably won't be prepared for the battle of wills that results from putting Cowell and Reid at the same table.

"We both ran record labels; we both wanted the number one record; we would compete with each other, and that's why I wanted him on the show," Cowell said of Reid. "I didn't want someone who was just going to agree with me -- I wanted someone who was competitive, and he is the most competitive person, other than Ryan Seacrest, that I've ever met in my life."

"The headbutting between L.A. and Simon is genuine; it's really happening, but it was always going to happen when you put two alpha males in the room," host Steve Jones confirmed. "L.A. is a self-made man, he's stupidly talented, and Simon is very, very similar. L.A.'s got nothing to lose, he's already made it, so he can have his own opinion without capitulating to Simon as I think a lot of other people would do -- as I would probably do. That's why he's going to be a megastar -- at least, I hope so, because he's fantastic."

In the episode previews we saw, there was definitely more friction between Reid and Cowell than there was between Cowell and Abdul, although Abdul admitted, "I got right back into that seat and the insults went flying," just like old times.

"I'm grateful that Simon and I are working together again -- it may sound warped and a little bit out there, but I missed that energy," she laughed.

One of the most engaging parts of 'X Factor' (and something audiences will find familiar fPaularom
'America's Got Talent,' if not 'Idol') is the audition process, where contestants must perform in front of an arena full of fans right from the outset.

"It definitely gives a different energy when you're holding auditions in front of four or five thousand people -- it's electrifying when you let the audience know that they're the fifth judge and not to hold back what they're feeling passionate about or hating," Abdul enthused. "What I've found is that the audience immediately rallies behind someone who's good; then they learn that being good and being very good still isn't good enough -- they start having discernment, because they're realizing that the most unsafe place to be is when you're really good. You've gotta be extraordinary, or extraordinarily different."

But the crowd isn't just there to add a sense of grandeur; according to Jones, a passionate audience response also has the power to sway a dubious judge. "Say L.A. Reid is saying 'I'm not feeling this person,' but then you've got 4,000 people behind him yelling that they're fantastic ... I don't care how headstrong you are, you have to take that into account," he pointed out. "And then there's Scherzinger, who's the most malleable person in the world. She's such a big baby. Any advice I would give to people who are auditioning for, fingers crossed, Season 2 of 'X Factor': Focus on Scherzinger, she will buckle."

Nicole ScherzingerScherzinger wasn't quite so quick to admit her changeability, though she was eager to emphasize the challenges of judging when we caught her on the red carpet.

"It's been intense. You empathize because this isn't just a talent show, these are real people who have families, who are struggling, and these are their dreams and it feels like their whole life is on the line, and you're a part of that," she revealed. "For me it's been very emotional. I was like, 'Oh, let me go out and help everybody be the best that they can be -- I know I can do it!' and then I have to say no to people who are losing their houses and to people whose family just passed away the week before. It's been really hard for me, but I guess it's part of it."

And though Cowell has seemed to have softened his brutal judging style over the years, don't expect him to hold back completely. "It depends on the person," he admitted wryly. "I mean, if they're obnoxious, then I have no qualms ... some of them were behaving the same way I was!"

'The X Factor' airs its two-night premiere Wed., Sept. 21 and Thurs., Sept. 22 at 8PM ET on Fox.

Will you watch 'The X Factor'? Are you looking forward to seeing Paula and Simon back on screen together? Share your thoughts below!

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"The Voice" was lame. Sorry.

September 20 2011 at 11:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

this show would be good if only Simon and Piers Morgan were judging!

September 20 2011 at 7:02 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

love paula

September 20 2011 at 6:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply


September 20 2011 at 6:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

What I like about X Factor is the "no age" limit . A small child or a 90 year old can audition .

September 20 2011 at 6:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There are more important things for people to know than you are gay. Who cares.

September 20 2011 at 6:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

i think jlo is cool

September 20 2011 at 5:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

There are too many rip-offs of American Idol now. They get as boring and repetitive as their rude "judge", Simon Cowell.

September 20 2011 at 5:45 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Shelby's comment

Sorry to tell u this but American Idol is a rip off of Pop idol so get over it.

September 20 2011 at 6:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Face it...We will be watching it all because of Kelly Clarkson and those that followed her like Daughtry, Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia and Carrie Underwood...Finding that next one, is what keeps the viewers coming back...The Voice was great not just because of the fresh format but because Dia and Javier could sing their butts off...Dia's rendition of Kanye West's hit song was amaaaaazing...Kelly Clarkson's new CD is awesome...As long as the talent is great, than the viewers will come no matter what...

September 20 2011 at 5:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

who cares.. i'll watch it if nothing else is on

September 20 2011 at 5:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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