Will "X Factor" Be More Successful Than "American Idol"?

Norman Byrd's picture

"American Idol" has ruled the American television ratings landscape for six consecutive years. It currently tops the ratings list for 2011 as well. The question is: Can Simon Cowell, who was instrumental in making "American Idol" the success it was and is, drive the American version of his British show, "X Factor," to top it?

The long-awaited two-hour premiere of "X Factor" will air on Fox Television on Wednesday, September 21, and will perhaps put to rest the question people have been asking ever since Simon Cowell's brother leaked that the popular judge was leaving America's top-rated television show, "American Idol": Will the American version of "X Factor" be a bigger success than "American Idol?"

For some, that question has already been answered. Cowell himself, while appearing at the premiere in Los Angeles last week, told Rolling Stone, "We’d been asked the question over and over again, 'How is the show different from Idol,'" Cowell told the magazine. "I kept saying, 'You’ve got to see the show. It feels different, it feels more modern, it looks bigger, but most importantly it’s just got a different voice to Idol.' "

Cowell also acknowledged that there were ernormous expectations of the show. "We’re going to be judged as much as the contestants," he noted. "And if it goes wrong it’s my fault and if it goes right you take part of the credit. But it’s a very, very different experience being on this show compared to Idol..."

He has been quoted as saying he would pull the plug on the show itself if it appeared to be going nowhere. One of the bars of success? Producing an international superstar. "I mean, it's got to be great," he told PA. "It's got to be fun and you've got to find a star. Otherwise, truthfully, it's all been a waste of time."

With millions in promotional costs, including an ad spot during the Super Bowl, already spent, the show is a massive undertaking. Toppling "American Idol" from its number one perch on the list of top-rated American television shows will also take some doing.

According to Nielsen ratings, "American Idol" has been the top-rated show in the United States for seven straight seasons. However, for the calendar year, "X Factor" still has a shot at besting the like-formatted reality show (which would stop the "Idol" dominance at six calendar years). Still, for the season, "X Factor" will undoubtedly set the bar high for Season 11 of "American Idol," which will begin airing in January.

But can the "X Factor" rise to expectations? Unlike "American Idol," Cowell's new show will allow anyone, regardless of age, to compete for the $5,000,000 top prize. But besides having no age requirement (to compete on "Idol," one must be between 15 and 18 years of age) and the massive prize difference ("Idol" pays $250,000 and signs the winner to an recording contract), the only real difference will be the personal mentoring of the judges (an idea pre-empted by NBC's "The Voice").

Still, "X Factor" has one thing that "American Idol" does not -- Simon Cowell. Watchers of "Idol" during Season 10 will have noticed a more nurturing, less critical air. New judges Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez joined Randy Jackson in a season that lacked the honesty (albeit sometimes brutal and blunt) of the critiques provided by Cowell for the first nine seasons of the show. With the premiere of "X Factor," that type of straightforward criticism will return.

Will it be enough? It will most likely depend on the chemistry of the show. To help build the same sort of chemistry that he had on "American Idol," Cowell, who also produces "X Factor," brought "Idol" veteran judge Paula Abdul aboard as one of the four panelists. Between the sniping and flirting and the bad cop-good cop routine the two enjoyed on the panel, it was apparently one that Cowell missed and now seeks to resurrect.

Filling out the judgeships are record mogul L.A. Reid and singer Nicole Scherzinger, formerly of the Pussycat Dolls.

Will Simon Cowell's new show be better than Simon Cowell's old show? Perhaps. Then, again, maybe not. But will it be bigger, more successful? That will depend on the numbers that the people at Nielsen record. And even if the show's premiere sets records and pushes the show suddenly to the top of the list (which, given the expectations and anticipation of the event, very well could occur), it must be pointed out that one show does not make the season -- even if one man might be responsible for bringing in the viewers.

"X Factor" premieres at 8:00 p.m. on Fox Television, September 21, as part of a two-part debut. The second part of the premiere airs Thursday at 8:00 p.m.

(photo credit: Wiki edit Jonny, Creative Commons)

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