September 22, 2011 5:37am PT by Lindsay Powers
Simon Cowell's 'X Factor:' What the Critics Are Saying
PHOTOS: Fall TV's 12 Most Anticipated Shows
We thought it made sense to first look to U.K. newspapers, where Cowell's show originated.
Rachel Ray in the U.K. Telegraph calls the show, which kicked off on Fox Wednesday, "A bigger, brasher, and louder American X Factor sets the stage for tough competition over a $5 million prize," and says the live performances in front of an audience "raise the specter of a Roman circus."
She took issue with a singer who exposed his crotch, which was covered with a giant "X Factor" logo.
STORY: Simon Cowell's 'The X Factor' Premieres Lower Than 'American Idol'
"We were warned that the American version of X Factor would be brasher but this was plain indecent," wrote Ray.
But she appreciated the contestants' back stories.
PHOTOS: Behind the Scenes: THR's 'X Factor' Cover Shoot
"There was an almost evangelical fervor in the footage of contestants and their families crying, shouting, and hugging each other. Everyone seemed to be encouraged to be on the X Factor set from grandmas to infants," added Ray.
The U.K. Sun's Pete Samson noted that "everything is bigger in America -- even The X Factor."
THR's Complete 'X Factor' Coverage
"The star-spangled American version of Britain's most extravagant TV spectacle hit US TV screens last night - and it even makes the UK show look prudish," added Samson, referring to the nudity.
"And the American nutty novelty acts make our quirky Brits look normal. Some of the weirdest contestants – including pint-sized Prince-like performer Siameze - can even sing. Imagine Jedward with talent – terrifying, isn't it?" he went on.
THR COVER STORY: What the X Is This All About?
On this side of the pond, the Los Angeles Times' Mary McNamara doubted the show was that different than American Idol.
"Watching, in recent weeks, as Simon Cowell explained that The X Factor is a completely different show than “American Idol” was a bit like watching Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada” explain to her neophyte assistant why two turquoise belts of similar width and style represent utterly distinct looks. Um, OK, if you say so, Miranda," she quips.
"Like American Idol, The X Factor begins with the cattle calls — lots of shots of the crowds, the signs, the hopefuls, the fans — although, this being a new show, things are mercifully accelerated. Viewers are spared the vast quivering middle and see only the very bad and the very good (or at least the quite promising), so there’s not much for the judges to do except admire or dismiss," she adds.
STORY: Simon Cowell to 'X Factor' Hopefuls: Don't Sing These 5 Songs
"Where The X-Factor differs from American Idol is that it is more self-consciously a television show," she writes. "Not surprisingly, kids are a huge factor, particularly in the beginning, as is the tension between the two male judges. Watching performers whose personalities perhaps outweigh their talents, Cowell’s eyes narrow appraisingly — this may not be a possible winner of the $5-million recording contract and Super Bowl Pepsi commercial, but he or she will no doubt bring some drama to the show, so I say yes."
However, she also takes issue with the nudity.
"When a man is allowed to 'sing' a song about being a stud while shaking his presumably naked genitals at the audience (on the screen they are covered by an X) without the judges stopping him or a woman who may or may not be challenged by pharmaceuticals is shown continually addressing the camera about how great a singer she is, the narrative manipulation suggests the word 'desperate,'" she notes.
Q&A: 'The X Factor's' Nicole Scherzinger on First Day as Judge: 'I Can Barf or Say Rock-N-Roll'
Neil Genzlinger of the New York Times doesn't think the show is that much different than Idol either.
"Certainly the opening installment of The X Factor doesn’t have much in the way of judicial fireworks. But, more to the point, it quickly becomes clear that this series, which has billed itself as a new type of competition show, really just remixes the well-established gimmicks of the earlier entries in the genre. And that makes the Cowell magic — in addition to being one of four judges, he is also the show’s creator — seem diminished. This magician no longer has a curtain hiding the secrets of his tricks," he writes.
STORY: 'The X Factor' Steve Jones: 6 Things to Know About the Show's Host
He's also not a fan of Cheryl Cole being replaced by Nicole Scherzinger in the middle of the show.
"In the premiere she just kind of disappears midshow, without much explanation, and suddenly Nicole Scherzinger of Pussycat Dolls is in her chair. It’s a downgrade," writes Genzlinger. "Ms. Cole showed glimmers of being interesting; in two seasons as a judge on The Sing-Off on NBC, Ms. Scherzinger was a pretty face but, judicially speaking, not much more than a seat warmer."