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'The X Factor' Takes Aim at 'American Idol' in First Promo

Simon Cowell and crew mock "Idol's" syrupy sweet Season 10 in a new Fox clip.

x factor promo simon cowell in pink sweater
Ray Mickshaw / FOX
Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul

A kinder, gentler Simon Cowell? Don't let that pink sweater fool you.

If the new promo for The X Factor proves anything, it’s that the gloves are most certainly off when it comes to Fox’s slate of competing singing contests. How else do you explain Cowell’s not-so-subtle digs at American Idol, the TV show that made him an international star?

Let’s analyze the first minute and 17 seconds, shall we? First, the setting: a meeting room in a three-star hotel with obnoxious carpeting. The backdrop: the Costco version of a TV show set. The cups: slick and Pepsi-fied. The song: the eternal ode to optimism, Annie’s “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow.”

The judges -- Cowell, Paula Abdul, Nicole Scherzinger and Antonio “L.A.” Reid -- are syrupy as ever, lavishing compliments on the most average of singers. “I just love your spirit, it’s wonderful,” coos Abdul, borrowing a line from Jennifer Lopez who in a promo for Idol’s season 10, told one contestant: “I feel a sprit comes out of your voice” (see video below).

“That’s exactly the word I was going to use -- spirit,” says Cowell, in a nod to Idol’s resident wordsmith, Steven Tyler. Coincidence? To quote Whitney Houston: Hell to the no! Curiously, Scherzinger and Reid barely have a line of dialogue between them. What does that say about Cowell’s view of his former crony Randy Jackson? Hmmm…

Onward... Cowell, still in cotton candy cashmere, makes his way through crowds of adoring spectators as a voiceover speaks of a “different decade” and “changing attitudes.” Says Cowell in a hushed tone: “It’s not about me anymore, it’s about them… I even care about the environment.”

The power button of his Chevy Volt is naturally the spark that awakens Cowell from his slumber, or what he describes as “a horrible nightmare.” And in those three words: an indictment of season 10 which echoed complaints by many veteran Idol viewers: that the judges were too complimentary. And the talent? Meh.

At the same time, X Factor may be taking a cue from The Voice, which didn’t shy away from the more-than-occasional Idol mention -- and jab. And certainly didn’t suffer for it: the show that promoted an Idol reject as one of its frontrunners also turned out to be NBC’s biggest hit in six years.

So what will X Factor look and feel like? Judging from the second half of the promo, it will have all the showy trappings of a contest that touts its own tenacity -- hot cars, leggy lady judges and an arena-sized sudden-death match. Plus, as previously reported on this very site, there’s a new Mr. Nasty at the table. Indeed, it’s L.A. Reid who remarks that he’d like to slit his wrists after one hopeful’s audition. Does it get more brutally honest than that?

Of course, we’ll see how the talent truly shakes out when X Factor premieres this September. Until we witness the new Simon Cowell in action, we leave you with the words of Weezer: “If you want to destroy my sweater… “

Check out the X Factor promo below.