'X Factor's' Stacy Francis on Early Signs That Judges Shake-Up Was Imminent

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"I love Nicole, but I know she had a hard time," the Top 10 finalist tells THR of her mentor Scherzinger. "The show is a lot different than anything we've seen and I'm not sure she always knew how to handle it."

The news is still sinking in for the thousands of X Factor viewers -- many of whom tried out for the show's inaugural season -- that judges Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul would not be returning for season 2, along with host Steve Jones.

But one who made it through to bootcamp and onto the live show, audience favorite Stacy Francis, expressed a mix of emotions when asked about the high-profile exits. "I was shocked," said the 42-year-old finalist, who made it to the Top 10 on the show as a member of Scherzinger's "Over 30s" team. "I love Nicole, but I know she had a hard time," says Francis. "The show is a lot different than anything we've seen and I'm not sure that she always knew how to handle it. I think it's all very unfortunate."

ANALYSIS: 'X Factor' Shake-Up: Simon Cowell Makes Right Decision But Puts Pressure on Himself 

Francis also adds that Scherzinger's music commitments, be it tour dates, hours spent in the recording studio, or UK appearances, limited the amount of time she was able to spend with the contestants. "She would call us and she'd Skype, but it wasn't the same as sitting in rehearsal with us." In fact, Francis recalls one week's performance show a good month into the competition when she was left to practice on her own for seven hours. 

Another time, Francis says, "Simon came over to me and said 'Stacy, this is Nicole; Nicole, this is Stacy.'  I think that was his way of saying that he wanted her spending more time there.' Don't get me wrong, I love Nicole and had a great time working with her, I just didn't always agree with her mentoring decisions."

As for Jones, Francis says she thought, "he did a great job," and she commended Abdul on her commitment to the groups, regularly spending six days a week working with the contestants. L.A. Reid, on the other hand... "L.A., like most record executives, they push for 19-year-olds or 14-year-olds, where Simon Cowell is the guy who pushes for the 40- or the 60-year-old, which is why he brought the show to this country," she says. "I love Melanie Amaro, but that kind of contestant is an American Idol winner. With X Factor, I was hoping it would be somebody that couldn't win American Idol. Either it was Rachel Crow or Astro or me or Leroy Bell -- an outcome that wasn't expected."

In the end, however, Francis believes the show is still weathering year one growing pains. "It's the first season and Simon had to really hash things out. Because he's so smart, he's evaluating the changes that are needed to make the show work. Personally, I loved the show and I thought it worked, but who knows what he wanted. I guess that 20 million viewers number and Simon is going to keep his word on that -- he's going to get it, the show just needs time."

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As for who might slide into the judges' table? Not surprisingly, Francis is all about Mariah Carey. "I think that would be incredible," she says. "Like Jennifer Lopez on Idol, we could really get to know her personality. We've seen Mariah as a star, we've seen her in acting roles, we've see her music videos but it would be nice to see her interact with people and contestants -- to see her cry and be emotional. I would love to see her on that judging panel."

While we collectively await Cowell's next move, Francis is keeping busy working on her own music, taking meetings and even hinting at "some offers on the table... There's good stuff happening," she promises. 

Twitter: @shirleyhalperin