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1. Dare to be really different: It takes a brave show to admit that the circus freak aspect is played out. Seriously, why not market next season’s X Factor as one that will completely dispense with the stupid antics of people who clearly can’t sing or are in some way there to play the fool? That joke isn’t funny any more and hasn’t been for the last four iterations of American Idol. Next time, have the guts to say that while you’re still going to hold auditions – obviously – that you’ve weeded out all the patently bad acts and will only focus on singers who actually have a chance to pass their audition. The audience will thank you. And you really will be different than Idol.
2. Do something about the two-hour bloat. Seriously, two hours in this day and age is an enormous commitment. If you cut down on the predictable awful factor of the talentless contestants, that saves a ton of time. But going forward, think of a smart revamp. If you want to breathe life into the concept, then keep the auditions to 90 minutes and then spend the last 30 minutes with the judges in a room talking about what they’ve seen – it can be as nasty or as praise-worthy as needed. It’s clear from anyone watching that there’s been an attempt in this maiden season to play up the differences between the judges – L.A. Reid vs. Simon Cowell; Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul vs. Cowell, etc. You’re right that this often plays out as compelling drama – use the last half hour to give us more of that and it will also really show viewers your thought process.
3. Tighten up the commenting: Thinking of a way to trim time? Easy. There’s a built in redundancy to the format that needs to be address. To wit: A contestant during the audition period really nails a song. What happens? All four judges say something adoring about that person. What happens after that? Simon calls for a vote. What? It’s pretty clear where everyone is going. This just drags it out and makes the moment redundant. Cut that part. And if you’re going to make the argument that four judges who just said flattering things about a singer might then recant and not vote to put them through, then you’re just being manipulative.
4. Don’t be manipulative: What makes The X Factor more enjoyable than American Idol is the dynamic of L.A. Reid and Simon Cowell. These two lend gravitas to the singing competition genre. Every other show makes the judging seem like a popularity contest or a shot in the dark. With Reid and Cowell, it’s two respected industry people staking their reputations on talent. It’s absolutely the calling card of X Factor. Therefore, please, no more Simone Battle debacles. Call it cynicism run amok, but I didn’t believe for a second that the “I’ve made a terrible mistake” moment that led to the dramatic return of Melanie Amaro was legitimate. That looked staged from the get-go. Don’t do that again. And Dexter was a nice story – played out for sympathy. Stick with finding people with true talent like Drew or Josh or Leroy. It strengthens the brand.
5. Rename the boys and girls category. At the very least, make it Guys and Girls. Boys just seems, well, stupid and dated. And while we’re at it, “The Over 30s” sounds dismissive.
6. Admit there’s a bias where it exists: Better to state upfront that you don’t like country acts (L.A. Reid, we’re looking at you) then putting them through only to cut them based on that bias. It’s one thing to take a lounge singer type like Phillip Lomax and see if you can really make them a true pop singer rather than a vocal imitator, but you can’t reshape a country singer into a pop crooner. (Just as you really can’t take a bar band singer like Dexter and make him more than a feel good story.)
7. Find better groups. Seriously, this was a joke. The depth was so bad that you had to create two artificial groups. That needs to be addressed next season. Because now you’re pushing on that 10-kid joke called inTENsity. And are you looking for singing or dancing or both? Make that more clear.
8. Housekeeping note: Small point, but if you’re going to take us into the judge’s homes, then show us the interiors.
9. Smaller, more technical point: When you get to the live performances, cut the lighting and explosions by at least a third. You’re going to cause an epileptic fit.
10. Remember that it’s not really the five million dollar recording contract that matters. You need to produce a real singing star – a musical act that transcends televised competition shows and really makes it in the business. That’s what will separate you from Idol and the others.
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