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Tryouts for Fox’s singing competition kicked off Sunday in Los Angeles with the judging panel — Cowell, Paula Abdul, Antonio “L.A.” Reid and Cheryl Cole — finally in place after months of speculation.
The Hollywood Reporter was inside the auditions, which got under way with hosts Nicole Scherzinger and Steve Jones the first to appear in front of the audience at USC’s Galen Center. They came out to the song “When I Grow Up” by the Pussycat Dolls, formerly fronted by Scherzinger, who yelled: “When I grow up, I wanna host X Factor.”
Meanwhile, Jones, a British TV personality, quipped: “You’re probably wondering, who the hell is this douche? I just moved here two days ago.”
Added Scherzinger: “I don’t really know what we’re doing out here, but we’ll sing and dance for you if you want.”
(The two were clearly working without a script.)
Two minutes later, the judges arrived.
Explained Cowell to the audience: “The idea is we’re trying to find a superstar. … And you’re our fifth judge. Basically you’re here to tell us who you like. You can be as badly behaved as you want, actually. The whole reason for doing this is I trust you guys for being able to judge this process. There’s $5 million at stake.”
Cowell then introduced the judging panel, starting with Reid, whom he called “the most successful man in the music business. He’s found more stars than anyone.”
Quipped Reid: “To be clear, I’m not the Randy [Jackson] of the panel. Don’t say ‘dog.'”
Abdul, whose X Factor deal was finalized in the eleventh hour before the auditions started, was called “America’s sweetheart” by Cowell.
“I’m thrilled that you invited me back,” she told Cowell, with whom she previously served as a judge on Fox’s American Idol. “I’m excited to sit next to” Cowell.
Cole, who previously hosted the British version of X Factor, joked: “You may have to bear with the accent a little bit.”
The judges’ seating order resembled that of Idol’s when Cowell and Abdul were still on the show: Cowell was on the far right (when facing the judges’ table), next to Abdul. Cole was to Abdul’s right, next to Reid. Meanwhile, the blue backdrop resembled the U.K. X Factor’s set.
Auditions were scheduled to kick off at 1 p.m. PT but didn’t get under way until just after 4 p.m.
Said Cowell: “We’ve got absolutely no idea who’s coming on or whether they’ll be good or awful, but that’s how you do auditions — straight into the lion’s den.”
The first auditioners were two self-described “brothers from another mother” who said they believe they can be as popular as either Alvin and the Chipmunks or female R&B group TLC (whom Reid discovered, incidentally).
While performing TLC’s “Waterfalls” — complete with choreography — the audience clapped along, but Cowell told the duo: “I wouldn’t have done that song.”
“But we just did it well,” one of the singers protested.
“No you just did it,” responded Cowell. “I’m going to be nice: Do you have another song?”
Then they chose “Proud Mary,” but half of the audience booed, and the judges weren’t very enthusiastic about the performance.
Abdul: “Although you have a nice tone to your vocals, you’re brilliant as an act, but that’s not what this show is about, I’m sorry to say. You’re like a comedy act that can sing.”
Cole: “I think it’s incredibly hard to get up there as the first singers. Unfortunately, when you come to an audition with this much at stake, you need to be on point.”
Reid: “Looks like you guys were having a great time. I’m not sure you’re meant for the big time.”
Cowell: “It’s like the song gave up on you. … For Paula to say you have a future as singing comedians is pathetic.”
X Factor debuts in September.