The Greatness of the X Factor

November 5, 2011

For The X Factor, tonight’s U.S. debut on Fox comes at the end of the longest, rockiest development road perhaps ever faced by a television show. It has been eight years since Simon Cowell, then a judge on the fledging American Idol, dreamed it up as the next iteration of the singing-contest format. He wanted a show with no age limits—young or old—for the contestants, where not only individual singers but groups would be allowed to perform, and where the judges don’t just preside from Mount Olympus but get down into the weeds, actually managing the contestants and battling against each other.

In enacting this vision, Cowell set himself in direct conflict with the show his electrifying presence had helped turn into a colossus. Two lawsuits, a prolonged negotiated peace, and a painful breakup with Idol later, The X Factor finally arrived on American airwaves Wednesday.

The talent-contest marketplace has gotten a lot more crowded, however. Once, Idol stood alone on American networks as the show that had managed to achieve major success. In the interim, the TV schedule has been flooded with musical competitions, from the dance genre—led by Dancing With the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance—to shows like Cowell’s own America’s Got Talent. Now the launch of X Factor comes not only three months after the mega-finale of Idol’s 10th season, but also after the conclusion of the first singing contest to give Idol a run for its money, Mark Burnett’s The Voice, which attracted very respectable numbers in its debut season on NBC.

Read the rest at The Daily Beast.

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