Bet when Simon Cowell made all those changes to The X Factor, he didn't factor in the odds that he'd make it even worse.
Yet there you have it. After two new hosts, two new judges, and the seeming acquisition of every light, dancer, video screen and hideous costume in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, he has managed to make the least of TV's talent shows something even less. What was once merely bad is now an abrasive assault on the senses, common included.
What's most offensive is how cynical so many of the changes clearly are. And you can start with the selections of Britney Spears as a judge and Khloe Kardashian as co-host, women chosen not because of their talents — considering that Spears' have long been obscured and Kardashian's have yet to be revealed — but for their tabloid curiosity value alone. You watch expecting Spears to implode, and Kardashian's clothes to explode.
If that sounds like fun, I'm saying it wrong. Outside of those few taped moments when she's shown mentoring her singers, Spears is more sad, lost little girl than star. (Indeed, if you didn't know she was one, would you ever guess?) She has little to say, and says it so quickly and quietly that it's easy to forget she has spoken. When she doesn't know the camera's on her, she seems bored; when she does, she seems scared.
No such lack of confidence hinders Kardashian, who dresses like she's taking part in some adult-movie version of Show and Tell, and stares so intently at the camera, you'd think it was about to dispense $100 bills. (So far, her main contribution has been a blouse that allowed Cowell to make a joke about the air conditioning in the theater being turned up too high.) If you're a fan, know that someday your grandchildren will want to know why you found her and her family fascinating; you're on your own for an answer.
Yet as terrible as she is, at least her delight in being on TV — unearned, to be sure — seems genuine. That makes her preferable to her co-host, Mario Lopez, who trades an empty, plastered-on smile during the performance shows for an equally vacant look of concern during the results.
Apparently, he and Kardshian have also taken that "he's too aloof" criticism of former, fired host Steve Jones to heart, as they're aggressively hands-on and huggy with the contestants. Which is why, improper as it was, it served Lopez right when contestant Jason Brock asked if he could pinch his butt. Hey, you don't want to be touched, keep your hands to yourself.
Even Cowell, who built his TV career on a cruel but bracing honesty, now seems as fake and contrived as the show's continual insistence that its singers — who have no more control over their on-air presentation than the monkey does in Animal Practice — are artists. His lavish praise for his own groups seems dishonest, and his criticism seems motivated by judging gamesmanship or a desire to simulate faux-antagonism with the other judges.
The only time the show works is when he's being attacked as old and out-of-touch by Demi Lovato, the show's only actual improvement, and the only person who is likely to escape with her reputation enhanced. Her comments aren't exactly insightful, but at least she comes across as warm, real and simple, not an easy task in a show that is setting new standards for cold, phony and ludicrously over-produced.
Let's hope she does better when X Factor becomes an ex-show. And let's hope that's soon.