Cole not only sour note for Cowell’s X Factor

2011-06-02 11:04

American Idol made Simon Cowell a household name in the US, but the prickly British music Svengali is hitting some flat notes as he tries to launch his own TV singing competition.

Cowell (51) has been working on a US version of his hit UK talent show The X Factor for more than 18 months. But as the clock winds down to its much-hyped debut in the fall, he is facing some last-minute challenges.

His personal pick for the judging panel – British singer Cheryl Cole – was reportedly dumped from the line-up, possibly because of her thick accent.

She was also dropped this week from the panel of the UK version of The X Factor.

Perhaps more ominously yet another singing show, The Voice, has become a surprise hit by borrowing some key X Factor components.

TV pundits also wonder whether viewers have the appetite for another months-long singing competition.

The X Factor will join a list that includes The Sing-Off, Platinum Hit, The Glee Project, American Idol and Cowell’s own America’s Got Talent.

Last month, Fox TV touted Cowell and The X Factor as the highlight of its new fall schedule.

Fox Networks Group chairman Peter Rice described Cowell as “the absolute star of the genre at the pinnacle of his game”.

Two weeks later, something had clearly gone wrong after two rounds of auditions before Cowell, Cole and fellow judges Paula Abdul, record producer Antonio “LA” Reid.

Cole was seen as an odd choice – a style icon and a household name at home but unknown in the US.

Depending on whom you believe, Cole was apparently dropped because of concerns that her northern English accent might prove tough for US viewers, or because she lacked chemistry with Idol alumna Abdul, or because she was uncharacteristically nervous when The X Factor shooting started.

Michael Slezak, senior editor with TVLine.com, said: “To get so far and discover it is not working – that is a little bit of a shock.

“But expectations are so high that if a key element isn’t working, it doesn’t shock me that they are not worried about personal feelings and are making whatever changes they feel necessary.”

Too many TV talent shows?

Fox and Cowell’s Syco production company have declined to confirm reports that ex-Pussycat Dolls singer Nicole Scherzinger – initially hired as The X Factor co-host – will take over from Cole.

They also declined to comment on whether any re-shoots will be necessary, or how production has been affected.
Said Craig Tomashoff, a TV writer for Xfinity and TV Guide: “It could be a very big setback because the Fox marketing machine been pushing ‘X Factor’ since January.

“Cole was Simon’s pet project and now she is gone. I am certain that’s not how everyone at Fox envisioned it would work.”

But Tomashoff said the bigger issue might be a surfeit of talent shows, “and in the fall there are also a lot of other new TV shows that people are beginning to check out.”

While Cowell was working on The X Factor, rival network NBC jumped in with The Voice.

Making its debut in April, it boasts a stellar coach/mentor line-up of Christina Aguilera, country singer Blake Shelton, R&B star Cee Lo Green and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine – who also perform together on the show.

The audience for The Voice has grown, reaching a high of 14 million viewers on Tuesday.

Perhaps more significantly, it adopts two of The X Factor’s distinguishing features – celebrity coaches compete against each other to mentor contestants, and auditions are held in front of a live audience.

“The success of that show has got to make Fox and Simon a little bit nervous. You don’t want someone getting into the market before you,” said Slezak.

But he noted that the Cheryl Cole debacle has kept the show in the headlines.

Asked Slezak: “How many shows premiering in the fall would kill to have people and the media talking about them every single day?”

Indeed don’t count out Cowell just yet, Tomashoff warned. “I don’t think he takes losing very well. If anything, this will fire him up even more.” 

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