I like Simon Cowell. As the only consistent truth-teller on “American Idol,” millions of us got used to his reflecting a lot of what we felt about various contestants. And he didn’t mince words when delivering his opinions.
Unfortunately, the setup of Cowell’s latest show, “The X-Factor,” discourages the total honesty one felt most of the time from Cowell on “Idol.”
That’s because the judges on “X-Factor” also mentor the contestants, including helping them pick the songs they perform. This means that they are rooting for those they mentor. It also means that they are sniping with the other judges a lot.
At the same time — especially in the earlier weeks — the judges seemed reluctant to criticize any of the contestants, lest the other judges would say something critical about the contestants each was mentoring.
That’s gotten somewhat better as the show’s moved toward its concluding weeks.
But last week Cowell really did something almost unforgivable. He refused to follow through with a belief he truly felt, setting off a very unfortunate chain of events.
Before I delve into the specifics, you need to know a little more about how “The X-Factor” works. Two contestants leave each week. One of them is the person who gets the lowest number of votes from the public.
Then the next two contestants with the lowest number of votes engage in a sing-off, with each of the two contestants singing a different song. The judges are supposed to vote off the contestant who does the worst job in the sing-off.
However, because each judge has an “interest” in keeping the person he’s mentoring in the competition, the mentor/judge for that person in the sing-off will almost always vote for his or her singer.
Since there are four judges, that generally leaves it entirely up to the other two judges to decide who wins the sing-off. If the votes from all four judges end in a tie, then the person in the sing-off who got the fewest votes from the publicin the voting the night before goes home.
So here’s what happened last week on Nov. 23, 2011. The show wound down by building up to a climax that saw a sing-off between LeRoy Bell, a 59-year-old crooner being mentored by judge Nicole Scherzinger, and Marcus Canty, a 20-year-old energetic performer who counts as his musical influences such singers as Marvin Gaye, Bobby Brown and Usher. Judge LA Reid is his mentor.
During the sing-off, Canty sang the Christine Aguilera song “You Lost Me.” Bell sang The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down.”
As expected, judge Reid voted to keep Canty on the show, and judge Scherzinger voted to keep Bell on the program.
That left it up to Paula Abdul and Cowell to decide the singers’ fates. Abdul voted to stick with Bell, and send Canty home.
So it came down to Cowell.
And this, regrettably, is what Simon said:
“I like them both. In the competition, Marcus, I think you’re nudging ahead of LeRoy.”
OK, that’s fine, but what the judges are supposed to be doing at this point is judging who sang best in the sing-off. Otherwise, what’s the point of having the sing-off?
Cowell then said, “But LeRoy, you did sing better tonight.”
Ah, finally, the truth-teller in Cowell came out. Yes, indeed, Bell’s version of “Don’t Let Me Down” was clearly, demonstrably, better than Canty’s “You Lost Me.” It wasn’t even close.
Then Cowell did something that shocks and astounds me even now, a week later. Despite saying that Bell had won the sing-off, Cowell said, “I’m going to let the public decide tonight. I’m going to send LeRoy home.” That put the judges vote into a tie. Then it was revealed that in the public voting, Bell had received less votes than Canty.
So, despite clearly winning the sing-off, Bell was sent home.
Was Cowell out of his effing mind? What the hell is the point of having a sing-off if you’re not going to say that the person who you think sang better should stay on the show?
If you’re just going to have the public vote off two singers each week, why even go through the motions of having a sing-off??
I can see going to the public vote in case of an honest tie among the judges, but what Cowell did was not honest. He deliberately made the sing-off invalid by saying that despite Bell WINNING the sing-off, he was refusing to vote for him to stay on the show.
It wasn’t fair to Bell nor to all of us watching at home, since it was so clear that Bell won the sing-off. Why Cowell would turn his own show into a mockery — a farce — is beyond me.
And, of course, what he did came back this week to bite Cowell in the ass.
Because Cowell refused to send Marcus packing last week like he should have, as fate would have it, Marcus was once again in the sing-off this week.
But this time so was one of the singers Cowell was mentoring, the young teenager Drew, a 14-year-old who idolizes the bluesy and soulful singer Adele.
After the sing-off Reid voted for Marcus again, and Cowell voted for Drew. Cowell did a mea culpa, saying that it was his fault that she was in the sing-off this week because he had her sing a slowish “Billy Jean” this week. He then made a plea to Nicole and Paula to keep Drew in the competition.
They didn’t, and Cowell was so livid he refused to comment on-air about Drew’s elimination from the show.
The mea culpa Cowell should have made was about his screwing up last week.
Actions have consequences. By not doing what he should have done last week and eliminating Marcus, Cowell was really responsible for Bell unjustly leaving the show last week and for Drew leaving this week.
It wasn’t fair to them, and certainly not to us watching at home.
The show is called “The X-Factor.” That’s supposed to refer to some special factor the winner of the competition will have. It’s not supposed to refer to some lapse in Simon Cowell’s judging that screws up the competition.