Won’t Get Fooled Again. Simon Cowell Is Not Quite the Truth Teller We Thought He Was — He’s Got More P.T. Barnum in Him Than One Might Have Suspected. What Cowell Left Out of Last Week’s ‘X Factor’

Sep 19, 2012

As “The X Factor” begins the second week of its second season tonight, Sept. 19, 2012, one hopes that the show will become more transparent.

Yes, I realize that almost all “reality” shows involve a certain amount of audience manipulation, but last week it seems to me Simon Cowell and his “X Factor” crossed a line.

The show ended last week with a performance by 13-year-old Carly Rose Sonenclar that wowed just about everyone — the show’s judges, the live audience in Providence, R.I., where the audition performance took place, and most of us watching at home.

On “The X Factor” we first met Carly backstage, sitting with her parents. Addressing the camera, she says: “Hi. My name is Carly Rose Sonenclar. I’m 13 years old. I’m from Westchester, New York. I love music. I just sing from my heart."

As Sonenclar is saying this, superimposed on the screen we see the words: “Carly Rose Sonenclar, 13, Student.”

Sonenclar continues, saying, “My parents are extremely supportive.” Then she says what her mom does for a living, and what her dad does. She adds, “I want to be a superstar.”

Then Sonenclar’s mom tells us, “If she gets four ‘yes’ [votes], I’ll be the proudest mom in the world.” Then she looks at her daughter and adds, “But I already am.”

Sonenclar’s dad then says to Carly, “Now all you have to do is sing before a few thousand people.”

A discussion about nervousness ensues, with Carly concluding that some nervousness is OK.

Carly goes on stage and announces that she’s going to sing Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.” Simon and L.A. Reid are clearly skeptical about this song choice from someone so young.

Carly belts out the song, hitting a home run. The judges give her a standing ovation. Judge Britney Spears says, with amazement, “I wasn’t expecting that.” Judge Demi Lovato, equally impressed, says “You’re really confident. It’s effortless for you, which blows my mind because you’re only 13.”

And that’s exactly what most of us watching at home are also thinking. (By the way, you can watch all of this on video if you click here.)

However, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let me ask you this. Suppose our backstage introduction had gone more like this:

“Hi. I’m Carly Rose Sonenclar and I’m 13. I started singing at the age of two. I made my singing debut on Broadway when I was seven in the revival of the hit musical ‘Les Miserables.” I played the part of Young Cosette and was the understudy for Gavroche. I was in the show for more than a year. Then from 2009 through 2010, I was in the national tour of ‘Little House on the Prairie, the Musical.’ I originated the principal role of Carrie in that show. Last year, I was back on Broadway in a new musical called ‘Wonderland,’ where I originated the part of Chloe, again one of the principal roles. Unfortunately, the show only lasted a month. However, I got great notices from the New York critics, including one that said I sang better than some of the adults in the show. Let’s see. Oh yeah. I’m also currently in ‘The Electric Company’ on PBS, where I love acting and singing the part of Gilda Flip.”

Just before she was about to sing “Feeling Good” on “The X Factor," judge L.A. Reid asked Carly whether she had rehearsed the song. She answered yes. Period. What Carly could have said is, “Not only have I rehearsed it, I performed it about 18 months ago at the world renown Birdland Jazz Club in New York.” (And you can watch that performance if you click here.)

Methinks that if all of these facts — which are true and can be easily found on the Internet — had come out before she sang her number on “The X Factor,” the reaction to her breathtaking performance would have been quite different.

With the expectations now realistic, the audience reaction might have been more subdued. Certainly Britney and Demi would not have said what they said after she performed, since they would have expected her to be both poised and a very good singer.

But Cowell, who is more than just a judge on “The X Factor” — he created the show — is not interested in realistic expectations. He’s interested in creating memorable TV moments. And if he can make that happen by leaving out a factoid — or two or three — what’s the harm in that? It certainly worked for P.T. Barnum.

The problem is that eventually, as the audience realizes how manipulative you are, they begin not to trust you. And that’s not good.

For example, my wife, who, like most of us, had been blown away by Sonenclar on last week’s "X Factor," after hearing the real story of the girl, said, “I feel somewhat betrayed. I was going to root for her this season, but now that I know the real story, I think I’ll root for that single mom who’s struggling to raise her kid while trying to make it.”

My feeling is that reality shows can be successful and be somewhat real at the same time. For example, watching some of “The Voice” this season I’ve noticed that they seem to be more forthcoming in telling the TV audience what professional experience their contestants have before they sing.

As Simon has discovered with the ratings for “The X-Factor” falling beneath his expectations, audiences can be fickle. Simon needs to be less manipulative. We need him to be that truth teller we fell in love/hate with when we first saw him on “American Idol.”

38 Comments

  1. I’m shocked that you are shocked.

  2. Who cares what the “back story” is .. she’s a great performer.. so her impressive background shouldn’t turn you against her winning a TV show contest.

  3. Haven’t most contestants sung the National Anthem before a professional MLB Baseball game like Carly?
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ksa0Pdt7R10&feature=plcp

  4. I’m with you, Chuck. The kid is a pro, not the girl next door. Transparency in the market and in reality shows is always a good thing. Otherwise, it’s only part reality. Nothing wrong if SC said, here’s the best talent, period. But there’s this conceit that they’re finding these unknown wonders under rocks in unlikely places and oh, my they’re so good. That’s the fake part. Doesn’t make the girl Milli Vanilli, just a ringer who needs to be competing against other latter day Shirley Temples. To be up against talented amateurs/dreamers/wannabes just isn’t a fair fight.

  5. Is the purpose of “The X-Factor” (and other similar type shows) to bring great talent to their audiences or to only bring great talent that has never performed professionally? The answer to that question should determine your feelings about this girls performance. If it should be amateur talent only, then any person that has performed professionally should be bared from competing. The question in your mind should be, “Is the quality of her performance diminished because she has performed professionally?” Only you can make that determination for yourself.

  6. Isn’t it amazing how well Simon can feign surprise and ooze smugness at the same time? Can you say “Susan Boyle?”

  7. I don’t know what the problem is. The girls is 13 years old! Regardless of background, she is a little girl. The X Factor is for showcasing American talent. Jackie Evanco also was very prepared before she made her big U.S. televison debut. Great is great. I am going to root for her no matter what. With talent like this, it gives me hope for our country. You, Chuck, on the other hand, are trying to tear her down. Shame on you.

  8. Link to AD TV’s March 2012 article about the XFactor’s upcoming policy change allowing professionals.
    http://amarudontv.com/2012/03/24/x-factor-to-allow-artists-to-enter-with-their-own-management-this-year/

  9. The competition is for a $5M record contract. If your not “currently” signed your eligible. NO ONE every claimed its for amateurs. Same for “The Voice”
    Manipulation? Its FOX TV isnt it? Some of the judges reactions are not even real. You can find frames of a “Britney facial reaction” duplicated in multiple audition vids (right down to the kid scratching his nose in background)

  10. I also heard tale of another well known contestant in a certain “reality competition” that was scouted out far before by a major label who decided…hmmm… “what if we had a way to make this person an international star even before the album is recorded”. hmmmm… lets get her on a “REALITY COMPETITION” first!

  11. Great is great whether you have the pleasure of singing a note for the first time … or have been doing it for years. This girl takes 13 year old great to a new level … and everyone knows it. Who cares if she has performed professionally … that was the first time I had ever heard her. And now…I’m obsessed. I will be standing in line to buy her first CD. I’m just hoping that they do not “overproduce” her as they did Bianca Ryan. Bianca’s first CD was beyond. Last night I had the pleasure of listening to Carly sing “Broken Hearted” … and I was moved to tears. Your loss if you don’t plan on supporting her. If you feel “used” .. again that’s your problem. I personally stand behind her. And I doubt I’m alone. GO CARLY ROSE!!

  12. Simon never intend to lie about carly rose. They never do background research on her because there was too many no reputation singers. Carly which is preparing herself before she attend this competition. She lost the last competition (you can see it on youtube). Carly is not simon girl, she is freelance which is out of work after the tour. After the tour she only worked as guest singer in party or banquest (you can also check if this real in youtube). You writing something using your own imagination. Which is not the truth.

  13. Who cares what she’s done previously? She’s a star with an incredible gift. WTF? You jealous or a 13 year old girl? I think you are retarded… Get a life

  14. You and your wife should get over yourselves “chuck”. If you feel betrayed, you should stop watching tv and get out of the house. It’s about finding a great singer, not about who’s done what. A lot of them have probably done something in the past. Who said they have to be amateurs? That little kid is a great singer for her age. Thats all that should matter. Who cares what her background story is.

  15. I just can’t fathom what difference it makes whether carly had a past or not. The fact is that she is such a talented artist should rest the case. Wouldnt you like to hear a great singer or would you check her past and then decide?

  16. Um hello YOU KNOW SHE HAS A LIFE OUTSIDE RIGHT OF CORSE SHE SINGS SHE HAS AN AMAZING VOICE plus she’s thirteen she’s active she’s taking action in following her musical carrier

  17. It’s not a “personal backstory competition” It’s a SINGING competition. And no offense to your wife, but Carly blows the door off of everyone on the show including Paige Thomas who’s actually one of the weaker contenders. So while her story may be sadder, Carly’s music would be worth buying over hers any day. IMHO they should leave ALL the sad pity party stories off of these singing shows and just let the people sing and their talent be the deciding factor.

  18. I just found Carly’s audition video and am totally wowed. Her past is what made this performance so breath taking. As long as she’s not under contract then she’s eligible. I will start watching the show just to see her; but to me she was an unknown.

  19. The point is me and millions of others have never heard of Carly much less heard her sing!! I would hope any child at 13 who has vocals like she does has a back story. If she wouldn’t have made it on the show, we would be missing so much!! I probably wouldn’t even watch the show!!

  20. you can also say this she took a talent an traned as an athelete an developed into a professional through her self determination If for one minute you think she does not deserve to be at the top an want to have her music on your ipod Your a self centered small minded indiviual her voice will come to be one of the greatest of all time when her story is fully TOLD

  21. I see no foul here. Let’s give credit where credit is due. This girl didn’t sit around at home just dreaming about her goals. She trained and worked and progressed. I’m positive that the roles to which she auditioned and was selected for in the past were based on her abilities to perform. I’m just as sure that no auditioners said “It’s not fair to the other audtioners since Carly Sonenclar is so well trained” so I say Brava! She deserves to compete as much as the other contestants and she came prepared to compete. I hope she gets the brass ring. I hope to buy her CD’s at every release.

  22. Let me get this straight. Carly sang at a club and she has sung in a few plays as well, but hardly qualifies as a professional. Beatrice appeared in the movie Too Big To Fail and has vocal training. Diamond White performed in national singing competitions. Paige who your wife wants to vote for admitted she’s pursued a professional singing career off and on for years and has had lots of experience and advice. So, tell me, what’s the difference between Paige and Carly?

  23. this is messed up. so what if she has experience? this contest doesn’t say that you can’t have experience to enter. that’s like telling someone that their A+ on a test isn’t very impressive because they studied for it. you just sound dumb.

  24. I think you are very wrong. Talent is talent and she is amazing. Most people that get past the initial audition have a history of performance and this is the next logical step.

  25. As far as I’m concerned, Carly WAS an undiscovered talent, because I (and millions of other people) didn’t know she existed before she came on XFactor. She deserves her shot at a recording contract as much as anyone else.

  26. So instead rooting for -as you make her out to be the “dispicable 13 year old girl”, whom you claim has been manouevered by the show and or had a hand in what you claim to be the grand deception.. VOTE for the best performer, and you still end up at the 13 your old girl, who ,,,,on a weekly basis is superior to EVERYONE else performing on the show, both boy and girl groups are off key, out of tune, basically CAN’T sing.. the cowboy is,,, just another country singer , some twang and some charm,, the others who have been voted out,, are gone for a reason..the judges are gusing on Carly because she has massive talent AND she is light years ahead of what someone her age should be capable of performing..get over it ..its TV…what frigg’n hole you been the last 100 years??

  27. then What’s your problem if she had many indie performances before? Not much ppl know her before and now is her time to be realized internationally. She deserved it. If you feel betrayed then obviously you are jealous to 13 years old girl

  28. in addition, she only said “yes” when L.A asked had u rehearsed it, and did not trying to tell what she’s done its all because she is want to be HUMBLE. Many success ppl in the world are humble, indeed. I am not surprised

  29. Oh wow, so sorry that your wife and you, who sound like middle aged couch potatoes, felt “deceived” by a 13 year old WHO HAS WORKED HER ASS OFF TO GET WHERE SHE IS TODAY.
    While you sit staring at her from your no doubt sad life, she gets up and performs for millions of people each week. And she does it amazingly.
    You sound like a jealous nobody who thinks they’ve uncovered the world’s biggest secret.
    Go read a book or something. You could definitely use the knowledge.

  30. O.k. Now I want to see Susan Boyle sing…NOW!

  31. I don’t understand why it is so bad that she has a background. She’s incredibly talented, and people become good by practicing a lot and working hard. That’s why she ended as a finalist in the show. No one can be that good just staying home and singing in the shower.

  32. Well, it was obvious she was a pro, who would believe that she just magically learnt how to sing that good? Is not like that kind of voice is the result of just singing in the shower.
    She had to have some kind of professional background to have that kind of voice, but that doesnt mean she’s not struggling, specially at that age.
    I don’t think the fact that she got to perform on broadway makes it unfair to the other acts or anything, they all have some background too, and they’re not stupid, specially the ones over 25 as they had obviously more time to rehearse and more experience, and that’s true because the judges picked the best of the best in that category since is a tough one, that goes for the groups as well.
    We all know this kind of show is filled with manipulation, because is a competition for a $5 million recording contract, the contestants know that and I assure you that the ones that have gone through the live shows are all considered pros and they knew what they were doing.

  33. Same here…shocked your shocked…do you live under a rock? Does anyone reasonably expect people auditioning to win a $5 million recording on contract to have never performed before

  34. Carly Rose’s perfection exposed X Factor’s imperfection. Is it a surprise that people living in a storm ravaged part of the country have it as a low priority to vote for a contestant on a televion singing competition? With speed dialing facilities now-a-days, how is that a fair way to pick a winner. Judges should be judges, not mentors. If all judges comments were considered weekly, Carly Rose would have won hands down. At least no comment was made about one of her performances was as successful as “trying to take a goldfish for a walk.” When you see all of Carly’s fans from countries all over the world, it is absolutely amazing! Unfortunately, like me, they cannot vote. The support from Brazil was outstanding.
    The X Factor & similar shows have exploited talented youth, no wonder their following is falling. Rachel Crowe, Charlotte & Johnathan, Ella Henderson, Willie Jones to name just a few, but the worst of all was the treatment of Carly Rose! She has really exposed Simon Cowell and his cohorts.

  35. Would you be shocked if I told you he manipulated the winner of the first season too? Let’s see. Let me eliminate one of the best singers in the competition and keep two pretenders who don’t belong there. Then I’ll make a show of going to bring back said contestant, thereby giving her more publicity than any other contestant on the show. Then, when no one can take much more, I’ll let her reveal that she’s actually lived more of her life in the Virgin Islands than in the USA. Hmm, so are you surprised about Carly Rose? Get serious.

  36. Over half the people competing in the X factor have had some level of professional background, whether they were successful or not. Tate Stevens lied too for that matter because he said he gave up music to raise a family, later we find out he has been touring with two bands for years. Diamond was in a similar position as Carly, she had a big role in Lion King the musical, she didn’t pass the mustard, the mother struggling to raise her daughter also sang with a band and worked in Clubs. They are talented people who haven’t caught the general public’s eye yet. Vino did tours for the military, the dad that had a sensational audition with the rock version of Hallelujah has his own band… he screwed it up in the house rounds. Finding the one person who only sang in their bathroom before the show is so rare. But think of it this way, how often do you find a talent like Carly, who at 13 has accomplished this much and still was anonymous to most of us until now? Good job X factor

  37. The point here is not tearing down this gifted,talented and amazing young singer and actress. We all cheer for her. How could one not? I believe the point here is that we the audience (and paying customers mind you)are sold something amazing but wrapped in layers of deceit.
    The sad part is that while we make fortunes for others we do not demand honesty, respect and transparency. X.F.,last I remember, was supposed to be a platform for undiscovered gifted and talented performers that couldn’t find a break in the industry.Sort of like the” lottery” for talent.
    But when an artist(Carly) is already established for 7 years in the industry professionally, yeah,I agree, is actually wrong to be presented as of… say Susan Boyle,Cher Lloyd,Jackie Evancho (remember her?). I even question how much reality was in their cases.Just because we don’t go to Broadway shows or Madison Square Garden,or watch television shows,etc.,doesn’t mean industry people don’t.Because they most certainly do.That’s what they do.
    So,for all the 13 yr.olds and the rest of talented artists that don’t play professionally on Broadway (yet),don’t have an agency or an agent(yet), don’t get TV employment(yet)and so on…because they dream THAT X-factor will help them achieve just that, well, tough you’re all fresh out of luck. And it could be someone we know or love. To say that the journey to the destination doesn’t matter or that the end justified the means…well, in that case I think that we deserve all the crap we are fed; however we are letting down the ones that look up to us for answers,for the right thing.
    And that’s the problem.
    It’s morality that defines our humanity not the other way around. Peace!

  38. the fact that she performed in les miserables on broadway just makes me love her more. so what if she had experience that doesnt change the fact that she is amazing at the age of 13. that’s like saying lea michelle at 13 shouldn’t be good because she has had experience

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