The X-Factor series premiere disappointed last week, raking in just 12.5 million viewers in its first night on Fox, lagging behind most major network comedies. Could the slow start to Simon Cowell’s much hyped new project reveal the beginning of the end for the obsession with reality competitions? I can’t believe I am saying this, but I hope so.
Don’t get me wrong, I have been a loyal American Idol groupie since 2002, have an unhealthy obsession with So You Think You Can Dance and replayed the opening number of last week’s The Sing-Off more than a dozen times.
But I have found in recent years that it has taken a lot more for the talent on these reality shows to impress me. After 10 season of American Idol, does The X-Factor really think we are going to be surprised by 42-year-old Stacy Francis’ rendition of “Natural Woman”? Sure, she can belt it out with some of the best, but at this point we have heard nearly every down-on-their-luck-single-mother story Cowell and clan can possibly muster.
The X-Factor is a huge commitment, asking viewers last week to carve out four hours for its two-night premier. Reality competitions demand we tune in one night to watch a dozen or so performances and then a second night to see which contestants have been voted out of the competition, forgoing other quality scripted series.
Even worse is being subjected to hours of auditions. How many more cackles, howls, screams and bellows can our ears stand? It may have been novel to poke fun at William Hung when he sang “She Bangs” in American Idol Season 3, but laughing at these failed auditions has passed the line of funny and is just plain cruel.
Half-hour spurts of scripted laughter seem like a better way to forget about a flailing economy and global disarray, rather than watching people be brutally judged and criticized for attempting to live out their dreams.
After more than a decade of craving shows that pin "real" people against one another and give us the power to crown a victor, The X-Factor’s mediocre start may have finally broken America’s trance. We may now be ready to relinquish the desire to control television and allow writers to provide us an escape from reality.
Luckily, laughter has returned to prime time.