A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that The X Factor is Simon Cowell's follow-up to American Idol, and the sharp-tongued talent scout brings his trademark dramatic flair to this new project. The two shows share a similar style with rampant advertising (Sony and Pepsi are this series' big investors), tense exchanges between judges and temperamental contestants, and power struggles among the panelists themselves. The strongest of the language ("f--k" and "s--t") is bleeped but unmistakable, and others ("hell," "damn") are heard loud and clear. Some contestants show of over-the-top personalities (often punctuated by cross-dressing, sexiness, and suggestive dance moves) more than actual talent, and there have been instances of constestants' nudity onstage obscured by the show's logo. Because the show welcomes performers as young as 12, you'll see young teens trying to look and act like adults to compete with them.
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What's the story?
Created by American Idol alum and talent scout Simon Cowell, THE X FACTOR is an open-audition singing competition that offers its winner a $5 million recording contract and a commercial deal with Pepsi. Thousands of soloists and singing groups try out in select cities around the country, hoping to wow the panelists as well as the live audience members who are in attendance from the very first audition. Once the contestant field is whittled down, the acts are assigned to teams mentored by one of the panelists, all of whom offer feedback on their performances before America weighs in to eliminate one. Although Cowell's involvement remains consistent, his supporting cast of hosts and judges changes each season and has included the likes of Paula Abdul, L.A. Reid, Britney Spears, and Khloe Kardashian Odom.
Is it any good?
Let's face it: The fact that this series looks and feels so much like the granddaddy of all talent competition reality shows proves that although Cowell left Idol in the dust, he saw no need to fix what wasn't broken. But even though the audition and weekly performance process is nearly identical to Idol's, this copycat show lags behind in production value, giving it the feel of a small-town talent show rather than a large-scale, multi-million-dollar competition. To its credit, it's a nice change of pace to see singing groups in the mix, and the fact that there's no upper age limit on contestants makes it seem slightly less superficial and image-driven than Idol is.
Of course, part of the draw to these reality competitions is the posturing that goes on at the judges' table, and the fact that X Factor contestants are assigned to a panelist's team means that there are bragging rights at stake here as well as a contract for the winner. This fuels the fire for judges' comments, which can be brutal, and opens the door for even more bickering over opinions among the pro's. The bottom line is that The X Factor is designed to entertain the way Twinkies are designed to quell hunger. There's not much of value to it, it's not going to satisfy you for very long, but for some inexplicable reason, you're left wanting to come back for more. This is fine for adults, of course, but is it really what you want your kids spending their screen time consuming?
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about this competition style. Do you think shows like this succeed in finding otherwise hidden talent? Does the elimination process seem fair? Do the judges play favorites? Do you think contestants' appearance ever affects the judges' response? Is this fair?
How does this series compare to American Idol? Do you think it's designed to compete with Idol or to complement it? Have the changes Cowell has made in creating The X Factor (fewer age restrictions, an additional judge) improved the show? What do you think are his motivations in launching this series?
Tweens: How much of a role does advertising play in this show? Does it interfere with your enjoyment of the show? Does it affect your impression of the sponsoring companies? Is advertising a necessary evil? Does it ever serve a positive purpose?
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