Britney Spears received the loudest, longest applause at the start of her first taping as a judge on Fox's The X Factor on Thursday, but it was fellow newcomer Demi Lovato who appeared ready to steal the spotlight during the second season of the popular talent search show.
During the first of two days of tapings in Austin, Texas, the panel of four judges – Spears, Lovato, producer L.A. Reid and series creator Simon Cowell – listened to 31 singers and groups audition for a chance at a $5 million recording contract, with the four music industry vets critiquing the performances and deciding who should advance to the next round in Los Angeles.
Spears' addition to the show – along with Lovato, she was announced as a new judge at television upfront meetings with advertisers earlier this month, with a rumored $15 million contract – has drawn plenty of speculation about how the pop star would mesh with the other judges. Wearing a tight, fluorescent salmon pink dress, Spears was the last judge introduced to the 4,000-plus crowd at the Frank Erwin Center. She received sustained cheers as she sat down to the right of Cowell, the departed creator of Fox's American Idol (and normally the biggest star at the judges' table).
When her turn came to critique singers, Spears remained encouraging and positive, giving the most "yes" votes of any of the judges and keeping her comments short and declarative instead of engaging with contestants. Of a teenage male performer she offered, "You could be bigger than the next Justin Bieber," and in complimenting a moving, soulful female singer on her confidence she said, "You were flawless."
When a performance demanded critical remarks from Spears, she replied with a simple "pass," or "I think you need someone to teach you to sing better." After a sub-par song from a rapper who bore more than a passing resemblance to her ex-husband, Kevin Federline, Spears said only, "I like your hat."
While Cowell talked to Spears off microphone between many of the performances and asked her to lead off critiques several times in an apparent attempt to draw her into exchanges, the 19-year-old Lovato needed no such prodding. Playfully flirting with male contestants ("she is single now" became a common refrain from Cowell) and giving insightful comments at every chance, the teen star drew laughs and cheers from the crowd, along with several stunned, open-mouth stares from Cowell as the two verbally sparred.
It was those times when the interaction between the contestants and the judges produced the types of moments that show executives hope will increase ratings following the ouster of first-year judges Cheryl Cole, Nicole Scherzinger and former Idol judge Paula Abdul. Take the moment when Cowell, 52, admitted to taking a liking to a charismatic 22 year-old contestant, who returned his affection.
"It's too bad we didn't meet 10 years from now," Cowell said with a wink before Lovato drily countered, "More like 30 years."
Startled and momentarily silenced, Cowell responded, "Demi, you're going into the naughty chair." It was the first of at least three such utterances on the day that Cowell lobbed at Lovato, suggesting viewers and audiences can expect many more charged jabs between the two this season.
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