When The X Factor launched last season with a Hollywood premiere, complete with red carpet, it felt grandiose and innovative. Last night, Simon Cowell's show again took over a Hollywood movie palace, the iconic Grauman's Chinese Theater, to celebrate the new season.
There was no shortage of pomp and circumstance, thanks in large part to the star power of new judges Britney Spears and Demi Lovato, who attracted legions of screaming fans on Hollywood Boulevard and inside the theater.
To underscore what a big event this was, the night started with a handprint ceremony, in which the four judges had their hands immortalized in cement alongside legends such as Marilyn Monroe and Frank Sinatra.
There was no shortage of hyperbole: the show was introduced as "the most powerful 84 minutes of television this season." Audience members sang Spears and Lovato songs to keep the crowd entertained while waiting for the judges.
Cowell was the only judge to speak prior to the screening of the premiere (which airs tonight on Fox), introducing some of the changes to this season. "We're so proud of this," Cowell said, calling Spears "the new Queen of Mean, as you're about to see."
Among the biggest changes are the lack of a host and voiceover, and contestants being recorded as they wait for their auditions. The second season starts with a "rivalry" between a 22-year-old singer named Kaci Newton and our heroine, 21-year-old mom Paige Thomas. Newton is so unlikable it gave the whole opening the effect of watching a Christopher Guest spoof of singing shows (and where is that, please?).
And then it was Britney time. The show remains Cowell's, but he's smart enough to know that it is Spears who can jump-start last year's disappointing ratings. After she ripped one horrible contestant, she was featured in a lengthy montage telling people "no" in various ways. "You sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks," she says to one contestant.
During the Q&A that followed, Spears pointed out that it wasn't just her being mean, but Lovato too. Lovato turned to Cowell and said she knew he would include footage of that in later episodes. The banter between Cowell and Lovato was played up continuously; at one point she joked that Reid told her, "Simon is so much uglier in person. Try not to laugh when you meet him." Cowell responded with a story about how when he first met Lovato she was drooling, and he had to point it out to her.
Cowell addressed the witty repartee, saying, "I'm obviously comfortable with both girls, because they can give as good as they get."
The Q&A lasted 20-30 minutes, with many of the questions being directed at Cowell. Coming from a variety of sources – Twitter, Facebook, the crowd and Fox – the questions covered a wide range of topics, including which One Direction member would make the best judge.
Spears was asked what she looks for most as a judge. "Someone who genuinely enjoys what they do," she replied. "I can totally relate to contestants – I know what it's like to have a dream and a passion," she added.
More importantly for Cowell and Fox, judging by the continuous screams, it seemed that fans can still relate to her.