New York City! Manhattan, glittering like jewel in -- oh, never mind, we're zipping on over to Newark, where a dozens-deep crowd teems outside a concert venue. Also in Miami, Seattle, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles, as we hear anonymous voices talking and trying to sound like "entertainment" "news" "reporters." As the song "Sing" by My Chemical Romance starts playing (a bit on the nose, no?) words appear on the screen for maximum drama: "Thousands of hopefuls face! Four! Judges!" My advice to the judges, then, is aim for the head. Oh, wait, one of them is Simon Cowell, who I understand can take care of himself. The second is Nicole Scherzinger, the one person in the Pussycat Dolls whose name is known by anyone not also in the Pussycat Dolls. There's also L.A. Reid, filling the role of the bespectacled producer/industry vet; Paula Abdul, who is of course Paula Abdul, and "Introducing Cheryl Cole," which is kind of an awkward moniker. Montage of people performing, audience members screaming, judges reacting, auditioners (and Paula) having emotional meltdowns and Simon being a big giant drama queen about something in the middle of taping. So this all looks very fraught right from the get-go, then. Hot damn.
And now we're watching the incredibly cheesy title sequence, showing a big red-and-black X zooming through the solar system and into Earth's atmosphere, where it docks with the rest of the title at high speed somewhere over New York.
Three X Factor semi trucks cruise through the desert. In the shotgun seat of the lead truck is Steve Jones, but not the Steve Jones from the Sex Pistols, even though this guy is also British. He announces out the open window, "The search for an act worthy of a five-million-dollar recording contract is on. Welcome to The X Factor!" Yeah, good luck with that. And we're getting right to it in the first city to host auditions, "Los Angeleez." Steve informs us that 20,000 people showed up, which makes it the largest audition in the city's history, which I suspect also makes it the largest audition in the history of the universe. The editing tries to pump up the excitement, but I'm just terrified. 20,000 is a very large number of crazies. Steve adds that the competition is open to people from ages 12 on up, including groups and soloists. "And they all have the same delusion," Steve says, although his accent makes it sound like "dream." On top of the shot at stardom, the prize is a recording contract worth five million bucks, which Steve says is the largest prize in TV history. And people seem to have delusions about that, too. Steve hops out of the truck (it stopped first, I should clarify) and warns us that the judges stand between the wannabes and the prize. Steve starts by introducing us to Simon Cowell, who he calls "the most successful talent scout on the planet." Simon VOs, "I walked away from the number-one show in America to launch a brand-new show. The whole thing's a gamble, but that's what makes it exciting." What's that other show called? Is anyone going to mention the name of it? I should probably look into it and see if I can find out. The next judge introduced is "Grammy-Award-Winning songwriter, producer and record executive L.A. Reid, the man responsible for the careers of Mariah Carey, Pink, Rihanna, Usher and Justin Bieber." L.A. also tells us what he walked away from, in his case the chairmanship of Island Def Jam, to "take a shot at discovering the next generation of stars." So far this judges' panel is a bunch of quitters. Steve also introduces Cheryl Cole, who is a member of Girls Aloud, a solo artist, and as far as I can tell, the poster child for "Big in England." Steve finally introduces Paula Abdul, saying, "She's no stranger to judging talent." True, she was around it for a long time. But any other sentence about Paula Abdul that begins with "she's no stranger" would be a lie. She says she's looking forward to sitting next to her old partner in crime. "He's a handful. But so am I." Did she and L.A. Reid used to hang out together? I don't get it.