Spicy spark but X Factor formula might leave them Cowell-ing

<i>The X Factor</i> returns with judges Guy Sebastian, Mel B, Natalie Bassingthwaighte and Ronan Keating.
The X Factor returns with judges Guy Sebastian, Mel B, Natalie Bassingthwaighte and Ronan Keating.
Bella Ferraro, 18, impressed with her performance of <i>Skinny Love</i>.

Bella Ferraro, 18, impressed with her performance of Skinny Love.

The X Factor
Channel Seven

What's it all about?

Long before Nine seduced us with The Voice, Seven took a shot at its own reality-style singing competition with The X Factor. That was in 2010 and the revamped show - it originally aired on Ten in 2005 only to be dumped after one season - has been a network mainstay ever since.

Now, to add to the glut of talent shows on our screens, the Simon Cowell-created series is back for a third season on Seven.

Like any singing competition, the premise is simple enough: to find Australia's best new and unique voices and have them compete for the title of X Factor champion (Altiyan Childs won in 2010, while Reece Mastin was last year's victor). In a new twist, though, the judges will also manufacture an Australian supergroup with the help of UK boy band One Direction.

Our view

"This year's X Factor is certainly different," host Luke Jacobz stated during the early stages of last night's season opener. He was right, but different isn't always better.

Sure, the show got off to a strong start with unemployed 18-year-old Bella Ferraro's arresting performance of Skinny Love. The audition clearly impressed judge Natalie Bassingthwaighte, who exclaimed that "your voice has the power to do what Adele's just done all around the world".

Other standout performances included 18-year-old Jason Owen (Annie's Song), 14-year-old Shiane Hawke (Mercy), 25-year-old Samantha Jade (Breakeven) and 20-year-old Josh Brookes (Tears in Heaven).

Talent aside, though, there were many disappointments.

When Jacobz revealed Simon Cowell's mandate that the show manufacture a new supergroup with the help of One Direction - itself a product of the X Factor machine - there was no denying Seven's target audience. This is a show aimed squarely at a teenage market, and a largely female one at that.

At 26, Nathaniel Willemse was the oldest singer featured in last night's episode. Older contestants were glimpsed, but were reduced to snippets in montages of so-bad-they're-good performances and held up to ridicule. In all, it made for an unpleasant experience.

Of the judges, Mel B offered the most spark on an otherwise flat panel. The former Spice Girl wasn't afraid to speak her mind and her assessment of Willemse's rendition of John Mayer's Gravity ("you look great, you can sing, but I found it boring") was a welcome antidote to the lack of criticism.

On the other hand, Bassingthwaighte was the least impressive and failed to offer strong feedback.

Filmed in a large stadium to a horde of constantly screaming fans, The X Factor is a big, boisterous and flashy talent show with a relentless pace. Ultimately, though, it that lacks the originality and quieter, poignant moments that made The Voice such a memorable success.

In a sentence

Everything is on overdrive in a talent show aimed squarely at teenagers.

Best bit

Seeing the judges eat humble pie after doubting 14-year-old student Shiane Hawke, then listening to her pitch-perfect performance of Duffy's Mercy.

Worst bit

Guy Sebastian voting for his "very good friend" Samantha Jade to make it through. The 25-year-old deserved it (she got a 'yes' from every judge), but allowing Sebastian to vote undermined the show's integrity.

Worth watching again?

Probably, if only to see what genuine talent is uncovered in later episodes. If you can put up with the constant screaming, that is.

Next episode

Tonight at 7.30pm and again on Wednesday night in the same timeslot.

Grade: B-. The problem here is with various elements of the show, not with the performances.

This story Spicy spark but X Factor formula might leave them Cowell-ing first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.