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Britney's potential 'X Factor' exit: A closer look
Given the numbers, it's no wonder her departure is at
least under discussion
Two weeks after Antonio "L.A." Reid confirmed that the second season of the
U.S. version of "The X Factor" would be his last on the judges panel, rumors of
Britney Spears' exit from the show spread like wildfire on Thursday, following a
report from Us Weekly that painted the pop star's fate as all but sealed.
Although Spears has indicated that she would like to return to the FOX reality
competition in 2013 for a second season as a judge, a source tells the magazine
that fellow judge and show mastermind Simon Cowell is actively trying to push
the veteran singer out: "He wanted crazy Britney, but he got boring
A spokesperson for the show has told the Los Angeles Times that it's simply
too early to answer questions regarding Spears' future with the show. "No one
has discussed next year's judging panel," says the "X Factor" rep. "Any reports
otherwise are complete speculation." Whether Spears returns for Season 3 or is
"fired," as headlines have announced Thursday, the pop singer's potential
departure from "The X Factor" comes after a mixed season that failed to live up
to the hype that came with the addition of Spears and Demi Lovato as judges.
The May announcement that Spears and Lovato would be replacing Season 1
judges Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger breathed new life into a franchise
that was modeled, with high expectations, after its incredibly successful
U.K. counterpart. After the British "X Factor" generated hit-makers like One
Direction, Leona Lewis and Olly Murs beginning in 2007, Cowell expressed the
desire to see the Stateside "X Factor" surpass the ratings of his previous
FOX smash, "American Idol," and rule the reality ratings roost upon Season 1's
September 2011 debut. That didn't happen. 12 million viewers watched Season 1
each week, according to Nielsen, compared to 15.8 million weekly viewers for
NBC's "The Voice." And Season 1 winner Melanie Amaro, whose debut album will not
make its way onto shelves by the end of 2012 as initially expected, has thus far
been unable to establish herself as an organic star like recent "Idol" champs
Scotty McCreery and Phillip Phillips.
However, the addition of proven superstar Spears and former Disney star
Lovato was supposed to help morph "The X Factor" into the star-making juggernaut
that Cowell had intended upon its launch. "There would be no point in us doing
the show if we genuinely didn't believe that, at the end, there would be some
sort of legacy that makes the show worthwhile," Cowell told Billboard in our "X
Factor" cover story this September.
Unfortunately, that legacy is still a bit unsatisfactory. The two-hour
September premiere of Season 2 of "The X Factor" underwhelmed in ratings,
averaging 8.5 million viewers and a 3.3 rating among adults 18-49 -- which was a
25 percent drop from the 2011 series premiere, according to affiliate ratings.
The show's ratings grew as the vocal talent improved, and by the time that FOX
announced in October that "The X Factor" had been renewed for a third season and
had added Khloe Kardashian-Odom and Mario Lopez as live show co-hosts, the 18-49
demographic was up to a 3.9 rating and the total viewership averaged 10.6
million. But the Season 2 finale on Dec. 20, which garnered 9.6 million viewers
and a 3.1 rating, was down 18 percent from the final episode of Season 1. Adding
insult to injury, the Season 3 finale of "The Voice" easily trumped its FOX
counterpart when it aired two nights earlier.
Why didn't the presence of Spears and Lovato (along with returning judges
Cowell and Reid) move the dial more? Part of the lackluster ratings can be
chalked up to the talent competing for the Season 2 crown: Tate Stevens, the
country music vocalist who won the trophy and a $5 million recording contract,
is a powerful singer who happens to be 37 years old. His victory over Carly Rose
Sonenclar, 13, understandably drew less interest from the 18-34 demographic than
the latest "Voice" victor, 23-year-old pop-punk singer Cassadee Pope, as well as
22-year-old "Idol" champ Phillips.
And while Stevens was crowned the "X Factor" winner with a stirring cover of
Chris Young's song "Tomorrow," Phillips emerged with a fully formed original
smash, as his single "Home" bowed at No. 2 on the Digital Songs chart last May
and has since sold 3 million downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Endearing talent can mask the dysfunction from the judges table, as seen when
McCreery's presence on Season 10 of "Idol" overcame the early shakiness of
Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler. Stevens has a real chance to be a star, but he
did not command viewers' attention with the same charisma as his reality TV
Of course, the Season 2 talent was coupled with a judges panel and a pair of
hosts that produced neither scintillating entertainment nor keen vocal insight.
"Crazy Britney" should not have been expected or desired upon Spears' entry into
the "X Factor" world, but the pop superstar's presence on the show was
admittedly less beguiling than originally anticipated. Too often was she stuck
back-patting the competitors when she should have been mentoring them. As the
source tells Us Weekly, Spears' job was not to be outrageous, but it was also
not to "say 'amazing' and offer half-claps." Along with the unexceptional
ratings and the $15 million price tag that accompanied Spears' involvement with
the show, it's no wonder that her departure is at least under discussion.
Fortunately for Spears, the "X Factor" gig has helped her accrue another hit
single, one year after her seventh studio set, "Femme Fatale," notched another
No. 1 album debut and eventually moved 769,000 copies, according to Nielsen
SoundScan. "Scream & Shout," her collaboration with will.i.am that was
released last month, has so far peaked at No. 12 on the Hot 100 and has sold
635,000 downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan, after topping the Digital
Songs chart for one week.
Like Jennifer Lopez and "Voice" coach Christina Aguilera before her, Spears
gave her new single a glossy platform when she and the Black Eyed Peas frontman
premiered the track during the Nov. 28 live episode of "The X Factor." Even if
Season 2 proves to be Spears' sole outing with the franchise, her recording
career certainly looks no worse for wear.