Cowell Conjures the Judges Drama as ‘X Factor’ Boot Camp Begins

Like the fearsome visage in “The Wizard of Oz,” Simon Cowell’s face addressed the reporters at the TV Critics Association press tour Monday with the kind of wrath of the Wizard – via a screen.

He and his fellow judges were appearing from Miami, a city that seems to have been almost randomly picked as the place for boot camp for its throngs of singing hopefuls on “The X Factor” (maybe it was also a good place for new judges Britney Spears and Demi Lovato to work on tans).

Already the thunder for singing show news had been stolen a bit by the announcement that Mariah Carey would be the newest judge on “American Idol,” the show that started the singing competition craze on TV more than a decade ago.

But the “X Factor” judges, which also includes L.A. Reid, also tried to kindle a little interest in their own show, which returns in the fall, via satellite.

“I’m happy for her, actually,” Cowell said of Carey’s new job on “Idol.” “I like Mariah.”

But, he added, she may not have what it takes to be a fair but honest judge. “I think she’s going to find it difficult to say no,” Cowell said. “You’ve got to say no to people. She’s sweet.”

Not so his own new female judges, constantly described alternately as feisty and meaner than you’d expect.

“Britney’s quite mean, which you’ll discover,” Cowell says.

Lovato disagreed. “I think she’s tough. She’s not mean.”

“Oh, come on,” Cowell pooh-poohed.”

“She’s a sweetheart who is very honest.”

That Lovato also stands up to Cowell is another part of what they were trying to convey. So when Cowell called Spears “a really, really good judge,” he followed by saying “Demi is a brat.”

All of they all relate to one another lends credence to the contention that all talent competitions these days are more about the personalities on the judging panels than the talent on the stage.

Cowell says it depends on how strong the talent is on stage. “We wouldn’t make these shows unless we believed that we could really find stars, and you’re going to find interesting people as well. You don’t just want puppets.”

So far the music this year has been strong, Reid said.

“We’re seeing some really special talent, some very good, as a matter of fact. It’s really good. I don’t know how we compare it to last year’s. It may just be too soon to tell. We’re in boot camp, so we’re really starting to really zero in on what we have now. So it’s really tough to really sort of give it definition, but I can say that we’ve seen some really amazing talent.”

Cowell said he hopes that with the success of the group One Direction, there will be enough strong groups to compete so as not to necessitate putting two groups together from individual competitors to fill up the category.

“The groups are better this year. Maybe it’s off the back of the year One Direction have had, and it’s just proven that groups can sell records all over the world,” Cowell said. “There’s one group in particular who I really, really like.”

But, he added, “I wouldn’t rule out if we felt it was necessary putting a group together.”

They’d only done the first two hours of boot camp that day.

“You go through a lot of the dross, let me tell you, at this stage. But somebody came on maybe 30 minutes ago who I think you’re going to be hearing a lot about…  a huge, huge star, and they’re a country artist, and we haven’t had a good country singer yet on.”

The panel’s awarness of the intense competition in singing shows, with “The Voice” nipping at the dominance of “Idol,” whose numbers have been falling.

Asked what other singing shows the new “X Factor” judges liked, Cowell coached them, only half kiddingly: “Don’t mention ‘The Voice.’”

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