While the first U.S. season of Simon Cowell's "The X Factor" certainly had its share of amazing musical performances, often the focus this season was not on the talented contestants themselves, but on scandals, shockers, and controversies. (This is how the U.K. version of the show, in tabloid-obsessed Britain, has always operated.) From the judges' petty infighting to claims of behind-the-scenes shenanigans to crazy onstage meltdowns, "The X Factor USA" brought the drama week after week. Was this the best way to launch the career of a singer who'll be handed a $5 million record deal? Honestly, I'm not so sure--I personally would have preferred a little more focus on the music. But hey, I'll admit it...all this drama made for great television.
Here are the top 11 bombshells (since Simon always wanted "The X Factor USA" to be bigger than "American Idol," I figured I'd add a bonus 11th listing) of this first dramatic "X Factor" season:
photo: Fox11) Dexter Haygood Claims He Cut a Deal to Leave the Show
When aging funk-rocker Dexter Haygood was axed by his mentor Nicole Scherzinger after his top 17 performance, it was a surprise to no one; many viewers didn't think he should have been brought onto the live shows in the first place. The real surprise came later that week, when Dexter told Billboard that his elimination was rigged, and said he'd asked to be let go from the show because he was unhappy having to sing non-rock songs by Katy, Britney, and Beyonce every week. A rep for the show totally denied Dexter's claims.
10) "X Factor" Lip-Synchers Are Possibly Worse Than "Idol" Lip-Synchers
"American Idol" has long come under fire for its hokey opening numbers, many of which have featured perfectly good singers pretending to sing, for some bizarre reason. But at least most Idols have managed to do a decent job of miming along to their pre-recorded tracks. Um, not so much with this year's "X Factor" crew. Singing, or pretending to sing, David Guetta and Usher's "Without You" at the start of the top 12 results show, Stereo Hogzz failed to remember to hold their prop microphones to their lips, and poor LeRoy Bell's mic was nowhere near the vicinity of his (completely non-moving) mouth when his segment came along. And thus, a little Milli Vanilli moment ensued. "For the group ensemble performance, the vocals are pre-recorded to allow acts to concentrate on preparing for their own live competitive performances on Wednesdays--this is also no different to what other competition shows [read: 'American Idol'] do for ensemble performances," a show rep told The Wrap when asked to confirm that yes, LeRoy was indeed lip-synching, not just demonstrating a Terry Fator-like talent for throwing his voice. The next week, LeRoy helped the contestants prove they were indeed singing "We Will Rock You" live, when he missed his cue entirely.
9) Geo Godly Drops His Pants, "X Factor" Drops Its Standards
The "X Factor" premiere got off to a shaky start, literally and figuratively, when this weirdo full-frontal flashed the live audience while warbling his original "I'm A Stud," perhaps the most misleadingly titled song EVER--thus "traumatizing" Nicole Scherzinger and prompting a nauseated Paula Abdul to flee into the hallway, suffering from dry heaves. Viewers complained that a show that supposed to be both family-friendly and about finding the greatest talent in America would stoop so low. Let's just hope Geo isn't invited back for this week's finale.
8) Melanie Amaro Turns Into an Entirely Different Person
Will the real Melanie Amaro please stand up? That's the question many "X Factor" viewers were thinking after the normally soft-spoken singer suddenly broke out a previously unheard thick Caribbean accent and exclaimed, "This is me! This is Melanie!" In many ways, her emotional "coming out" was moving. But in some ways, it was a little jarring. I mean, why had Melanie been hiding her true self, and true voice, all this time?
7) Chris Rene is a Victim of a Twitter Hoax
During top five week, a supposed screenshot of recovering drug addict Chris Rene's Twitter page--with a public tweet that was intended to be a DM to a drug dealer, or so it seemed--made the Interweb rounds. Everything about this seemed fishy--the fact that the person Chris allegedly tweeted did not exist; that the corny wording sounded like something out of a bad afterschool special; and that none of Chris's thousands of followers tweeted him back to call him out his behavior or express concern that he might have relapsed. It all seemed like a setup made to just make Chris look bad. That night, Chris performed "Where Do We Go From Here" and sailed to the top four, so apparently the scandal didn't do much damage.
6) Rachel Crow Reveals She Was Born a Crackbaby
America was shocked when Little Miss Sunshine, 13-year-old sweetie Rachel, revealed to the New York Post that she'd endured horrific conditions in a crack den before being adopted as an infant. Her adoptive mother, Barbara, told the Post: "She was born a crackbaby and actually lived in a crack house and suffered a lot of abuse." Thankfully, Rachel was taken in as a foster child when she was 6 months old by the Crows, who legally adopted her one year later and raised her to be the irrepressible bundle of sunshine we saw on TV this year.
5) Steve Jones Ticks Everybody Off
He interrupted Paula when she was trying to pep-talk fallen tween contestants the Brewer Boys. He coldly ignored the sobbing of eliminated kiddy act InTENsity. He rudely told Lakoda Rayne, "The dream is over." He shooed away Marcus Canty when Marcus was trying to console a distraught Rachel Crow. It seemed that Steve, although probably a very nice guy offstage, just couldn't get into the groove as an empathetic host. Soon rumors were running rampant that he was getting fired and not coming back for Season 2. (Rumors the show's rep denied, incidentally.) I'll give Steve credit, however, for refusing to interrupt Rachel and her mom's embrace on the top five results show (I could see him holding his earpiece and shaking his head "no" to the producers), and for coming across as a genuinely nice fellow during an "Ellen DeGeneres" interview. But for most of the season, Steve Jones made viewers develop new appreciation for Ryan Seacrest.
4) Cheryl Cole Gets Sacked
Less than three weeks after taping her first "X Factor USA" episodes at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, Cheryl Cole, the "X Factor U.K." judge brought over by Simon to sit with him on the U.S. panel, was suddenly booted from the show and replaced by Nicole Scherzinger, who was originally hired to just co-host the show with Steve Jones. While some reports said it was a "lack of chemistry" with Paula, or with the judges in general, that led to Cheryl's firing, other reports said it was simply her thick "Geordie" accent that did her in. I still think Fox was too hasty in the decision to let Cheryl go, and I still wonder how the show might have panned out if she had stayed. And I bet on some nights, like the nights that Rachel and Drew went home due to Nicole's controversial votes, Simon wondered that too.
photo: Fox3) Stacy Francis Gets Attacked Over Her "Secret" Pro Past
Over the course of this season, single mom Stacy Francis went from being America's sweetheart to America's most hated, when her professional past (a stint in the Warner Bros. Records R&B girl group Ex-Girlfriend, appearances in various Broadway and West End musicals, a 2004 gig performing at Tom Cruise's birthday party) was "outed" by anti-fansite Vote For The Worst, and later by Radar Online and Perez Hilton. (The latter blogger called her a "fraud" and seemed to harbor a personal vendetta against her, after a Twitter feud between them escalated when Adam Lambert jumped to Stacy's defense.) Of course, none of these gossippy sites actually exposed anything than couldn't be uncovered via a regular query on YouTube, Wikipedia, or IMDB. But the inflammatory articles still elicited public outrage over the show's lack of transparency, and possibly hurt the former frontrunner's chances. Stacy eventually went home in 10th place.
2) Astro Throws an Astronomical Tantrum
In what was surely the first biggest shocker of the "X Factor" season and possibly one of the most shocking reality TV results shows ever, rapper the Astronomical Kid--long considered a frontrunner in the competition--was in the bottom two, and he was almost sent home in 10th place. But that wasn't the shocking part. No, the real surprise was Astro's defiant reaction to the news of his near-elimination: When it came time for him to sing for the judges, he at first flat-out refused. He eventually went through the motions of an obviously half-hearted performance that his disgruntled mentor L.A. Reid said was the song of a "quitter." It was not a good look, and Astro's terrible attitude triggered an immediate public backlash, transforming him from the kid to beat to, well, the contestant to hate. It didn't help matters when he later claimed that he hadn't really received so few votes after all, and that producers had only put him in the bottom two for dramatic effect. Astro might have actually won the entire competition if he'd just been willing to put on a "Disney smile," as he sarcastically put it. But he might end up with a record deal after all, and then maybe his Kanye-like attitude will be more accepted in the real hip-hop world.
1) Nicole Scherzinger Accidentally Votes Off Rachel Crow
On the top five results show, indecisive softie judge Nicole displaced Astro as "The X Factor's" enemy number one when she controversially let the verdict go to deadlock, with dire and unexpected consequences. Not wanting to be the bad guy and send home the sweet Marcus Canty (clearly the lesser performer in that night's sing-off, and presumably the lower vote-getter of the week), she let the week's elimination decision be decided by public vote...and was shocked when America's sweetheart, Rachel, actually went home as a result. Nicole's tactic backfired big-time, and she ironically became "the bad guy" after all. She was vociferously booed by the angry studio audience, and within minutes of the shocking result--which caused Rachel to burst into tears, drop to her knees, and cry out for her mommy--Nicole's Twitter and Facebook pages were besieged by hateful comments and even death threats. TMZ later claimed Nicole wasn't the only "bad guy" on the panel that night, and that Nicole was only following the advice of fellow judge Paula Abdul, who supposedly told her to "let it go to deadlock" in the first place. Maybe it wasn't all Nicole fault, but I suspect on this night, Simon wasn't wishing he hadn't fired the original judge who once sat in Nicole's seat, the aforementioned Cheryl Cole.