Less than three weeks ago, "X Factor U.K." judge Cheryl Cole taped her first "X Factor USA" episodes at the Galen Center in Los Angeles, sitting alongside Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, and L.A. Reid. I attended two of these tapings, and I thought she did an excellent job. She was charming, she looked gorgeous, and NO, her broad Newcastle (or "Geordie") accent was not unintelligible.
But now, right before "The X Factor's" Dallas audition tapings, Cheryl has been booted from the show and reportedly replaced by Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger, who was originally hired to co-host the show with British TV presenter Steve Jones but will now fill Cheryl's seat. This sad news broke on TMZ yesterday, and while some reports are saying it was a "lack of chemistry" with Paula that led to Cheryl's firing, many other reports are saying it was simply her thick accent that did her in.
Last month in an interview with Deadline.com, Simon denied that there was ever any push-back from Fox regarding his adamant decision to bring Cheryl to America. "No, absolute opposite," he said. "[The Fox network's] Mike Darnell and Peter Rice will tell you they wanted her all the time. I showed a tape to Mike Darnell two years ago of a clip I'd shot in England of Cheryl and he said there and then, 'I'd hire her now for 'Idol.' They absolutely fell in love with her. In a way, the deal, it was almost conditional on Cheryl having the gig. They were desperate for her."
But apparently, now all that has changed.
This is horrible news, and not just because I think, based on her tenure on "The Sing-Off," Nicole Scherzinger is one of the worst reality judges ever. And it's not just because I was really looking forward to seeing Cheryl on my TV screen every week. Or because I feel bad for her that she moved her entire life to America and quit her "X Factor U.K." gig across the pond to join the American cast of Simon's show. Or even because I thought her experience as a former reality competition winner (she was on "Popstars," which spawned the hugely selling U.K. pop group Girls Aloud) lent her a unique perspective as a judge. (I suppose the same could be said of Nicole, who was in the "Popstars U.S." group Eden's Crush, but still.)
No, I just wonder if America is THAT xenophobic, or if Fox execs are THAT skittish and focus-group-dependent, that a woman with Cheryl's regional speaking style could never be accepted here. Reality television is filled with heavy-accented personalities like "Dancing With The Stars'" Bruno Tonioli, not to mention tons of Brits, from Simon Cowell to Nigel Lythgoe to Gordon Ramsay to Nigel Barker. The Spice Girls' Melanie Brown has done very well in the reality market despite having an accent that's just as thick as Cheryl's, and Ozzy Osbourne built an entire reality TV career on being totally indecipherable. And come on, even American talent judges like Paula Abdul and Steven Tyler aren't all that easy to understand sometimes.
I actually think Cheryl's accent could have worked for her as a good-natured running joke: I was already imagining the "X Factor" finale airing a highlight reel of her funniest garbled moments, complete with subtitles. It would have at least been funnier that an "Idol" finale montage of Randy Jackson saying "in it to win it!" a thousand times.
On May 8 when she spoke to the press at the first L.A. "X Factor" taping, Cheryl didn't seem too worried about American viewers being able to comprehend her, even pooh-poohing rumors that she'd been working with a dialect coach. "I would never, ever change how I speak, and I think Americans understand that," she said with a smile. Apparently she was wrong. It's too bad.
Watch her interview from that below, and let me know if you think Cheryl's accent was too much for American TV: