The problem is Steve seems so concerned with preventing the show from running long and preempting "Bones," he comes across as utterly un-empathetic, almost autistically unable to get an emotional gauge on certain onstage situations. On a show with many young, sensitive contestants who need to be handled with care, this is quickly becoming an image problem.
The backlash against Steve began last week on "The X Factor's" first live show, when Paula Abdul was announcing her decision to eliminate top 17 semifinalists the Brewer Boys--who really are boys, sweet young boys. "We're sorry we didn't live up to your expectations," sighed one of the dejected brothers, which prompted a round of sad, sympathetic sighs from the studio audience. Paula, sweetie that she is, immediately began to pep-talk the Brewers...but then Steve cut her off. There was no time, he said. The show had to stay on schedule. Steve may have just been doing his job, and may not have felt he'd been on the show long enough to earn the right to ignore bosses' orders, but regardless, he came across as borderline-cruel. Considering that this was a marathon two-and-a-half-hour episode that was already cutting into Fox's nightly news, it seemed 30 extra seconds of time devoted to cheering up the Brewer Boys wouldn't have made that much of a difference.
Then this Thursday, Steve once again rushed the proceedings at a time when a little sensitivity would have been welcome. As the judges hemmed and hawed over the decision to send either Stereo Hogzz or InTENsity home, Steve was practically barking at them to hurry up (L.A. Reid didn't seem too pleased, and he shot Steve a steel-eyed dirty look worthy of Tiah Tolliver). But things got WAY more awkward when the judges decided to cut kiddy-bop act InTENsity.
The InTENsity kids took the news of their elimination VERY hard. They were sobbing. They were acting like they'd just seen a litter of adorable puppies get run over by Steve's Mack truck. A more seasoned reality host would have known how to handle this situation delicately; we all remember how Cat Deeley offered a sleek shoulder to cry on to injured dancers like Alex Wong and Russell Ferguson, or how "Idol's" Ryan Seacrest kept a volatile situation under control when Casey Abrams suffered a massive meltdown onstage, or when audience members were practically rioting over Pia Toscano's elimination. But Steve didn't quite know what to do while surrounded by crying children on live television.
"InTENsity are inconsolable...but we're back next Wednesday! Stay tuned for the premiere of 'Bones'!" he shouted brightly, seemingly oblivious to the bawling tweens still onstage. It was not a good look.
Every host can have an off night, of course--Ryan Seacrest himself had plenty of unlikable, awkward moments during "Idol" Season 9--and it's possible that Steve will have fewer off nights as he becomes more comfortable in his new, high-pressure role. In person, he seems like a nice guy who cares about such things as crying children. But if this Englishman wants to win over America, maybe he should stop watching the clock so much, and start listening to his heart.
- Cat Deeley