Simon & Paula at the first "X Factor" taping [photo: Fox]It's a regular mass "X"-odus at Fox this week. Following reports earlier Monday that host Steve Jones and judge Nicole Scherzinger were on the outs over at "The X Factor," Monday night brought the even more gob-smacking news that Simon Cowell's old "American Idol" crony, the one and only Paula Abdul, would also not be returning for Season 2. "Shocked to see Simon has fired Paula Abdul, Nicole and Steve from the X-Factor," Simon's former "Idol" producer Nigel Lythgoe tweeted Monday evening, echoing many fans' sentiments.
Actually, neither Steve nor Nicole's departures were that surprising. Both had been unpopular with viewers--Steve for his perceived rudeness when trying to force the show's pacing or deal with sobbing child contestants; Nicole for her wishy-washiness and fondness for vulgar, seemingly PCD-inspired productions--and both had been on the receiving end of Simon's on-camera wrath on multiple occasions. But the news of Paula's exit, first broken by Deadline.com and later confirmed by sources to Yahoo!, was a jaw-dropper of Rachel Crow-esque proportions. After all, there were many, many things that just did not work during "The X Factor USA's" troubled inaugural season, but the Simon/Paula chemistry was not one of them, in my opinion.
Yes, the classic "Saula" pairing was actually my favorite element of "The X Factor" last year, and I'd always assumed that Paula was Simon's pet and had total job security on this show; Simon simply seemed to have her back. But I guess I assumed wrong. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Simon believes that the judging panel needs more star power next season (fueling rumors that Mariah Carey will finally join the cast), so maybe the nostalgic reunion of him and his former "Idol" sidekick just didn't quite bring in the bottom-line ratings he'd hoped for.
THR also reports that none of the three ousted "X Factor" castmates left the show voluntarily (although E! reports that Nicole quit to focus on her music, and, presumably, her long-delayed album). And that makes me feel especially sad for Paula. Neither of her solo reality television ventures, Bravo's "Hey Paula" and CBS's "Live To Dance," were exactly ratings juggernauts, and she always seemed so appreciative of the opportunity Simon gave her to reboot her career via "The X Factor." (Simon sometimes snarkily likened her to a very devoted, very grateful old dog.) Yes, it's true that Paula ended up playing not too prominent a role in "The X Factor" Season 1, since all of her contestants were voted off in quick succession, but that wasn't really her fault: Saddled with the Groups category in a pop age when acts like *NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, and the Spice Girls seem comically dated, she was just plain doomed from the start.
This, of course, is hardly the first time an "X Factor USA" cast member has been unceremoniously and very publicly dumped. Back in May 2011, another longtime Simon sidekick, original judge Cheryl Cole--after taping only a few early audition episodes--was fired, despite the fact that she'd quit "The X Factor U.K." and moved her entire life across the pond to do the American version of the show. Ironically, the rumor back then was Cheryl had been let go due to a lack of chemistry with Paula. I wonder if, when Paula witnessed Cheryl's firing firsthand, she ever imagined that she'd one day be in the same situation.
So now, as of this writing, it's just down to Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid. L.A. quit his cushy gig at Island Def Jam to join "The X Factor" (and now, as the head of "X"-affiliated label Epic Records, he has signed his three protégés: Chris Rene, Marcus Canty, and Astro), so I bet right about now he's hoping he's safe. As for who will replace Paula, Nicole, and Steve in Season 2, that's all up for speculation, but I do hope the aforementioned Nigel Lythgoe reconsiders his offer to make Paula a permanent judge on his other show, "So You Think You Can Dance." She could use the work.