The countdown to Simon Cowell's ultra-hyped new reality venture "The X Factor USA" continued this Sunday with a new eight-minute promo, featuring the first two contestant auditions to air in their entirety. Simon has made a big to-do about "The X Factor's" wider age range (unlike his former show "American Idol's" limit of 15 to 28), and the two contestants featured in this extended preview prove his point: When it comes to talent, age ain't nothing but a number.
Of course, the new clip includes the requisite montage of cringeworthy auditions that'll likely give Simon some William Hung flashbacks: an attitudinal instigator named Xander, a reject who leaves judge Nicole Scherzinger feeling "violated" after he drops his trousers onstage, and one guy who's so terrible, judge L.A. Reid coldly demands he be escorted from the premises. But it's 13-year-old Rachel Crow and 42-year-Stacy Francis, representing opposite ends of the "X Factor" age spectrum, that give the judges, and viewers, real hope.
First is Rachel, a ringlet-topped moppet with an irrepressibly sassy personality and the outsized confidence of a diva twice her age. The bubbly tween also has a semi-sob story, complaining that the six-member Crow clan lives in a two-bedroom house and that she needs the show's $5 million prize to purchase a roomier family home. "I'm a girl, I need my own bathroom!" she quips, as impeccably coiffed judge Paula Abdul nods in sympathetic agreement. The excitable Rachel would be just a little annoying if it weren't for the fact that her rendition of Duffy's "Mercy" is, mercifully, quite good. The girl certainly has potential. "You have everything that every artist I've ever signed has," raves former Island Def Jam chairman L.A. Reid. "Feisty, sassy, soulful--you got it all, baby!"
Next up is 42-year-old single mother Stacy, a stunning Paula lookalike and former victim of domestic abuse. "In my late twenties into my early thirties I met someone, and things just went really wrong," she recalls through tears. "He kept telling me that I was too old, or that I wasn't talented enough, and I started believing him. And he would push me around sometimes, and I just lost faith in myself." Once Stacy hits the audition stage and says, "I don't want to die with this music in me, Simon," it quickly becomes clear that her ex had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. She's a little rough around the edges and doesn't quite nail the song's big money-note the way Kelly Clarkson once did, but her natural talent during her big, belty performance of Aretha Franklin's "Natural Woman" is evident; it has the audience of going wild, and leaves the judges amazed. "I've been doing this a long time, and that was one of the best auditions I have ever heard in my life," Simon surprisingly proclaims, while rivers of mascara run down Stacy's face.
At the beginning of this preview, Simon admits: "I walked away from the number-one show in America to launch a brand-new show. Sony are putting up $5 million of their own money to back a completely unknown winner. The whole thing's a gamble." Will this gamble pay off? If Rachel and Stacy are representative of the caliber of talent "The X Factor" has to offer, then the answer might be yes. But let's just hope that the contestants in that key 18-30 demographic can really deliver the goods when "The X Factor USA" premieres on Fox September 21.