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X Factor: The Across-The-Pond Report

Lyndsey Parker
Reality Rocks

Concerned regular Reality Rocks readers may be wondering where I've been the last couple weeks. Did I forget to pay my cable bill or something? Was I rendered helpless when I lost my remote? Nah. I've just been on vacation. My DVR hard-drive is fixing to burst with programs recorded during my sabbatical, and I'm still playing catchup. So far I've learned that Neal E. Boyd won America's Got Talent (a victory well-deserved); Hoopz won $250,000 on I Love Money (a much better grand prize than a gold grill from Flavor Flav); crazy Cloris Leachman and her crazy cleavage have yet to be eliminated from Dancing With The Stars; and former I Love New York suitors Real and Chance, aka the Stallionaires, are finally getting their own spinoff dating show, Real Chance Of Love (the best homecoming present ever--thank you, VH1!). But don't tell me what's happening on Top Pop Group or Rock Of Love: Charm School, because I haven't watched those yet, OK?

So anyway, I spent my vacation in England. Thanks for asking. And even though I was supposed to be getting away from it all, I inevitably got hooked on X Factor, since a) it's bloody fabulous and b) it airs in a near-constant loop on various TV channels over there.

(Seriously, if the urge to watch X Factor hits a Brit any time of day or night, all that Brit has to do is turn on the telly, and there it is--and that's NOT including an additional wrap-up program called The Xtra Factor.)

For those of you Yanks who are unaware, X Factor is the United Kingdom equivalent of American Idol and the show that spawned international superstar Leona Lewis. And yes, it does feature Simon Cowell as the judge that people love to hate/hate to love on both sides of the pond (I didn't realize how much I missed his scowling face until I started watching X Factor, really). But instead of Paula Abdul there's "celebrity" judge Dannii Minogue (the disturbingly over-Botox'd little sister of Kylie); instead of Randy Jackson there's rotund Irish music manager Louis Walsh; and instead of that new fourth Idol judge Kara DioGuardi, there's Cheryl Cole, a woman uniquely qualified to judge this competition since she came to U.K. fame in Girls Aloud, a group created on the reality show Popstars.

Oh, and there are guest judges like Emma "Baby Spice" Bunton, some other hottie from Girls Aloud, a pretty-faced dude from Westlife, and a gold-swimsuited former '80s star named Sinitta. I ask you, could I not get suckered in?

Furthermore, on this show the judges serve as mentors to the contestants in private vacation villas--Simon in Barbados with (probably much to his chagrin) the boy contestants; Cheryl in Cannes with the girls; Louis in an Irish castle with the groups (yes, on X Factor the competitors aren't just solo singers, but also groups, including a girl band ingeniously named Girlband); and Dannii in St. Tropez with the "over 25's" (there's no hard-and-fast age limit on X Factor, which means that graying widowed dads and fortyish housewives are free to compete alongside Girlband nymphets). These exotic locales give the show a sort of Paradise Hotel/Survivor vibe and only up the entertainment ante (I mean, just imagine how awesome it would have been if on American Idol Simon had been sequestered in a tropical bungalow with Clay Aiken or Taylor Hicks, and you have an idea of X Factor's greatness).

And the fact that the judges are actually competing against each other, in a way, exponentially increases the potential for snarky, claws-out reality drama.

Anyway, now that I am back on U.S. soil, where X Factor is regrettably not aired in a near-constant loop, I feel the need to evangelize this show, in the hopes that AmIdol producers will read this and incorporate some of the Brit program's format into American Idol season 8. So hopefully in January on Fox we'll see on-location shoots at Club Med and Sandals resorts, even more inter-judge fighting, and no more age restrictions (in which case I say bring back Sherman Pore, the sweet old man who auditioned on Idol season 6 singing "You Belong to Me" in honor of his deceased wife).

I also want to evangelize my favorite current X Factor contestant, Rachel Hylton. An "over 25" (just making it in to that category, at the ripe old age of 26), she's got the proper sob story (already a mother of five--her eldest child is 13!!--she needs to win this show in order to overcome her dark past of prison stints and drug addiction). Plus she has a goosepimply smoky-sexy voice and a fine way of making a Robyn song her own (even if Simon disagrees here):

Why don't more AmIdol contestants sing Robyn songs, huh? I thought Rachel did just fine. Anyway, I don't know if Rachel Hylton will go on to become the next Leona Lewis, but I hope she wins X Factor and she gets a shot at Stateside stardom as a result.

I'm also really, REALLY hoping that X Factor reruns will start airing on the Fox Reality Channel or BBC America sometime very soon...otherwise I might need to plan another U.K. holiday before X Factor season's end.

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