A group of 10 Epic Records executives were among the 800 people who packed Hollywood's Cinerama Dome movie theater to hear their boss L.A. Reid talk about "The X Factor," the Fox show that made its glitzy world premiere Wednesday night.
Reid, for the first time in a public speaking engagement to publicize "X Factor," had a chance to articulate fleshed-out thoughts on the show, a role usually dominated by Simon Cowell. Their panel appearances have tended to evolve into insults between Cowell and Paula Abdul, with Nicole Scherzinger looking on in relative silence.
Audience members, which included some parents of contestants, delivered testimonials about the show and occasionally slipped in a question, one of which concerned the level of talent compared to what Reid sees as a label executive.
"There have been a few that blew me away," Reid told the crowd, which included Irving Azoff, whose company will manager the winner. He singled out Marcus Canty's version of Stevie Wonder's "I Wish," Melanie Amaro's moving rendition of Beyonce's "Listen" and Chris Rene's original rap tune as "amazing." Stacy Francis, a 42-year-old mother of two, also received props for her rendition of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."
Reid said he would have been happy mentoring any of the four categories -- boys, girls, over 30s and groups -- but admitted that the older artists had a little something extra. "Their stories, the journey, the various reasons they put careers on hold. I look at Stacy's performance, it was such an emotional experience. I love the emotion that goes into it and how impactful it was, how great she was because of the years."
It's rare enough that television shows have public premieres and almost no one in the TV business could recall anything in the last 15 years in a theater as large as the Cinerama Dome. The show that screened was a combination of the first two episodes condensed to about 90 minutes. Editing was so last minute, Cowell said, that it was the reason for the screening to begin one hour, 45 minutes after the scheduled start of 6 p.m.
Focusing on auditions held in Los Angeles, Dallas and Seattle, the merged version of the shows emphasized feel-good moments and three astoundingly good performances, all from females. Back stories are generally tales of struggle and in nearly every audition, the singers were traveling solo or with a full ensemble of family and friends that gathered backstage to watch on monitors.
Auditions are conducted in arenas in front of audiences of several thousand people and many of the singers perform with taped instrumental accompaniment. The enhanced production values make the auditions feel like other shows' finales.
"When somebody is brilliant it's a no brainer," Cowell said. "Where it gets tricky is when other factors come into play… That was pretty much the only time we argued."
Cowell, ever the provocateur, stirred the pot by saying Paula and Nicole had voted against attractive women on the show. "That's where most of the arguments came from," he said, generating Reid's comment of "true."
Abdul shook her head and offered a contradictory "so not true."
Deciding he had evidence, Cowell blurted out "watch the tape" only to immediately get smacked by Abdul's retort: "Oh who edits the tape?"
Epic Records' Benny Pugh, who attended auditions in four cities, said his conversations during and after the screening concerned the extent to which Sony Music will benefit from the show. The winner gets a guarantee of $5 million from Epic, but "there will be several acts that have been mentored. Maybe one will be good for Syco, another for Columbia and another for Epic. This will be a good way to develop new talent."