Beginning its second season in the U.S., the British hit "The X Factor" returns with two intriguing new factors of its own.
Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger have departed the panel of judges, opening slots for Britney Spears and Demi Lovato to join series mentor Simon Cowell and his fellow returnee L.A. Reid when the Fox talent competition launches its U.S. sophomore round Wednesday, Sept. 12, with an episode billed as the first half of a season premiere that concludes the next night.
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Premieres 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 12, on Fox
For music superstar Spears -- who started out under similar circumstances as a "Star Search" contestant -- "The X Factor" provides a major opportunity for her to redefine herself to the mass public. And she knows it.
"It's the most different thing I've ever done in my career," she says. "I've done six or seven tours and a bunch of albums, and I know how all of that works. Actually doing a television show and being a judge is just so new for me, that's why I like it, because it is so different ... but I can bring a lot from my experiences."
Throughout the summer, Spears was present for auditions in such cities as San Francisco, Providence, R.I., and Austin, Texas. Though that enabled her to start honing her judging technique, she concedes she has a way to go.
"We find our niche as we're doing it," she says. "I have a great team around me with Simon and L.A. and Demi, and we just kind of vibe each other out and see what the others think."
The fact that Disney Channel alum and "Give Your Heart a Break" hit-maker Lovato also is new to "The X Factor" is a major plus for Spears, who reflects, "I was extremely nervous the first day. I felt like I was going to come out of my body, but having her there and knowing it was her first time, too -- just that girl power and everything -- really helped."
Despite those early jitters, Spears maintains she wouldn't have taken the job if she didn't feel she had something to bring to it. "I've been in show business since I was a baby," she notes. "At a recital when I was 3 years old, I went to the top of the stage, turned around and told everybody they were doing it wrong. I feel I can bring a lot from my experiences of knowing what it takes and what you have to go through, the whole process of the entertainment industry.
"I can bring a lot of support for these artists and really spot the ones who are the best and do have the potential to fulfill their dreams. A lot of people have amazing voices, but it takes that 'Je ne sais quoi' (I don't know what) quality to make them stand out and make us want to watch. I think the most fun thing about this is finding that."
And Spears knows, from the other side, what a challenge it can be to show that. "It's the hardest thing ever," she says in recalling her "Star Search" days. "I won my first audition, then the second one, I lost to a guy who was actually my friend. I was 8 years old, and I was completely devastated. I just thought the world had ended, I cried so hard.
"It's really hard for the people who come on this show, even the ones who really believe in themselves and are just average, because they have to have that spark. It's a hard place to be in, to give constructive criticism, but you just have to do it."
With a background of hits such as "Baby ... One More Time," "Oops! ... I Did It Again" and "I Wanna Go," plus album sales of approximately 100 million, Spears has recharged her music career in recent years after a parade of headlines about personal controversies. She appears to be embracing her "X Factor" gig fully, and it doesn't hurt that a reported $15 million paycheck goes with it.
"At first, I really wasn't sure," she says, "and skeptical about the whole thing. I didn't know how it would be perceived, but I talked to Simon on the phone, and he is an absolute doll. His being so nice and kind influenced me a lot."
It's also helped Spears deal with those moments thus far when an "X Factor" hopeful has used one of her songs. She deems it "really kind of flattering. They usually come with an outfit (like the ones in Spears' music videos) and the whole thing; and a lot of them don't really sing, they just perform. They're very interesting to watch, but most of them don't have the kind of voice we want. A couple of them have done Demi's songs as well, but those are hard to copy."
Realizing that TV talent competition judges develop their own approaches to the job, Spears says she takes comfort in that as she shapes her own judging identity.
"I try to be an individual and have my own perspective on things, but Simon will throw you off sometimes," she says. "In your head, you really think someone has potential ... then he'll come out and say something like, 'That was horrible. Really, really bad.' And you realize his point after a while. He really breaks it down, and that's what I find so interesting. Sometimes the audience will boo you, and you feel like such a loser, but you have to stick to your guns."