New Judges, New Season! Will This Be the Biggest Year Yet for the 'X Factor'?

Simon Cowell's female-filled panel might just be the right recipe for success for this reality show

If at first you don't succeed… well, just switch up the judging panel. That seems to be Simon Cowell's approach to X Factor, which kicks off the two-night premiere of Season 3 tonight (at 8 p.m. ET on FOX).

To be fair, X Factor's first two seasons were successful by regular TV standards. But when you promote your show by announcing your intention to attract 20 million viewers, it makes the nine million you did attract seem paltry. When the first season's ratings didn't meet his expectations, Cowell threw out two of his three fellow judges, Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger (though he spared record producer L.A. Reid).

But bringing on their season 2 replacements, Demi Lovato and Britney Spears, only led to a further decline in viewers. Now Spears is gone (and Reid has voluntarily bowed out), and Cowell's entering Round 3 with a new set of judges. Destiny's Child member and X Factor UK judge Kelly Rowland and Mexican singer Paulina Rubio will now sit at the table alongside him and Lovato. What will they bring to that table?

 

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For Rowland, it's experience and sass. "She's very constructive," says Jade Thirlwall of Little Mix, a successful British girl group that Rowland helped to assemble on X Factor UK. "She was never nasty or mean. If she had something negative to say, it was only to help you. I think she's one of the best judges that's been on the show." But in interviews, Cowell has emphasized Rowland's flirtatious nature. When Jay Leno asked him to describe her in one word, he said, "horny."

Rowland later clarified his meaning by putting it in the context of judging contestants. “Oh, trust me honey -- when it comes to the bodies and the faces, I like to put everything together," she told The Hollywood Reporter. "You know, 'Under that shirt it looks like there is something there -- can you please show us?' I’m just curious! I just want to see what’s there."  

And Rubio's contribution? She's got an outspoken nature; her own judging experience (on the Mexican version of The Voice); and in Latin music, multiplatinum-selling superstardom. Adding Rubio to the panel, says The Hollywood Reporter, "was a savvy and in-tune calculation by Cowell to harness the power of one of Latin America's brightest stars and leverage the massive potential of the underserved Hispanic market she represents by bringing her on as an X Factor judge."  No doubt Cowell also enjoys her unfiltered moments -- like when she showed up late to the Denver audition and announced into the microphone that she "would have been on time if it was not for f***ing American Airlines who lost my bags." 

Obviously, we already know what Cowell brings to the table: experience and cut-to-the-chase cruelty. And the cute, mouthy Lovato will no doubt continue to befriend young contestants and tease Cowell mercilessly.  

But will this group of people be the gel that pulls X Factor together, enabling Cowell to achieve his own, extremely high expectations? "It's like having a dinner party," Cowell told TV critics last month. "You invite people for dinner and sometimes it's a fun night and other times it's not as fun as you hoped it would be. This [season] is a fun dinner party."

This week, we'll find out if anyone else is going to attend.

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