Simon Cowell, producers explain how X Factor differs from American Idol

The seemingly endless hype leading up to next Wednesday’s premiere of Fox’s X Factor continued this week as the show had its formal premiere in Hollywood on Wednesday, leading to a new round of press coverage. With Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul reuniting in a singing talent competition that structurally is much more familiar (it’s American Idol meets America’s Got Talent) than game-changing (NBC’s The Voice took the format further than this show will), the challenge is differentiating it so it doesn’t just seem like Idol three years ago.

But even Simon Cowell has trouble explaining what’s different about his new show and his old show. Here’s what he, the show’s producer, and a Fox network executive all told USA TODAY is different about the new series.

Simon Cowell:

“I think you’ve just got to discover it for yourself, because it’s very difficult for me to put into words why it is different. In a broader sense, it is what I think is true reality. It’s very raw. You’re going to see stuff you haven’t normally been allowed to see before.”

FremantleMedia North America executive producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz:

“Idol is more pure singer. X Factor is more choreographed and produced. If you look at the performances at the Grammys, X Factor feels more akin to that.” and “Simon doesn’t do soft. Simon doesn’t do cuddly. He believes in being brutally honest. It’s always been his trademark. … It makes for a show that feels very real. It’s a little tougher than Idol. Idol is a warmer show.”

Fox’s Mike Darnell:

“Idol’s more intimate, and this is more loud and variety, with the crowds and everything. It’s more of a variety show. … By its nature, it’s a campier television show.”

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.