Nicole Scherzinger goes from bad judge to crazy judge as X Factor finds its top 12

The X Factor‘s live shows began last night as the judges eliminated contestants to get down to a top 12, and the series introduced its massive set and the dynamic we can expect the rest of the season, when viewers get to vote.

I’m not yet convinced that the talent is The Voice level, but the pace was fast and efficient–almost too efficient, if that’s possible for a singing competition–and the set was impressive, if only because it gave me fun things to look at and occasionally terrified me when one of the judges’ heads appeared on two huge screens. I also like Steve Jones, who is a phenomenal host if only because he cuts off the judges and cracked the whip so well that the show finished on time, although by the end he was very nearly barking demands and allowing the judges only two or three words. Still, a host that makes the show about the show instead of himself is a welcome change.

The judges could use similar discipline. Hopefully next week, they’ll start critiquing the talent instead of each other, because praising and/or criticizing each other instead of the performers seemed both odd and rude, as it denied the contestants any role in their own success or failure.

What is clear by this point, however, is that Nicole Scherzinger is not just a pretty bad judge, it’s that she’s the new Paula Abdul, except less entertaining. Every time Nicole was asked to introduce one of her acts, she looked confused, like she thought the cameras were off and she couldn’t find her puppet.

Simon Cowell sniped at her, and she sniped back, further cementing her in the Paula role. She was also the person saying the craziest things (“You’re like my pumpkin patch of little pumpkins”) and after she told one performer that she had “wings,” L.A. Reid challenged her, and Nicole became barely coherent. She seemed to try to copy Simon Cowell, but that didn’t work; the audience also booed her at one point.

From The Sing-Off, we knew she was a terrible judge, and it was somewhat baffling that she was not just selected to host X Factor, but then took the place of Cheryl Cole, who UK X Factor fans seem to generally love. But if she’s made Paula Abdul look normal by comparison, maybe she’s doing her job.

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