Fox fired Paula Abdul, calls X Factor season one “an audition” (ha!); mystery Idol changes coming

Fox was responsible for firing Paula Abdul, Nicole Sherzinger, and Steve Jones from The X Factor, Simon Cowell said today. And the network’s reality TV executive Mike Darnell called The X Factor “an audition act” for the show, which is the funniest thing I’ve read all day. He also discusses changes coming to American Idol this season.

Simon Cowell told Extra that the changes are coming because of his pre-season ratings prediction; otherwise, he insisted, “If I hadn’t said that, everybody would be saying the show was a huge success.” Simon talked to Fox “at the beginning of the year– and we were told it had to happen straight away,” he said, referring to the firings. As to Paula, he said, “I would’ve liked to have kept her. She was very gracious and I said that to her. She understands it’s business; it’s never personal.”

Darnell told EW that firing “Paula was an interesting call,” and happened after “a dynamic conversation about what’s the nature of the group going to be. And I think we decided to pull the Band-Aid off as quickly as possible.”

“Season one was basically an audition act. Simon got one big new star out of it — L.A. Reid, and that was great casting. There’s going to be a natural reassessment,” Darnell said. Besides laughing at the first part, I’d disagree with the second; I don’t think L.A. Reid is much of a star at all.

He also promised that “lots of different changes in the show,” but said that he disagreed that the show was “inauthentic”: “That’s the kind of stuff that pundits talk about that doesn’t mean anything to the audience. It was a very consistent audience for that show. The audience that stuck with the show loved it.”

It might not mean anything to dumb audience members, but some of us know the difference between fake drama and real-life drama, and that difference matters.

As to American Idol, he praised “the fun and funny auditions,” and said, “if Idol ever becomes a second- or third-place show, it still has a much bigger impact and value than most other shows because it accounts for so many more hours. Obviously all shows come down, but to still be at this level is amazing, and we’re really grateful for that.”

Darnell also said there are “some changes coming to the show this year that no one knows about yet, [though] they’re more modest than last year. What you try to do generally is if you have a year of big changes, you try to let those settle for at least another year. Change can help, or it can kill you if it’s the wrong change. You never want to change the core of the show, no matter what the competition is doing, because that’s what people come back for.”

That’s an excellent point, but I think that’s also the problem: the core of Idol is getting stale, though it’s clearly not inedible yet for many viewers.

Interestingly, that directly contradicts what Nigel Lythgoe told reporters during a conference call yesterday, which is that the only change is a new location in Las Vegas. “Why on Earth would we start looking at other things to put in there?” he said. Nigel also insisted that the ratings decline isn’t a big deal. “We have survived for 11 years and whatever bad press we are getting about these ratings — God! the rest of the world would love these ratings.”

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