As the Los Angeles Times shrewdly noted, somehow the talent competitions have lost their focus on the competitors, and shifted to an arms race to see who can land the biggest-name judges.
Afer all the hoopla that surrounded its underwhelming first year, Simon Cowell's "The X Factor" is back for season two, now with Britney Spears and Demi Lovato brought in to add youth and sizzle to the proceedings.
Since the judges are the new factor, let's focus on that, but with a few unavoidable observations: The two-hour premiere was staggeringly over-produced, including a full 45 minutes devoted to a 22-year-old bank teller from Texas, only to dump all over her; and unflatteringly photographed, so much so Spears at times looked like a Britney Spears impersonator. Nor did it help the opening tease including a bunch of sequences that looked as if they could have been culled from a night of WWE wrestling.
As for the actual content of what the judges had to say, Lovato brought a certain youthful exuberance to the proceedings, but her playful banter with Cowell -- admonishing her not to flirt with cute boys -- felt a trifle creepy. They might have been going for big brother, but dude, you're old enough to be her dad. Knock it off.
Spears, meanwhile, exhibited her tough-love approach primarily during an extended montage sequence. Yet if it was supposed to demonstrate how steely and mean she could be, there was little substance to her critiques, plus the bizarre melodrama of someone she knew singing for her and being rejected.
At this point, nothing is apt to change my mind about Cowell backing Fox into an untenable corner: Let "X Factor" go somewhere else, or undercut "American Idol" by having its flashier but more dim-witted cousin occupy a similar chunk of its lineup through the fall.
Tears flowed early and often, and "X Factor" could always get lucky with some really appealing contestants. But if the show catches on, it will likely be due to that more than its new high-priced duo.
Spears and Lovato haven't damaged the show, but based on first impressions they haven't done much to invigorate it either. That means Cowell remains the best (and often only) reason to pay attention when the judges begin talking, flanked by attractive window dressing.
In other words, oops, they did it again.