The second season of “The X Factor” on Fox began Wednesday night with the long-awaited debut of its two new judges, Britney Spears and Demi Lovato. They joined the returning Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid.
Before the episode aired, Madonna gave a shout-out to Britney on Facebook, writing, “Britney Spears – wishing you luck tonight on your X-Factor debut!! #GoodLuckBritney.”
There was no sign of a host — a position that remains vacant following the departure of Steve Jones after last season.
The first stops on The X Factor audition tour were Austin, Texas, and San Francisco. Here are the highlights:
– Getting things started in Austin was Paige Thomas, a 21-year-old nursing student and mom from San Antonio. Her adorable three-year-old daughter accompanied her to the audition. It didn’t take long for her to win over the new judges with her rendition of Mary J. Blige’s “I’m Goin’ Down.”
Spears declared, “You are so bright and beautiful on stage,” and said Thomas was flawless. Lovato was similarly impressed by Thomas’ stage presence. Reid compared her to Rihanna, and Simon said it was one of his favorite X Factor auditions to date because Thomas takes her responsibilities as a mother seriously. She easily advanced.
– Fifty-year-old Shawn Armenta, claiming he’s spent over a year in the recording studio honing his craft, warbled an original tune titled “Candy Girl.” He became feisty with the judges after they derided his act; when Lovato told him that not everyone is meant to be a singer, Shawn shot back, “That’s why you use Auto-Tune and I don’t.” Spears eventually chimed in, “I feel uncomfortable with you even staring at me.” We won’t see him again.
– A 13-year-old Justin Bieber look-alike named Reed Deming had a false start when he attempted Bruno Mars’ “It Will Rain.” Cowell cut him off, saying Reed didn’t have the vocal muscle to pull it off. Given a second chance, Reed tackled another Bruno song, “Grenade.” Reid pointed out the physical similarities to Justin, but Reed said he just wants to be himself. Spears and Lovato both thought Reed was adorable, and Cowell told him they were looking at a potential future pop star. Reed will be back.
– Quatrele Da’an Smith, wearing a wedding dress and lipstick and showing off a whole lot of leg, opened the San Francisco segment with an unusual take on Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.” Lovato said she loved him and his lipstick. Cowell joked that if Madonna, Bobby Brown and Dracula had a child, he would look like Quatrele. But he quickly added that he oddly enjoyed the performance. Amazingly, Quatrele passed through.
– Spears was surprised to see Don Philip, a man with whom she collaborated 10 years ago. After he performed Beyonce’s “Halo,” Cowell flatly told him that he doesn’t have a good singing voice. Don turned to Spears for support, but she reluctantly confessed that he didn’t meet the “X Factor” standards. He was dismissed, and backstage, he awkwardly cried that he felt he hurt Spears.
– Jennel Garcia, 18, brought plenty of energy to the stage with Grace Potter & the Nocturnals’ “Paris (Ooh La La).” Spears said she was not expecting that type of amazing performance from Jennel. Lovato gushed that Jennel combined a cute face with fire. Cowell suggested that she could become a young Pat Benatar. Jennel is headed to the next round.
– Jillian Jensen, 19, connected with Lovato by recalling how she was also bullied in school and disclosing that she too has a “Stay Strong” tattoo. She had a portion of the crowd waving their arms in the air as she covered “Who You Are” by Jessie J. A teary-eyed Lovato walked onto the stage after the performance was over and hugged Jillian. All of the judges remarked how well she channeled her pain into the song.
“The X Factor” continues Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET.