Welcome to the Britney Spears Show, ladies and gentlemen.
Warning: Spoilers ahead if you have not watched Wednesday’s season premiere of The X Factor .
At least that’s how The X Factor’s second season kicked off Wednesday, showcasing new judges Spears and Demi Lovato. The pop duo join returning judges Simon Cowell (still as biting as ever) and L.A. Reid, who undoubtedly appears to have the best eye for talent.
Following a flashy intro -- showcasing X Factor U.K. alumni Leona Lewis, Cher Lloyd and One Direction, seemingly ignoring season one stars Chris Rene and Melanie Amaro -- auditions got underway in Austin. The show opened strong with 21-year-old Paige Thomas, who, though appearing to be a carbon copy of Rihanna, as noted by Reid, wowed the judges with her powerhouse voice, rock star ensemble and adorable 3-year-old daughter.
“She inspires me,” Thomas said of daughter Jade. Cowell proclaimed the audition one of his favorites of all time.
New to this year’s format is a behind-the-scenes storyline, which aims to showcase the so-called “bitchiness,” according to Cowell, that seems to go on backstage. Audiences not only see the judges banter back and forth between takes, but they also witness 22-year-old contestant Kaci Newton -- a self-proclaimed mix between Carrie Underwood and Adele (she’s not) -- make faces and snide comments about her competition from behind the curtain. Were the comments staged? Skillfully edited? We’ll let you be the judge of that.
Thomas wasn’t the only lookalike to face the judges Wednesday. The spitting image of Justin Bieber was found in 13-year-old Reed Dennings, who barely scraped through to the next round on charm and an adorable, precocious nature. His vocals? Not the strongest.
There also were the obligatory lemons, including Shawn Armenta, 50, singing his own creepy song, titled “Candy Girls.”
“I’m uncomfortable with you even staring at me,” said Spears, while Lovato later admitted at the show’s Hollywood premiere that she had to take a few moments to gather her thoughts after his performance.
One of the surprising hits of the episode was San Francisco contestant Quatrele Da’an, who, donning pink lipstick and a scandalous “Like a Virgin-”-esque getup (“I’m getting married to X Factor today”), surprised the judges with his enthusiastic rendition of Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way.”
“Sometimes I have to embrace the madness. Today, I am. I’m gonna say yes,” said Cowell, after comparing Da’an to the offspring of Dracula, Madonna and Bobby Brown.
In one of the more uncomfortable moments of the show, contestant Don Phillip reunited with Spears after recording a duet, “I Will Still Love You,” on her 1999 debut album. An overly emotional Phillip appears to have gone through the ringer (to say the least) during the past decade, and unfortunately, he does not come out on top. After being shot down by all four judges, including an emotional Spears, Phillip could be seen shrieking and crying that he “never meant to hurt Britney.” Awk-ward.
The breakout talent from the show was undoubtedly Jillian Jensen, 19, who bonded with Lovato over bullying issues, close birthdays and matching “stay strong” tattoos. “When you sang, you broke my heart,” Lovato declared after a heart-tugging performance. Closing on an emotional note, the show ended with tears flowing on the judges’ panel, in the audience and onstage.
The series’ preview shows countless medical professionals and hospital scares, but none of that happened during the two-hour premiere. Maybe -- make that definitely -- we’ll see some more crushing despair on Thursday’s episode.
While Spears was largely touted as the new “Queen of Mean,” Cowell still reigns supreme, as evidenced by the show’s most memorable zingers, listed below for your amusement. You’ll also find a list of the best and worst performances of the evening, in case you missed it (hello, YouTube).
What do you think of the revamped X Factor? Tell us in the comments section below.
“You were like a mouse trying to be an elephant” -- Cowell
“That’s why you use Auto-Tune and I don’t” -- contestant Amernta to Lovato
“I wanna know who let you onstage. I’m uncomfortable with you even staring at me” -- Spears
“I felt like I was listening to Alvin and the Chipmunks” -- Spears
“You sang like a dog trying to lay an egg” -- Cowell
“Are you drunk?” -- Lovato
“Have you ever watched yourself onstage? You turn into a raving lunatic” -- Cowell
“There used to be boy bands years ago, there’s five of them, and there’s always one that doesn't sing. That’s you.” -- Cowell
“Do you like animals? If I were you, I’d go out and buy a puppy and make this a happy day for yourself because the singing was awful” -- Cowell
Best and worst auditions:
Paige Thomas: “I’m Going Down,” Mary J. Blige
Emblem 3: “Sunset Boulevard,” Self-penned (We’ll expect to see their debut album out next year, for sure.)
Jennel Garcia: “Paris,” Grace Potter & the Nocturnals
Jillian Jensen: "Who You Are," Jessie J.
Shawn Armenta: “Candy Girls,” Self-penned
Kaci Newton: “Firework,” Katy Perry
Quatrele Da’an: “Born This Way,” Lady Gaga
Vincent Thomas: “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word,” Elton John
Don Phillip: “Halo,” Beyonce
Email: Sophie.Schillaci@thr.com; Twitter: @SophieSchillaci