THE SKINNY: Welcome to the world of "The X-Factor." From the start of Wednesday night's premiere, the "X" would take the foundations of "American Idol" — high drama, big lights and heartfelt stories — and build for the sky. This was an emotionally draining show, with stories of poor families, down-on-their-luck talents and even a meth-addict fresh out of rehab. If you feet that "Idol" has gotten stale in recent seasons (and it has, with its predictable guy-with-a-guitar winners), then "X-Factor" felt like a welcome reminder of just how great it feels to root for someone — someone perhaps trapped in a mundane life, just in need of the right break. It's the cliche American dream story, and you'd have to be pretty cold to roll your eyes at the way "The X-Factor" presents it. I'm feeling great after the first episode, so read my running diary to see how I got here:
8:00 — Let's go! Reminding myself to keep the enthusiasm high in the beginning; must fight my cynical thoughts for as long as possible (this thing is taking us nearly to Christmas). First off: The show's introduction is insanely epic, with many contestants in tears and judges sounding judgmental.
8:03 — We hear host Steve Jones' voice for the first time. His Welsh accent sounds like a weird parody of Robin Leach. That cannot be a good sign.
8:04 — A teenager says he will base-jump off the Empire State Building is he wins the $5 million grand prize. He punctuates it with a "Swag!" He probably has a Tumblr.
8:07 — Random thought: how often will I cringe at the weird flrting between judges Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul?
8:08 — There's already an upgrade over "American Idol"! The auditions take place in front a huge audience, not just the four judges (which for now include Cheryl Cole, whom we'll be saying goodbye to soon). I'm going into cardiac arrest just thinking about the amount of humiliation that will take place on such a big stage.
8:10 — First contestant is a 13-year-old girl named Rachel Crow. Her pre-interview is insanely cute, and then she delivers a surprisingly huge voice. It's raw enough that you can still tell she's young, but she has fantastic breath crontrol and sells the hell out of the song (Duffy's "Mercy"). I'm already rooting for her to win it all and to finally getting her six-person family out of its tiny apartment. The amount of joy I've experienced watching this one audition feels unhealthy. I need to start voting for this little girl right now.
8:21 — This is all innocent enough so far. A lot of "Four Yes" auditions. There's only been one Bieber-clone so I guess that's, uh, good?
8:24 — Siameze Floyd, 30, is our first "character." He's doing crazy splits in jeans, gyrating on the floor, giving some extremely weird Prince vibe. Simon called him "fascinating." Judges give him a reluctant yes. The world needs a .GIF of those splits.
8:47 — L.A. Reid vs. Cowell? Two strong-minded, hall-of-fame talent scouts disagreeing will make for good television.
8:53 — Uh oh, Adele's "Someone Like You" is playing while contestants talk about how badly they want to win. "I don't want to die with this music in me, Simon," says 42-year-old stay-at-home-mom Stacy Francis. She begins singing Aretha Franklin's "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" with the fervor the song demands. She brings the judges to their feet after the song's emotional climax, and begins to cry on stage. Her voice was really incredible. "That was one of the best auditions I've ever heard in my life," Simon says. (Watch the audition below. Footage courtesy of IdolXFactor's YouTube channel.) There may have been tears in my eyes.
9:08 — "There's no room for cookie-cutter pop stars here," says cookie-cutter pop star — and new judge! — Nicole Scherzinger. (I just spelled her last name correctly without Googling the former Pussycat Doll, and I'm feeling awesome.) There's an odd contestant with his pants down and Paula leaves to throw up. Producers decided it was imperative to record the audio of Paula heaving. Moral of the story: Paula is a drama queen.
9:20 — Marcus Canty made a deal with his mom — give him two years after high school to become a pop star, and if he doesn't achieve it, he'll give up the dream. He quickly wins over the crowd with a spirited take on Stevie Wonder's "I Wish." He manuevers naturally on stage. Realizing he killed it, Marcus falls to the stage's floor with tears in his eyes. L.A. compares him to Bobby Brown. (Kiss of death?) To outdo Reid, Simon compares him to Usher. ("My idol!" Marcus yells.) It's one more welcomingly cheesy but genuine, heartfelt moment on a show with plenty of them so far.
9:33 — The Anser? Whatever. It's a boy-band of three guys, and their sound is like a hyperactive BBMak. We'll be seeing them again, unfortunately.
9:35 — Nicole's default judging attitude? Ditzy with a hint of aloof. She's reminding me of Kim Kardashian most of the time.
9:43 — Nici Collins, a 23-year-old event planner, is from Maryland and her voice is heinous. It's like the reality singing competition equivalent to the Terps' opening-game uniforms. This is the start of the awful and awkward portion of the auditions, which "Idol" always gets too hung up on. This first episode hasn't relied on the ugliness like a faithful punchline and that's a relief.
9:51 — How do you end an epic opening show, full of so many emotional highs? How about a "trash-hauler" 70 days out of rehab for cocaine and meth addiction? Chris Rene goes with an original song, "Young Homie." He sounds like an inspirational Mike Posner, with maybe a better voice. L.A. is feeling it. "Honey, I'm trippin' on you," says Nicole. It's not easy to win over a crowd with an original song, but with an average melody and right backstory, Chris proves it's not impossible. Simon says to Chris that they're making a deal, that if he's pushed through, he will stay clean for himself and his son. Chris agrees and you want to believe Simon's words will keep this dude straight edge. Cue Coldplay's "Fix You" and let those tears run wild, folks.
What were your first impressions of "The X-Factor"? Were the stories cheesy or heart-warming? Should "Idol" be worried?Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun