Another X Factor results show, another Thursday night with the unsettling sound of a child crying coming from my television. If you've looked at the Internet at all since tonight's show aired, you already know how this ends: After a sing-off against longtime bottom-two veteran Marcus Canty, Rachel Crow was sent home after a deadlock spurred by Nicole Scherzinger's refusal to take responsibility for tonight's outcome. As it turns out, that didn't work quite as planned, and now Nicole has effectively robbed Rachel of her bathroom and earned America's hatred. Do we really need to rehash the absolutely un-noteworthy 55 minutes that led up to that moment? No. So let's just take a moment to reflect on the giant failure that has been Nicole Scherzinger, X Factor judge, and why, specifically, she is a failure.
There is nothing wrong with bringing on a pop star to host a pop performance competition (and even though Astro is gone, I maintain that The X Factor is exactly that, and not a singing competition). The idea is presumably to have someone with actual performance experience on board, as well as a likeable, familiar face, one we associate with music and emotion and glamour, rather than the hard, cold realities of the entertainment industry. (The female pop star judge is always the first to cry.) We tend to let these artists-as-judges off the hook more easily when they just blubber and tell the contestant how beautiful they are in lieu of an actual critique; that's what the industry experts are there for. It's a stupid double standard, but it's the way the genre has evolved, and complaining about it at this point is like complaining that Megan Fox's character wasn't more fully developed in the Transformers movies. (It should be noted that The X Factor and American Idol are actually two of the last reality talent competitions to have any industry experts on their judging panels; both The Sing-Off and The Voice filled their chairs solely with performers, and therefore, those judges tend to hold themselves to slightly higher standards as far as substantial critiques go.)
Okay. So we've established that a pop star judge is generally brought onto a show for their 1) familiarity, 2) authority as a successful performer, and 3) likeability. By all three of those counts, then, Nicole Scherzinger, at least in the United States, is not a pop star. Nicole Scherzinger is not a household name. Nicole Scherzinger is best known for singing in a pop ensemble that hasn't had a song chart since 2008. Nobody cares what Nicole Scherzinger wore to the VMAs. But why? Nicole Scherzinger has been a glorified footnote of popular music for more than a decade, why has she never been permitted to graduate to the level of a Britney or Katy or Beyonce? The answer lies in point number three: There is nothing likeable about Nicole Scherzinger. And this is not an opinion, it is an objective truth.
See, one of the things that makes America so gosh darn great is that we still prize some modicum of identifiable humanity in our idols. That bonkers Hatsune Miku shit that's taking Japan by storm? That would never fly over here, and neither will Nicole Scherzinger. Our pop stars have to be viable extensions of ourselves, or at least someone we can imagine being our best friend. (And before you bring up Lady Gaga as a counterargument, watch a few YouTube videos of pimply teens replicating her dance moves and tell me that they haven't found something in her music and aesthetic that resonates with them in a profound, personal way.) For some reason, this personal, emotional expectation for pop music is lower overseas; the United States also remains one of the least secular first world countries, and I'm sure there's a correlation here, but that's a conversation for another day.
So, if you're so inclined, please watch the video for the Pussycat Dolls' 2008 hit “When I Grow Up” and tell me if the girl in the pink jacket looks like anyone you can imagine your average 15-year-old girl identifying with. The answer, most likely, is no: The boobs are pushed up too high, and the dance moves are too aggressive and devoid of joy. She's not your best friend; she's the bitch who steals your boyfriend. (Plus–ew–she just looks kind of sticky in that video.) And that gets you a Maxim cover, but it doesn't win you any lasting loyalty from the people who don't just view you as another disposable object of a lazy sex fantasy.
Lest you think this is devolving into some kind of slut-shaming rant, please let it be known that, in the immortal words of Michael Showalter, I love sluts. Sluts are great. It's just gotta be the right slut–and ideally one who takes on that image as a form of liberation, rather than in a desperate bid to please some imagined lowest common denominator. I guarantee you that if Nicole Scherzinger was a less-than-successful pop star with a “slutty” image who also happened to have really smart and cogent things to say in her role as a judge on The X Factor, then we would not be having this conversation. Hell, if she showed up to a single taping not looking zonked out of her mind, she might get by just being ignorably dumb, but certainly not hateable.
But Nicole Scherzinger, despite the loud outfits and the “sexy” persona, doesn't have the guts or presence of mind to have a real opinion about anything, which is why she made the non-decision she did last night, and why the X Factor audience has turned on her. Just to be clear, here: It's the non-decision that makes this whole situation so loathsome, and not the resultant elimination of Rachel Crow, who probably wasn't going to win this thing anyway (though I wouldn't rule out a significant career for her sometime in the future). If Nicole had just said “Whatever, I didn't think Rachel was all that, so I'm sending her home,” that would have been a different matter entirely (as well as a significant but not unwelcome break in character). Jennifer Lopez shied away from negative criticism on season 10 of American Idol to avoid losing any of her fanbase; it's kind of sad and incredibly frustrating to see Nicole go through the same motions even when she doesn't have a fanbase to lose.
When I joke and say that Nicole is an empty, person-shaped void, this is all that I mean to say. But it's that emptiness that has tripped her up in her quixotic mission to take over the pop charts, and it's that emptiness that makes her a lousy judge on The X Factor. Simon & co. have already made loads of tweaks to The X Factor since debuting it on our fair shores; it turns out, for example, that American audiences are less forgiving of lipsync-ed performances than UK audiences are, and that American audiences don't respond as strongly to groups. Maybe Simon should take his admirable willingness to do whatever it takes to get to 20 million viewers and apply it to his judging panel. After all, who knows how many people aren't watching The X Factor because they understandably don't want to be reminded that Nicole Scherzinger exists?
Episode grade: B
Nicole Scherzinger as a reality show judge grade: D-