'The X Factor': 3 ways it won't be like 'American Idol'

x-factor-simon-cowell-large.jpgThe inaugural season of "The X Factor" in the United States got rolling Sunday (May 8) in Los Angeles. It was the first time judges Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul, L.A. Reid and Cheryl Cole worked together as a group, and it marked the start of a long and presumably hype-filled road to the show's debut on FOX in September.

A lot of that hype will probably have to do with the ways that "The X Factor" differs from Cowell's (and Abdul's) previous FOX talent competition, "American Idol." Zap2it was in attendance at the first taping Sunday. Based on what we saw, we think viewers won't have much problem telling the difference once "The X Factor" is on the air.

Because it was the first taping, what we saw Sunday was a little unpolished at times. There wasn't a lot of back-and-forth among the judges, for instance, but presumably as they get to know each other better that will change. What was clear right way, though, was that "The X Factor" really isn't an "Idol" clone. Here are three key differences we noticed.

The judges are tougher

Sunday's first taping featured only 11 acts, which suggests to us that the show's producing team weeded out more people at the open casting calls than "Idol" seems to do. Only a couple were what we would describe as out-and-out bad, but just three of the 11 got through, and a fourth that the judges were on the fence about was asked to prepare a different song and return later.

The consensus from our seats was that a couple of the rejected acts would have easily sailed through the first stage of "Idol." But Cowell and the other judges were adamant that they were looking for someone who could challenge the biggest names in pop music today.

They repeatedly asked contestants who they saw themselves competing with and challenged people who had chosen older songs -- as with the one they asked to come back -- to try something more current. They also repeatedly mentioned the winner's prize ($5 million and a recording contract) as a way to drive home the point that they were looking for more than just a good singer.

The format is looser

At least that's how it felt inside the taping. Whereas in the "Idol" auditions the judges usually have no time for contestants trying to plead their cases, here there was much more back-and-forth. Some (or a lot) of that may end up getting cut from the finished product, but it felt like the judges were at least somewhat willing to listen to contestants' arguments.

Maybe that's because as part of "The X Factor" format, the judges will also be hands-on mentors to some of these acts. Whatever the reason, though, we kind of liked the banter and hope at least some of it stays in when the shows air.

There's a live audience

You've seen this before on shows like "America's Got Talent" (which Cowell also produces), but it does add a little something. Feeling the crowd's enthusiasm swell (or wane) as a contestant goes through an audition helps make for good TV -- which is at least as important to "The X Factor" as finding breakout talent.

Susan Boyle's instant-fame audition on "Britain's Got Talent" wouldn't have had quite the same impact without the skeptical-to-rapturous audience response, and we're all but certain that "The X Factor" will be looking to produce one of those moments this season.

Photo/Video credit: FOX