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With 'X Factor's' Cheryl Cole flap, is Simon Cowell up to his old shenanigans?

June 5, 2011 |  7:44 pm

Cherylcolewaves Most shows don't start pouring on the PR antics until just before premiere. But the Cheryl Cole flap proves that Fox's "The X Factor" isn't about to play by those stupid old rules.

"The X Factor" won't start until the fall, but TV reporters have already spent the past few weeks as producer Simon Cowell's personal yo-yos. British songbird Cole was supposed to join Cowell, Paula Abdul and veteran hit-maker L.A. Reid at the judges' table. Then, Cole was out, for reasons no one could quite articulate (among the options: her accent was hard to understand; she didn't have good chemistry with Abdul; she was too emotionally fragile). Now, she might be back! Maybe. A new round of reports this weekend indicated that she was applying for a U.S. visa in anticipation of a possible return. 

Oh, what will happen if this person most Americans have never heard of doesn't show up for the taping of a singing contest that isn't even on the air?

Perhaps it's cynical to say such things. But speaking of cynicism: Note that since the Cole affair started, neither Fox nor the producers have been willing to say anything on the record. Not even: "We wish Cheryl the best in her future endeavors."

More to the point, the British version of "X Factor" is notorious for stunts, hokum and contrived controversy. A member of the group G4, which found fame on the show, later dismissed the judges' on-air bickering as "pure pantomime" and called "X Factor's" endless publicity stunts "silly."

And yet, in Britain the show keeps getting bigger, with last year's cycle the most-watched yet. Clearly, Cowell knows how to stir the pot.

The question is whether his brand of media carpet-bombing will work this time. The U.S. TV market is a lot bigger and more chaotic than in the U.K. And there's a risk that Americans might be turned off by a show that looks like a big, over-orchestrated media con before it even premieres. (Already, "X Factor" is being beaten out by scripted series such as Fox's "Terra Nova" in want-to-see polls.)

But this is Simon Cowell we're talking about. So this is just the first shot in a war that's going to last a long, long time.

Trackers, what do you think of the Cole controversy?


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Photo: Cheryl Cole last month at the Cannes Film Festival. Credit: Francois Guillot / AFP / Getty Images.