The X Factor has taken the US by storm. Simon Cowell’s decision to take this powerhouse program from an already successful venture in Britain to America has paid off handsomely, drawing in viewers by the millions twice a week as the country tunes in to watch performers and vote on their fate.
Though it’s challenging for both the contestants and judges, the man who perhaps has got the largest balancing act to contend with is British host Steve Jones, who seems to do it with relatively seamless ease — always with a smile, always with a kind word to say, and always displaying the keen skills of a schooled referee. Steve shared with us what it’s really like behind the scenes of America’s newest vocal competition phenomenon.
How have you enjoyed this experience?
It’s been fantastic. It’s been everything I hoped and much more. It’s definitely measured up to the dream job status that I was hoping for. But it’s tough, to be honest with you. It’s tough. It’s a hard show to do. It’s kind of surprised me a little bit how hard the process is, the live element and steering the judges and all the rest of it.
It’s hard to come across as a fun person and polite when you’re steering such a beast and we’re on limited time. But I’ve enjoyed hanging out with the judges, and making new friends, and the production team. It’s been amazing. I’m enjoying my new life here in L.A. I got a nice house, nice car. I’m paying my taxes. I’m a good citizen. I’m legit.
The show has such a high profile. Has it been an adjustment for you to have people interested in you and your life and all that? Or is that something you’re used to?
It’s something I’m used to back in the U.K. I get approached by a lot of people and there are various things written. But, America’s always been a place I’d go to for a bit of anonymity. I’ve been coming back and forth here for years and years. So it’s peculiar that people are approaching me and asking for pictures and autographs and stuff. That’s new because that’s obviously never happened in America before.
But everybody is very polite and it doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It’s flattering actually. If you go about and you’re not feeling great on a particular day, somebody approaches you in the supermarket and tells you how much they like you, that can put a spring in your step. I’m not going to complain. It’s nice.
How do you feel about the constant comparisons between you and Ryan Seacrest?
The comparisons? I’m hugely flattered. I mean, it’s Ryan Seacrest. This guy—he’s a titan of the industry. He’s the biggest host on the planet. So if my name is mentioned in the same sentence as this guy, I’m doing something right. I really am. I’m overjoyed to be compared to the likes of Ryan. He’s a fantastic host. I’ve met him a few times. He’s very polite and we have great chats. I couldn’t be more happy, I really couldn’t. Ryan doesn’t feel so great when he’s hearing my name mentioned in the same sentence as his own, but I’m the up and coming new guy. It’s a great place to start. It really is.
What do you enjoy the most, the actual contestants or the competition between the judges?
That’s a good question. That’s a tricky one. I enjoy hanging out with the contestants and seeing them flourish and become little superstars. Then again, the judges are such complicated beasts and to see their four gigantic egos in front of me every week vying for the viewers’ attention and wanting to get their points across, that’s fun. It’s 50/50, to be honest with you. Maybe I’m going to commit. I love watching the judges. They are great. Because the contestants, they sing their songs and I watch them in rehearsal and by the time we get to the live show, I’ve seen that and it’s enjoyable.
But you just don’t know what the is going to come out of these judges’ mouths from one minute to the next. So that’s always exciting. And the fact that I’m the guy who’s trying to steer them in the right direction, that direction being, “Stop talking now please, because we have limited time. We've got to get a conclusion by the end of the show.” It’s a challenge. I’m going to say the judges. I love being in front of them.
What has been the most challenging aspect of hosting The X Factor for you?
Probably the time element, getting everything done in the limited time we have. In all honesty, two hours is a long time as such to start and finish any show, but we have the judges to contend with. And these people just speak endlessly. They will say the same points like five or six times in succession. For me that’s the most difficult bit because I relish every word these people say. They’re interesting. They’re funny. They’re opinionated. They’re arrogant.
They’re all of the above and that’s the type of people that are fascinating to watch and listen to, but I’m the guy that has to cut them off because essentially we are on limited time. So for me, that’s the most difficult part of the job. Because I know everybody at home is enjoying what they’re saying. People are thinking, “Paula is speaking. She’s giving her opinion. That’s why I’ve tuned in. That’s why I’ve invested in The X Factor. I want to hear what Simon Cowell is saying.” And I’m the guy who has to go, “Simon, please. We’ve got to move on.” And I dare say, everybody at home is thinking, “Why is he stopping Simon? This is Simon Cowell.” But if I don’t, the show will just end with no conclusion. There will be no winner and I’ll get into a mountain of trouble with FOX. So that’s the most difficult element for me, definitely.
What is next for you after the finale? Where can we find you? Where can we keep up with you?
I’m going under the radar for about six weeks. I’m finishing on the 22nd, the finale. Then I’m going down to Mexico for a little bit with my family, just to hang out until about the 6th of January. Then I come back to L.A. and then I’m doing an American road trip from L.A. to New York for all of January, again with my family. So I’m just going to chill out until February. And then when February comes I’m going back to Britain to do a project with the BBC for a couple of months and then I’m back in L.A. late March. So I’m going to be off the radar for a little bit.
You’ve had your fair share of critics in this first season. How hard it has been for you to hear some of that criticism? And also, do you expect to be back for season two?
Hopefully I’ll be back for season two, but I always exercise caution in these matters. If I’m back, I’ll be overjoyed. If I’m not, I’ll do something else. It’s as simple as that. But I really do hope—I’ve loved doing the show. As I’ve said a few times before now, it’s a dream job. So yes, I’d be back in a heartbeat to do the second season. As for the criticisms, it can be expected. I certainly don’t like everybody on TV. I wouldn’t expect everybody to like me.
The only criticisms that I’ve found difficult is people calling me rude and stuff, which I’m not. I’m there to do a job. I’m there to ask certain questions. I’m there to move the show along, and if I can’t do that, then FOX and Fremantle and Simon will find somebody else who can. It can be harsh when people are calling me rude and not very nice, because I’m not rude and I am nice. So critique my hosting skills. Say, “I don’t like this guy’s hosting. He’s .” Say I’m not funny. Fair enough. I get that. That’s your prerogative, but it’s been a bit harsh, the rudeness thing.
I’m literally just doing my job trying to keep the show moving ... but I take it all with a pinch of salt. It’s a TV show at the end of the day. There is a lot at stake, but perspective is important in what I do.
What’s hardest for you every week? And what do you say to these people when they’re booted off the show? What’s the most important thing for you to convey to them?
That I’m going to miss them and that they’ve done a fantastic job and their lives are not over. I know in that moment it seems like that is the end of everything. But that’s not the truth and we know that. And I just want them to know that there are still plenty more opportunities out there for them because they’ve got so far. There are so many people that have entered the competition. When you get down to it, the final 30, or the final 20, the final 7—it’s a monumental achievement. And that’s what I want to convey in that moment. It’s like, "Look, this isn’t the end for you. It’s the end of The X Factor, but it isn’t the only TV show in the world. This isn’t the only opportunity you’ll have in the world," and I think that’s important in that moment. You know what I mean?
It’s hard and it’s hard saying goodbye. I’ve spent weeks and weeks and weeks with these people and that’s it. It’s over. I’m not going to see them on a regular basis again. I might not ever see them again. And that’s difficult because my changing room is on the same level as the contestants. I hang out with them all day. We chat. We catch up. It’s difficult when that just abruptly comes to an end. I just thank them for their company and, it’s just been great hanging out with them and good luck for the future. It’s tough. It really is. It’s a very unnatural situation to be in. But that’s TV for you.
So much was made of Simon’s reaction to Drew being booted. I was wondering if you had a comment on that?
One of annoyance. My initial comment when I was talking about it after the show was I just thought it was a bit childish on Simon’s part because people are invested in the show. They want to know what Simon Cowell thinks. I certainly do. When I’m asking those questions, or asking Simon for final word, I’m just as intrigued as everybody else. And when he refuses to do that it defeats the purpose. It defeats the object of the show. People are watching. They deserve to hear what he’s thinking.
I got a little bit annoyed on the show, as you could probably see from the dramatic hand waving. But yes, I was just annoyed because I want to know what that complicated man is thinking. It’s such a big situation. It’s a big moment for Drew and I wanted to hear his opinion. That’s why I got annoyed. I’m hoping he doesn’t do much of that in the future. I know he was utterly crushed because he just felt cheated. He felt like people were attacking him from all sides. The great Simon Cowell shut down in that moment. He just didn’t know what to do with himself. But, that’s the show. It’s dramatic. Emotions are all over the place. It’s an emotive arena to be in, so yes, it was shocking.
Now you seem to have to bear the brunt of everyone’s raw emotions on live TV. Lakoda Rayne wasn’t happy with what you said.
They didn’t give me the silent treatment after the show. I talked to them at length. I saw them last week actually. So no, there was no silent treatment. And when I said, “The dream is over,” I don’t mean singing in general. I meant The X Factor dream is over. It should have been a bit more emphatic there, but yes, it’s just one of those things.
I've got broad shoulders. I can take it. If people want to vent their frustrations and aim it at me, then so be it. I’ve been in the business for a long time now so I can kind of take it. I’m not saying it’s not hurtful. It can be when people are calling me rude and stuff because I’m not. I like to think of myself as a nice person. I’m just trying to get a job done and that’s why I’m there. But in regards to saying the right thing in that situation and preparing for it, you can’t prepare for it because there is no preparation. I don’t know who’s about to leave the show. I don’t know what’s about to come out of my mouth. It’s all happening in the moment, which is one of the wonderful aspects of the show. You just don’t know what’s going to happen. That’s what everybody wants from their job, is variety. That’s what we all want. So it’s exciting in that regard.
I have a general direction of where I want to go, I want to find out how they’re feeling. I want last words. I want to address the audience. I want Simon to comment on the act and where it went wrong. It’s a general area, but I really don’t know what’s going to happen one moment to the next. And sometimes, maybe the brain is thinking, “Right, we need to ask this quickly,” and it comes out, and it seems a little bit abrupt, but maybe that’s something I have to work on for the future. But, make no mistake, it’s a high pressure situation because I’m trying to get information from the contestants and the judges.
We also have producers screaming in my ear to move it along. “Steve, get them to watch their Put them in camera shot. We want to see them in the little picture at the bottom of the screen. Move them, Steve.”
I’m like, “Everybody’s hugging each other.”
“Move them out of the way. They can’t hug right now.”
And then we come out of that bit and I’ve got like one minute to get out of the show and I’m rushing things and getting names of other shows wrong. It’s tough. It’s very tough. But that's in no way a complaint. It’s exciting. I enjoy that. I enjoy the pressure.
On screen, it seems like the four judges are having quite the volatile relationship. What do you make of that and do you see any trace of that backstage
I definitely see traces of that backstage. It’s very entertaining to watch, but one of the aspects of the show which has surprised me is the lack of theatrics. It’s real. Simon was really [angry] at Nicole and Paula last week. He was livid. There are no theatrics. He wants to win. It’s Simon Cowell. He’s not really used to losing. He genuinely thought that Paula had used Drew as a pawn or something, which I know for a fact Paula would never do, but Simon just felt like he was being attacked from all angles. It surprised me how nasty it can get on occasions.
But these are very popular, very big—I don’t want to say arrogant, but let’s just say big—egos out there. None of them want to lose. Yes, that’s one of the things that surprised me about it. Just how real it is out there. It’s really happening. It’s not theatrics.
The X Factor airs on Wednesdays and Thursdays on Fox. The finale will air on Thursday, December 22 .