ONE-MINUTE RECAP: Simon Cowell's "The X Factor"

x factor

After a sprawling, ominous publicity campaign that promised the return of Simon Cowell meanness, Fox finally unveiled singing competition “The X Factor” last night.

Twelve million people watched (though “Modern Family” bested the show overall, and Cowell’s not used to getting beat).

So what was it that kept viewers tuned in — and able to clearly discern the show from “American Idol”?

After all that fuss, Cheryl Cole -- the UK pop star who was signed as a judge, then kicked off for her accent and U.S. obscurity -- was front and centre in the pilot.

Cowell wasted no time setting up a panel bickering partner. He and record exec L.A. Reid sparred conspicuously over several candidates.

Auditions take place in front of a packed house rather than a lone panel -- so the crowd's reaction often seems to sway the judges' opinions.

Nicole Scherzinger showed up -- and Cole disappeared -- halfway through the two-hour premiere. Cole must have been fired in the middle of auditions.

And despite all the big bad campaigning, Cowell somehow seems nicer on this show. He's still the king of eyerolls, but this is his show -- and he's just as responsible for the necessary feel-good moments as he is the schadenfreude.

Now check out the stars of parental nepotism.

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