September 13th, 2012
11:01 AM ET
Save for a few standout performances (which you can view throughout this post) much of the talent on "The X Factor's" stage wasn't that remarkable.
But the talent at the judges' table? They gave us something to watch for.
"Spears was not that innocent, her low-cut red dress and cleavage-baring pink number aside," said USA Today. "After giving a nod of approval to 21-year-old Paige Thomas, she started denying contestants with grimaces and a dry delivery."
Oh, but she did, and we loved every minute. Behold the (edited) wonder:
MTV picked up on that as well, noting that Spears gave "a gallery of classic horrified/elated faces" while Demi Lovato offered viewers a "spoonful of sugar to Spears' sometimes acid edge."
Lest we forget, there were two other judges at the table, returning from season 1: Simon Cowell and L.A. Reid.
Entertainment Weekly was relieved that Reid knows how to keep his comments on the professional side, critiquing that the incessant camera cuts to an annoyingly cocky and sneering contestant, Kaci Newton, and the "hokey narratives" of some added up to the kind of "reality-TV drama that almost makes one appreciate the storytelling power of scripted junk like 'NCIS.'"
Cowell didn't help as he offered "canned-sounding put-downs," the sort that makes " 'X Factor,' like 'American Idol,' so dreary to watch. Thank goodness Reid keeps his comments mostly on-point and unexaggerated."
But maybe Cowell was just allowing Spears to "dominate the two hours," as People magazine suggests in its review. (Cowell did seem pleased as punch at Spears' unimpressed facial expressions.)
Her one dramatic moment, as compared to Lovato's connection with the emotional, bullied contestant Jillian Jensen toward the end ....
.... came when she met back up with Don Philip, a singer whom Spears recorded a duet with 10 years ago:
"This whole thing or may not have been a genuine surprise to her," People magazine mused, saying that "if it was, I don't know why the producers don't just come out with a frying pan and fling hot bacon grease at her – but her reactions were dignified and compassionate, even as Don went off sobbing."
Now the question is how these seeming roles - Demi as the sweet, young one; Britney as the megastar bringing entertainment with each displeased glance; Simon as the awkward dad-figure; and L.A. Reid as the one person who remembers that this is a singing competition to find a bankable star - will play out for the rest of the season. Will you stick around to find out?
While you mull that over, check out our other two favorite performances of the night:
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