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Simon Says! X Factor USA panel flounder as Cowell steals the show while Nicole faces strong criticism

By Amelia Proud

Struggling: Nicole Scherzinger failed to add anything to tonight's proceedings, L.A wasn't much better

Forget the cherubic faces made rictus with hope as they pleaded for a pass into the next round, the only competition that mattered on tonight's X Factor was taking place behind the judges' desk.

But this was no straightforward fight as insults gave way to mellifluous attempts to disarm with flattery as Paula Abdul, L.A Reid and Nicole Scherzinger tried to outwit Simon with double-edged remarks.

They failed, and as they wandered behind the 51-year-old tonight like wobbly ducklings, many exchanges fell flat with only Simon offering any insight on the acts parading before them.

Out on a limb: Simon couldn't find a worthy sparring partner tonight as his fellow judges failed to ignite

If the steel-trap mind behind this global phenomenon was intending to prove that he - more than anything else - is still the X in the Factor, he certainly succeeded.

When Simon slammed one song choice as putting a 'racing driver inside a tractor,' he could've been referring to his quick wit incongruously darting from the lumbering panel.

L.A fell prey to Simon's smiling assassin routine with clumsy inevitably while Paula's predictable tears were so far away from moving they failed to register on the richter scale.

Meanwhile Welsh host Steve Jones's decision to dilute his accent with an American twang seems to have washed away his personality along with the hearty brogue.

Always looking for an ally: Nicole mirrored Simon and Nicole, unsure of what kind of judge she wants to be

Here they come: Nicole looked nervous and didn't smile as she walked out while Paula came out fighting

He managed to be instantly forgettable despite enunciating his vowels so violently it's a wonder his teeth didn't shatter.

But nobody struggled more than Pussycat Doll Scherzinger, 33 , as she stumbled over her opening appraisal of 13-year-old Astro and was booed by the audience for criticising L.A before the show was even half an hour old.

Like a mistress sitting uncomfortably in the departed wife's chair, the acrid miasma left by Cheryl Cole's departure seems to hang over the beauty.

It doesn't help that she has little of her fleeting predecessor's ease and natural charm, and that she entered the stage in a glamorous Cole dress then copied Simon's opening flourish, just like Cheryl.

Seemingly aware that she might struggle with Simon and L.A, Scherzinger's main tactic on the panel was to try and form an alliance with Paula.

Tears before bedtime: You can guarantee there will be with Paula, and it's getting a bit tired now

Sisters are doing it for themselves: Nicole tried to forge an alliance with Paula but it wasn't to be

The younger woman, who is nursing the wounds from her recent split with F1 ace Lewis Hamilton, 26 , almost embarrassed herself as she gushed over 49-year-old Paula's group acts then mentioned that she had the 80s' pop sensation's poster on her wall when she was a child.

But if Nicole thought appealing to Paula's sense of female solidarity would be her saving grace, she was wrong as Paula criticised her opening act straight out of the traps.

If the spectre of Cheryl and death by a thousand paper cuts and friendly smiles were ever to flash through the beleaguered panelist's mind, it would probably have been at that moment.

Paula asked Nicole's act Dexter why the lyrics to Katy Perry's I Kissed A Girl weren't changed, and it fell to Simon Cowell to protect the latest addition to the panel

Nicole should've noticed that Paula came out fighting.

The invisible man: Steve Jones is ignored by Tia and Simone, his presence barely perceptible on the show

So proud: Whoever you are, Nicole will be proud of you

Knowing that she couldn't compete with Scherzinger's height, the diminutive singer donned thigh high boots that looked tellingly like armour.

The music veteran looked like an MTV Boudicca as she strode onto the stage while Nicole shuffled nervously in Cheryl's silhouette of diaphanous black asymmetric over taut beige column, mirroring Simon's every move.

Both L.A and Simon criticised Nicole's mentoring abilities, and her attempts to rebuff fell limp while she gushed about contestants looking like 'yummy pumpkins.'

She told almost each contestant nothing more useful or witty than she was 'so proud' of them.

A frustrated Simon finally snapped when Nicole failed to offer any useful dialogue regarding a song choice for single mother Stacy Francis, which he felt was inappropriate.

Your country needs you... to copy Simon: L.A tried to equal Cowell's wit

Desperation: But Nicole resorted to repeating one phrase verbatim

'What do you mean it gave her wings, Nicole?' he spluttered, before being bombarded with nonsensical justifications before the floundering judge spluttered: 'She just soared.'

Her confidence never recovered and Nicole soon resorted to copying Simon verbatim, even repeating a reluctant compliment he paid to Paula earlier in the show with an bludgeoning lack of comprehension.

In the end, without a worthy combatant with which to spar, the sardonic play-maker lacked conviction himself when he branded Paula and Nicole 'spiteful cats' for their comments about Tia Tolliver.

His resignation was justified as on tonight's evidence, this pair are more likely to stroke the fur than make it fly.

Kiss of life: Even Paula and Simon's chemistry has finally combusted

Nobody to play with: Even Simon lacked conviction as the banter failed to flow



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