Why "X Factor" Host Steve Jones Is Dreadful

When promoting his upcoming singing competition “The X Factor” earlier this year, Simon Cowell boldly proclaimed that anything less than 20 million viewers per week would be a failure.

The most recent episode had just over nine million viewers. His show is a flop.

On paper, there’s not much difference between “American Idol” and “The X Factor.” Both shows have singing contestants with compelling back stories, both have had Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul as judges, and both have top-notch production.

There are two main differences. First, the chemistry among the judging panel is off – at times, the panelists appear to genuinely dislike one another. But more importantly, host Steve Jones is profoundly awful – think Rick Dees and Chevy Chase on late night bad.

It would be unfair to pin the show’s underwhelming performance solely on Steve Jones’s dreadful performance. But no other single factor is contributing as much to the show being virtually unwatchable.

The below clip doesn’t do justice to some of his worst moments (the show only makes a limited number of clips available), but it’s helpful if you haven’t seen him in action (Video is no longer available):

Here are at least three reasons Steve Jones is a miserable host:

1. He’s Not Having Any Fun: The judges regularly bicker with one another and rip on contestants  mercilessly. That’s bound to make the audience uncomfortable. But instead of diffusing the tension with a light and well-timed quip, Jones adds to the stress by looking anxious and uncomfortable. As a result, he makes the audience even more uncomfortable.

Mr. Jones began his career as a model. He knows how to smile, but if you’ve seen the show, you’d never believe it. He should look to his counterpart, American Idol’s Ryan Seacrest, who perfectly demonstrates the adage, “Never let them see you sweat.”

2. He’s Oddly Formal: It’s a singing competition, dude, not the first meeting with your future father-in-law. It’s hard to explain, for example, why Steve Jones calls the male contestants “sir.” There’s something odd about calling a 15-year-old hip hop artist named Astro “sir.” Charlie Rose is less formal when he interviews the Secretary of State.

3. He’s Not Connecting With The Contestants, The Judges, or The Audience: Mr. Jones has made virtually no on-air connection with anyone. When he interviews contestants who have just received bad reviews from the judges, for example, he’ll detachedly ask, “How do you feel?” before rushing them off stage with a hurried, “off you go.” It looks as if he’s so busy trying to keep track of all of the moving parts around him, that he’s unable to ever be fully in the moment and actually engage.

I rarely write about entertainment on this blog, and my strong critique of Mr. Jones may seem disproportionate to his crime as a lackluster host. But as a professional communicator, I can’t understand why Simon Cowell would have hired someone so clearly wrong for the job.

Mr. Cowell has only himself to blame for the show’s underperformance. If he wants to save his show for season two, he should start by replacing the host. I’d be glad to provide his replacement with some media training.

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