Lanford Beard
December 20, 2011 AT 06:55 PM EST

As the first season of The X Factor enters the homestretch, it’s time to take stock of the reality newbie. What did the show do right, and where could it improve next season? What lessons can it learn from returning titan American Idol — still strong after 10 seasons and countless judge switch-ups? And where does sophomore series The Voice (returning Feb. 5) figure into the equation? We offer a few thoughts and suggestions below.

To be sure, The X Factor had a successful first season — not the wildly, burn-the-competition-to-the-ground success creator Simon Cowell predicted last summer, but still. During a press conference yesterday, Cowell even admitted he’d been too “cocky.” Indeed, X Factor has seen a softer, gentler side of Cowell in many respects. Certainly, he’s going to go to bat for his own contestants, but where’s the Sardonic Simon we knew and loved on Idol? Bring that guy back!

Get rid of Nicole Scherzinger. Forgetting the fact that she’s breathtakingly gorgeous, she was the one judge who had the benefit of real-life experience as a reality-competitor-turned-legitimate artist. And yet? She was consistently the dullest, least helpful judge on the panel. Paula fills the squishy, sweet nonsense-talkin’ judge role. We don’t need two. (Just ask one-season-wonder Ellen DeGeneres.)

Give the groups to Cowell. Perhaps he was being cheeky when he offloaded the groups onto fellow mentor Paula Abdul. I personally think she (no stranger to big production numbers) did the best with what she had. Come season 2, the tart-tongued Brit needs to put his money where his mouth is. At the press conference, he predicted, “Within two years, a group will win this show.” If he’s that confident, then he should take on the groups and lead them to victory.

Not every performance has to be staged within an inch of its life. American Idol has long understood this. Certainly, part of the fun of X Factor comes from its over-the-top spectacle, particularly when it comes to the groups. No offense to choreographer Brian Friedman, who is generally executing the mentor’s vision, but not every number needs a coterie of dancers writhing around in lingerie. Sometimes, it’s nice to simply hear contestants showcase the very thing that landed them in the competition in the first place — their voices.

Mash-ups and key changes can work, but let’s not go crazy. Specifically, don’t change the lyrics to classics (and by “classics,” I obviously mean “Walking on Sunshine”).

Make the contestants work together. Here’s where X Factor can take a cue from The Voice. If each mentor had a chance to arrange his or her contestants as they wished — in duets, trios, etc. — it would enliven the age-old one singer/one performance format. Sure, it would be a bit of a juggling act with the groups, but that’s why the mentors are paid the big bucks.

Let America pick the lifesaver song. The mentors were so happy with the viewers’ choices last week, why not make it a regular feature? Viewers could pick a song for each contestant the week before, which would allow contestants to display their ability to learn quickly while also satisfying the voters, who are usually disempowered by X Factor‘s voting system.

Speaking of which, Cowell confirmed that the voting scheme is one that definitely won’t change for season 2. Of this year’s gut-wrenching Rachel Crow ouster, Simon said at the presser that shocker was the fault of the judges (paging Scherzinger!). “If that week had worked in the way I believe the process should work, the judges could have actually saved [Rachel],” he said, adding, “I’m not going to change the system, I’m just going to suggest that we do a better job in the future.”

As for The X Factor‘s two-night finale, Cowell teased a surprise “superstar artist” will duet with finalists Melanie Amaro, Josh Krajcik, and Chris Rene on the Wednesday night show, and Thursday will see Justin Bieber, Pitbull, and Ne-Yo take the stage.

What do you think, PopWatchers? What do you think X Factor could switch up next season to make it better? Do you think Idol (premiering Jan. 18) will be as unbreakable as ever this season? Will you tune in for season 2 of The Voice?

Read more:

‘The X Factor’ judges and finalists on the Top 3’s favorite performances, and why you shouldn’t count out the groups

EW Recaps: The X Factor

EW Hub: The X Factor

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