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As ‘X-Factor’ Competition Nears its Peak, ‘Excellence is Highly Expected’ Says Brian Friedman

            The “X-Factor’s” Brian Friedman dances skillfully around queries about the dramas going on behind the scenes on the Fox competition show that’s now in semi-finals, gearing up for its Dec. 20 grand finale.  For example, gossip maven Perez Hilton’s report that Britney Spears has been shunning fellow judge Demi Lovato as well as cohost Khloe Kardashian.

“It’s definitely a high tension work environment, that’s for sure,” he says, laughing.  “There’s never a dull day, I can give you that much.”

On top of his on-camera presence, Creative Director and Supervising Producer Friedman directs and stages every “X-Factor” performance, and heads up its team of choreographers.

It’s not unusual, he says, for dress rehearsals to generate “tons of notes for wardrobe changes, lighting changes, things being moved around” – and he’s in the middle of all the artists’ camps.

“There is a lot to take in, for sure, and that doesn’t even include the personalities that are around a show like this.  Everyone wants to win, so you see their attack mode come into play.  You’re dealing with egos.  It’s definitely a people position having to navigate through all the different personalities who are on the show.  It’s not easy at all times, but it helps me learn how to have patience,” he says.

Now there’s an understatement.

Regardless which of the “X-Factor” semi-finalists (pop princess-in-waiting Carly Rose Sonenclar, country star-to-be Tate Stevens, and boy and girl groups Emblem3 and Fifth Harmony, respectively) winds up nabbing the $5 million recording contract prize, they’ll be ready to move seamlessly into their professional career.  At least, that’s certainly the sense one gets from Friedman.

“The rehearsals we have with the contestants are straightforward and to the point.  We get them the information they need and they’ve just got to learn to work at a pace that is required when they’ve got changes at the last minute.  Sometimes they go on stage and they’re being redirected as they’re singing their song, where to go on stage,” says Friedman.  “Excellence is highly, highly expected.”

Friedman’s list of credits includes Spears’ videos and tours – as well as work with such names as Prince, Mya, Rihanna, *NSYNC, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce, Usher, Pink and Mariah Carey.  He says that “All the artists I worked with outside of the show gave me a bar for the contestants to have to achieve to.  I don’t expect anything less than the greatness that I’ve worked with.  Although they are amateurs and they’re brand new, they want to compete in the industry with the professionals, so we treat them as if they are at that caliber and at that level already.

“I know what it takes to put on awards show performances.  I know what it takes to build massive tours for the biggest artists.  So, that’s essentially what we’re doing for these contestants here every week – we’re giving them a taste of what the real world will be like and also giving them a challenge to see if they can work within it.”

On the other hand, Friedman points out that contestants are under pressures that are different from the pros.  “This is a competition, and every week there is so much more at stake, they are a little more stressed, I would say, than your average recording artist, who is in rehearsal for a long period of time, getting time to work their show out.  There is a high stress factor here.  Sometimes it’s difficult.  ”

Interestingly, Friedman — who has spent more time working on the British version of “X Factor” than the American one – finds at least one big difference between the two Simon Cowell shows.  “It feels like over-all, the U.K. in general, they seem to have more fun.”

As for himself, he says he handles the tension by going to the gym.  “I work my troubles away in the workout.”  And “I’ve been doing some fun stuff for me.  I’ve spent so much time working behind the scenes, I’ve been inspired to create more.”

That includes his just-launched clothing line, BSBF (for Brian Says Be Free). “My experience with casual wear has been that if you want really great, sporty casual wear that is moveable and danceable and something you could wear on an airplane and look great, you have to spend crazy amounts of money on designer stuff.  The average casual clothes don’t have the same style. And I want that style, I come from a fashion, style world.  So, if I can’t find them I’m going to make them and make them available for the public to buy because style should be available at any budget.”

Whatever the drama factor may be, he’s glad the show has brought him and Britney together again.  “It’s just a coincidence, but it’s great.  I started working with Britney in’99, and I was with her through many tours and choreographed her through many so many of her videos and awards shows and I’ve just been a friend of hers through the years.  This is sort of full circle to see her sitting up there at the judges’ table.  It’s really cool, it’s somewhere I don’t think either of us could have said 10 years ago, I bet we’re going to be sitting on a reality show, judging together.”