The X Factor has closed the book on its auditions and begun its live shows, which started with last night's Top 16 acts performing for judges Simon Cowell, L.A. Reid, Britney Spears, and Demi Lovato.

On Tuesday, Cowell talked to reporters about the reality singing competition's second season and his thoughts on some of the Top 16 acts and second-season changes -- including the addition of new judges Spears and Lovato and co-hosts Mario Lopez and Khloe Kardashian.

Below is the first half of Cowell's call. Check back with Reality TV World later for the second half.

I know a lot of people were skeptical about Britney as a judge. How have you found her as a judge and a mentor so far?

Simon Cowell: I'm glad we started with that question actually because I think she's been a lot better than everybody thought.  She's very engaged.  I was with her yesterday and she's very, very into her contestants.  She thinks she can win the competition.

I don't know what she's going to be like on a live show because we haven't done one yet and it's a very, very different setup than the auditions, because at this point, the judges are competing with each other because we're all mentoring our own acts.  So, I don't know how she's going to cope with that part, but I think she's excited about the shows.  She has been, I think, a very, very good judge.

I was just wondering not just for the "Groups" category, but just overall, who do you think are the strongest contestants going into the round of Top 16?

Simon Cowell: Well, I mean the groups are a million times better than last year and I've had a lot of success with groups over the years.  Some of them I could really, really see having a big future outside this competition, and that will be witnessed tomorrow.  I mean, one group in particular are just off the charts tomorrow night.

The rest of the competition -- obviously, Britney's category, which is the young "Teens," are really, really strong and they're going to be popular. They're going to get a lot of votes.

I think Demi's got a good category, but I'm not sure she's got a winner. Maybe one girl has a shot -- Jennel [Jennel Garcia] I think her name is -- who I really, really like.  She could be a little bit of a dark horse. And L.A., no chance whatsoever.

For your category specifically, I know you mentioned one group performs very well.  Are you surprised at the chemistry that's been fostered between the groups that were assembled by the judges?

Simon Cowell: Not really.  I mean, like I said, I've done this so many times.  I mean the last time, I did it with One Direction and my job is that you try and look for chemistry, encourage it when it happens.  But these girls have done really, really well and they've become really popular over the last few weeks.  So, I have a lot of confidence in them. 

I know the contestants have to stay in a house, and I was going to ask about some of the corky rules that I heard go on in the house.
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Simon Cowell: The rules.  You probably know more than I do.

We can play a true or false game.  No biting?

Simon Cowell: Biting.  That's a new rule.  I think there was a lot of biting last year. (Joking)  So, that was probably introduced this year.

How about coasters much be used with dark drinks?

Simon Cowell: It sounds a little petty, but okay.

No guests, no pool diving? 

Simon Cowell: No pool diving.  Well, they're all going to break that rule.

No using the fireplace?

Simon Cowell: No using the fireplace?  When you rent a house to people -- I've done that a number of times. You do get mad rules and a lot of them come from the owners.  I think the guesting, I mean that's fairly obvious what that means, is we want to keep everybody focused on the competition. 

Otherwise, I think they would run riot.  I think they would and they'd all be biting each other in the pool. I'd love to know who [made] that rule by the way.  I mean, that is hysterical.

Do you feel like when the contestants all stay in a house together they become closer as a group when they have to perform?

Simon Cowell: Yes and no.  I mean, I think they all end up getting on each other's nerves.  Some people will bond; the others will do the opposite, but I think it's easier for us to have them all in one place when we're going up to mentor them. 

There are facilities there and it kind of works as a rehearsal room, but they just got to get on with it.  If they don't like each other, concentrate on the competition like I said. And then after they leave the competition, they can bite each other as long as they want.

How do you feel Khloe is going to cope with her first set of days on the job?

Simon Cowell: Oh, Khloe.  Well, it's been a problem because we brought the show forward a days.  So, that's one less day of rehearsal.  So, she's going to have nerves of steel when she goes in there tomorrow, but my attitude is we could have prerecorded it, which I think would have made it boring. 

On live TV, things do go wrong and that's probably one of the reasons why we always go live.  I kind of like to see the unpredictable, and I quite like seeing people under pressure and just how they deal with it. 

You don't want robots.  You want human beings.  The meeting I had with her and Mario went very well.  They seem to have good chemistry.  She's really looking forward to doing this. [She] wants to prove a point and I think they're going to be fun together. 

Do you anticipate former contestants from last year like Josh Krajcik and Melanie Amaro to make appearances this year and perform on the show?

Simon Cowell: Yes, a couple of them will over the next few weeks, definitely.

When determining which of the Top 16 will get to move forward in the competition, will each of the judges have a vote like last season?

Simon Cowell: Totally.  I mean basically like we did with the sing-off at the end of the normal result shows, when it's one against one.  We'll all have a vote.  We probably won't all agree, but we have to agree on this.  Then whoever's left will go into next Wednesday's show to face the public vote for the first time.

Now, you mentioned that Khloe has a point to prove in being the co-host this season.  Can you explain?

Simon Cowell: Yes.  I saw quite a number of knocking articles saying, "What are you thinking?  Why should she be a host?"  I mean she's had a lot of positive press, but I think she's had her doubters.  I think she wants to prove anyone who doubted her that she's capable of doing the job.

I've got to tell you, and I don't know her well, but when she came over to my house the other day, I mean she really has got a fun personality.  I think she gets what her role is.  I think she's there to be a voice for the contestants and to have fun with it.  When you want to go off script, I mean, I always think that's more fun rather than someone just reading off a teleprompter or what we call an auto queue.

It seems like she will speak her mind.

Simon Cowell: You know what?  I think you're right and she certainly did the first time I met her.  But, I encourage that.  I like that.  They're there to have opinions, and I think it was lacking last season. 

The host [Steve Jones], he didn't seem to have an opinion on any of the performances, and I think it's important with hosts that they are allowed to pitch in as well as the judges.  If they disagree with the judges, they're entitled to say something.

I just wanted to get your comment on some of the critics who are saying that singing competition shows are becoming more about the judges than the contestants.  I don't know if you have a comment about that. 

Simon Cowell: Well, it shouldn't.  I mean these shows can only work on these live aspects if you've got good and engaging contestants.  If it has to rely on the judges, you've got a real problem.  I can remember the first year I did a show in America, I mean all I remember from that show was the fact that Kelly Clarkson won.

And that, to me, obviously was the most important part.  Maybe in the early parts of the show, on the auditions, the judges have a little bit more to do, but when it comes to live shows, it's 90% percent about the contestants. 

As a viewer, you've got to believe that you're watching someone who not only could win the competition, but potentially could be a star.  That's the exciting part about watching these live shows.  Like I said, I've been down to some of the rehearsals.  I think people are going to get blown away by the talent this year.  It's so much better than what we did last year.

Above is the first half of Cowell's call. Check back with Reality TV World later for the second half.
About The Author: Elizabeth Kwiatkowski
Elizabeth Kwiatkowski is Associate Editor of Reality TV World and has been covering the reality TV genre for more than a decade.