If there’s one hashtag that strikes fear in your average Twitter user in the run up to Christmas, then it’s surprisingly nothing Christmas related. The countdown to the festive season over the last ten years has been marked by the new series of UK talent show X Factor. From October through to December the TV of countless homes across the UK is taken over by whatever new judging line up music powerhouse Simon Cowell has up his sleeve, the final 12 acts. Or final 20. Or 57 (I lose count on exactly how this goes down nowadays).
When the ITV talent show idea first hit our TV screens back in the early noughties with Popstars and Pete Waterman, Simon Cowell and Mr Lythgoe himself, the whole idea was fresh. It seemed much more organic and looking back at old YouTube footage of the likes of Popstars the Rivals and Pop Idol, the caliber of auditionees was to some degree higher and much more raw. Imagine a young Nicola Roberts, Cheryl Cole or Will Young auditioning and compare it to the bells and whistles of a 2014 audition process. I hate to use a saying of a generation but back then the producers were “keeping it real” as opposed to the array of circus freaks and 5 minutes of fame hungry wannabes that queue for hours in a bid to get in front of the infamous judging panel.
Ten years on the twists and turns of a standard series have become as exciting and enthralling as watching a horror film for 100th time. I found myself being able to predict outcomes for “shock” situations from audition stages and more often that not would be bang on the money. Remember how the first series or so of Big Brother were marginally interesting and would spark debate until it spiralled into mind numbing and cringeworthy TV? That’s the route X Factor has taken. Rather than burn out over fading away, X Factor has refused to bow out. With interest in interest in the series wavering due to shows such as Strictly, the producers appear to have adopted a “mutton dressed as lamb” approach to the aesthetic of the show and have instead thrown bigger and “better” makeovers at the contestants, bigger and more flamboyant stage set ups and more choreography (even if the contestant has the musical rhythm of a stamp). They’ve taken to using the primetime slot on Sunday evenings to secure big names from the music industry to act as weekly “mentors” inline with their (mostly ridiculous) weekly themes.
I, the one time X Factor fanatic who would TiVO episodes or cancel nights out with friends in favour of a night on the sofa with Cowell, (the then) Cheryl Cole, Walsh & co have watched appx 1.5 hours of the latest series and have even contemplated muting the hashtag on Twitter to stop myself from bubbling over with deja vu rage.
So what exactly is it about this once loved TV show that has my gears in a grind and has left my dubbing it the snore factor rather than The X Factor?
1. The Judges.
The X Factor has changed their judging panel line up more times than the Sugababes and each year there ends up being leaks of tensions between the judges in the press (remember Danni Minogue/Sharon Osborne-gate), catty comments amongst the panel post performance and blow ups which threaten to make the show more about the judges than the contestant. How many times has poor Dermot had to practically stamp his feet or disconnect the judges microphones in order to get a word in edgeways/continue on to the next contestant or cut to an adbreak?
2. Sob Stories.
“I work as a bin man” / “my nan died and her dying wish was for me to be a singer” / “I live in a box outside of a tube station” /”I have a condition where everything I touch turns to Skittles”
…all very touching stories, but do any of them have any actual affect on a persons talent? Sadly not. If I turned up at a job interview and proceeded to tell my interviewer about my financial circumstances, the health history of me nan or y’know, cried before the interview even began I could count my chickens that a rejection letter would be in the post to me before I’d even left the building. X Factor seems to encourage such sob stories with auditionees blubbering and wiping their eyes before they’ve even sang a note. Does it make me feel for them? Yes, of course. But the harsh fact of life is that everybody has experienced loss or pain at some point and it shouldn’t be used to gain a sympathy vote from the soft hearted british. Suck it up, have some self respect and try and get through to the next round based on your talent. If you have any.
3. Joke Acts.
Picture the scene: An empty audition room. In walks what can only be described as a comedy act only they take themselves very seriously. Simon Cowell sits there, eyes aghast, as the auditionee begins to crucify a popular song whilst no doubt attempting to dance/suffering from a painful bout of cyctitis . They’re annoying, they can’t hold a note to save their life BUT surprisingly, after a judging panel kerfuffle (where Cowell manages to maintain his integrity by saying “no” and storming off set) the auditionee makes it through the audition process. And bootcamp. And judges houses. And straight through to the live shows where each performance is met by boos, hate campaigns on Twitter and countless column inches. They pull in viewers though, they get the show talked about and it sparks some kind of debate among the couch surfers so who cares about the fact that they’re meant to be looking for talent, not a pantomime villain?
If at first you can’t find a decent band for the “groups” section, simply audition solo performers and make one yourself, because that is what seems to be the trend in recent years. It started with One Direction then there was Union J, then Little Mix and now the un-named 8 piece band boyband of 2014 “face”. Surely this build-a-band effect is just manufactured pop music masquerading as a talent show? This ain’t Popstars Simon Cowell. It’s the X Factor.
It’s not like this is a new thing tho, manufactured bands have been put together by the likes of Cowell and Louis Walsh since (what seems like) the dawn of time. The Spice Girls, Take That, Boyzone, Atomic Kitten – all put together, styled and groomed as a band by a clever management team. But you’d think it would be disallowed, that those handpicked by musical maestros and pushed into a band with people they’ve met once or twice while doing vocal warm ups in the bogs would have an unfair advantage on those who auditioned organically and surely they should be given the chance and the others sent packing with a copy of The Stage in their back pockets?
5. Themed Weeks.
You’d have thought after the “favourite” messed up spectacularly during Abba Week or Elvis Week or S Club 7 week that the producers would have cottoned on that this “themed week” nonsense was actually, erm, nonsense. In fact, they’re not viable at all due to the fact that each act is bound to have their own musical niche and trying to force a Celine Dione warbler to perform Toxic for Britney Spears week is like trying to fit a square into circle. How about getting rid of the themed weeks altogether and simply have a show layout where the contestants take to the stage every week and sing a song that they actually know and feel comfortable singing? Imagine trying to make Adele bust out the Beyonce or ask the likes of John Mayer to cover the Spice Girls – no matter how talented an artists they’re going to have zones where they’re completely out of their comfort, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t talented.
Are you an avid X Factor viewing or an you a one time lover, and longtime avoider like me?
Is it rivaling Marmite and being the TV show you love to hate?