My relationship with The X Factor, is like a market stall trader's favourite tattoo, love and hate. It's a pretty good show but I really want it to be awesomer!
For at least five years, I’ve tuned in, every Saturday night from late August, loyally following the journey of thousands of wannabes desperate to be crowned that year’s soon-to-be-forgotten champ. In fairness, there’s a lot to love about the show as its league of fans will testify. The journeys, the stars that are born (or formed), the characters, the great judges such as Nicole ‘The Schertz’ Schertzinger and even the terrible one-offs like Alexandra “OK.com” Burke, the glamourous wardrobes, the pizazz of big Saturday night TV and of course the small matter of the competition, watching people compete to win the biggest amateur music competition in the country.
A couple of years ago, I started tweeting during the live shows which added another entertaining element, bantering with fellow viewers on the delight and disaster of these nervous contestants and their make-or-break Saturday night singing showdowns.
I realized, however, that my tweeting wasn’t just about making gags and entertaining myself and others, I was also bleeding off frustration that I was experiencing while watching the show.
You see, as much as there is a lot to love, there was also a lot that was starting to piss me off. Now, whenever you air these thoughts, invariably someone will always tell you, just stop watching it. Yes, good idea but it’s not that straight forward, because like I say, there’s a lot I love about it and once you buy into the journeys of the contestants, sometimes you don’t want to bail on them even though you have to sit through eight hours of saccharine Christmas adverts during every live show. I love the idea of X Factor it’s just that sometimes, it falls short of my expectations.
This year, something shifted for me. I was looking forward to this year’s competition. There was a new judging panel (apart from Louis who, at the time seemed to have the permanence of a tectonic plate) and there isn’t a lot of great event TV these days, programmes that it’s more fun to watch at the time of broadcast rather than on catch up or a DVD binge after the fact. (my God, imagine binge-watching X Factor like you watch Breaking Bad. You would most surely go insane).
So I tuned in to the first show. We met the new judges, there were some glossy VTs about what they’re looking for and everything was being teed up to pique our anticipation of this new crop of potential finalists then they wheeled in the first of the contestants… one of those ones that aren’t very good and all four judges start stifling laughter and unsubtly wiping away tears as said contestant pushes on trying to ignore this rotten display going on in front of them.
We’ve seen this time and time again on previous shows, in fact, there are so many left field contestants that the producers have managed to make whole spin-off shows based entirely on that. But it’s one thing to get people who are delusional about their ability or have been lazy in their preparation such as the adorable Bun and Cheese and people who are mentally unstable or worse unwell. This year, in these opening stages, I felt like X Factor crossed a major threshold on that front.
Because, let’s face it, we all know that logistically, not all auditionees can possibly perform in front of the panel. There simply wouldn’t be time. Instead, they’re vetted by a team of producers who decide who they’d like to send up to ‘the big room’, no doubt with show notes about who they are etc (so no need to pretend you recognise anyone from previous years, Judges, no one’s buying that any more OK).
So, given that the producers are sending up untalented singers, they are basically sending these people to the judges to be ridiculed. This process seemed at its most vulgar and transparent this year and for the first time, I really was at a loss as to what to tweet because it seemed apparent to me, if not the judges, that some of these people weren’t deserving of their ridicule but the phone number of a good health care professional.
Let’s face it, we’ve all had a bit of a giggle at the guy who thinks he’s Usher than
Commits homicide on Usher’s greatest hits but as I say, a line was crossed this year as we at home watched a panel of multimillionaires snicker behind their hands at people chasing their dreams not understanding what was really going on. Call it what you like but to me, that’s text book bullying – created for our entertainment.
Obviously not all performances were like that but there were enough for me to reconsider if I wanted to sit through 50,000 adverts occasionally broken up with this type of television.
I just wish X Factor was better… by which I guess I mean, more honourable. It’s a naïve and foolish desire but here’s what I would do with X Factor to make it more awesomer.
Be less greedy
I’m reliably informed there is now a show on Friday night. We don’t need three shows. What the hell wasn’t being covered in the Saturday and Sunday shows that now requires the attention of a Friday night audience? This has got to be about either advertising revenue or generating more telephone voting. Either way, it smacks of greed and is wholly unnecessary. I don’t mean to be a Quaker about this but I really think the X Factor Loyal could survive on one weekly show.
The show needs to up its relevance and that means, getting judges that have actual successful, recording careers or have managed artists who have. Thankfully, Louis is talking about stepping down because he has become an absolute parody of himself. If he does one more weird comparison in the “you remind me of a young so so” vein, I will ram my head through my flat screen. His claim to fame was making a cookie cutter boy band out of Irish yarn 100 years ago but this surely cannot qualifying him to comment on contemporary music, a man who put singing broom handle, Jonny Robinson through to the live shows, a man who, when he says “I like him” about act has effectively given them the kiss of death. It’s not a moment too soon for Louis to hang up his blue rinse kit and retire to the cheap seats.
Simon’s the boss and is the strange, high waist-banded Svengali holding the whole circus together but the other judges must be relevant recording artists or producers. Being married to a musician doesn’t qualify you to judge a music competition. Especially if said musician is better known for eating rodents, taking drugs and being the star of a reality show. Look at the US version of The Voice. Pharell, Levine, Stefani, all relevant current recording artists and producers.
They shouldn't be in a hurry to replace Louis but instead should pay a premium to entice high-end guest judges such as Adele, Kylie, Elton, (Rule of thumb, anyone you know from one name i.e. Prince, McCartney, Jagger.... Chico doesn't count).
Also, no more judges' performances. It’s a 'hopping across the counter' that devalues the show. You don’t want your teacher taking your exams next to you. If you were running the 100 meters, you wouldn’t want the starter crouched down at the starting block with you. Either you judge or you perform, you can’t have both.
Start caring about the contestants rather than treating them like fleshy props. Simply put, no more inviting mentally unwell people to audition simply for the “great TV” possibilities. There’s enough bad or delusional singers out there that you don’t have to pick on the unwell to satisfy your comedy quota for the show.
Sob Story ban
I’m susceptible to the odd sob story, I am but come on! As an audience we are actually capable of caring how someone does without seeing them blub their way through telling us that they’re doing all of this for their dead aunt who’s spirit watches over them whenever they sing in the shower or their dead/deaf/disabled/estranged mother/sister/daughter/son/ pet lama who would be so proud if only they weren't six feet under/ in Iraq/ London Zoo.
The contestants aren’t doing anything wrong, it’s just the show producers continually trying to manipulate our emotions so we give a shit. Well, if you just made it a competition, we would give a shit. We don't need sob stories to get behind Mo Farah.
If everyone’s crying all the time, all I’m thinking is, she’s a bit snotty now. But perhaps, so that people competing keep their shit together, we may need a crying ban. If you cry more than three times you're out of the competition. Now that would make the elimination show interesting. As contestants discover they’re in the bottom two but they’ve already had two cries, they’d be pinching their arms, biting their top lip to make sure not one single tear drop or snot blob leaves their bodies.
And while we’re on it, I would ban the use of certain phrases. Things like, “This is my last chance”, “I've given 100%” and “Just give me a chance”. In fact any reference to efforts exceeding 100% would lead to automatic disqualification. If you’ve given 110% you’ll be doing it back at the local Tesco Metro you work at, my warbling friend. You’rrrrre out. Further more, this isn't your last chance unless ever single open mic and live music venue in the world has been closed down and you're relying on the "Fairy Dust and Lucky Breaks" business model of success?
And finally, let’s really make this a true competition instead of what it currently is, a TV show about a competition which is very different. How? Well, I’d like to see Simon Cowell offer the winner a straight up five year deal, a two year deal to two runners up, and a one year deal to a wild card.
This means the contestants know they’re competing for longevity not just a chance to release a Christmas track of someone else’s choosing and a dodgy debut album before they’re unceremoniously booted out into the unforgiving world of corporate entertainment and PA’s in regional night clubs.
This saves the dignity of the acts so that, when the time comes, the papers can simply report that the contract ended rather than they we’re dropped or dumped like they did with Leona Lewis and Joe what’s his name, Matt thingy and James Who’s it.
Truth is, at its core, X Factor is a great show in concept, it’s a lot of fun to watch but I do so long for it to raise its integrity so that I can watch without feeling manipulated, cheated or deceive. Why can’t they trust that contestants competing for a great prize is enough to keep us engaged? I’m sure I’ll tune in as the competition progresses occasionally firing a snide remark into the Twittersphere but it’s all coming from love ;)