David Poore

News and Comment: simply a place for me to share a few thoughts.

The X Factor: What Are We Actually Watching ?

   Time for a soapbox moment…

(Oct 17th 2011)

I know I’m going over well trodden ground here but The X Factor and probably other shows in its genre are in my opinion seriously misleading – by promising us one thing but delivering something very different.  At its inception the producers no doubt thought this show would be the definitive answer to modern day pop chart content – give the chart lovers a chance to initiate the careers of the most popular acts on stage. In theory this concept seems a very democratic selection process, and along the way there just might be an entertaining show for the rest of us whilst acts are routinely eliminated. The concept of a TV talent show of course dates back years, so this is not a new idea but The X Factor is simply the current incarnation.

As it purports to be a music talent contest I showed a bit more interest and in the early days like everyone else I naively fell for the pretense of a showcase for raw and undiscovered vocal talent. The producers of the show must have realized almost immediately (and tried with increasingly unsubtle attempts to disguise the fact) that the success of the show isn’t actually to do with musical talent or even future potential, but quite simply about the show itself and what passes for entertainment during the elimination process, the eventual winner is purely a bi-product of this.


It’s plain to see that Simon Cowell’s company(s) make a fortune from single and album sales in the charts these days but this is almost despite the shows from which these acts originate.  The most obvious reason for the popularity of The X Factor is the extremes of the contestants – either through having a touching back story, being outrageously affected, having looks that are at either end of the attraction scale, or simply being suitably controversial. Then again even these traits are mostly formulated, developed and thoroughly prepared by the production team. This extends to a certain degree to other similar shows such as Britain’s Got Talent, where perhaps coincidentally the most talented act in 2009 (and 2010) did actually win the competition, despite all the hype-a-baloo surrounding Susan Boyle.


You only have to read Ben Elton’s 2006 novel ‘Chart Throb’ to see that The X Factor has long been a parody of itself and its aspirations. Take this season, anyone with even half a musical ear could tell that Amelia Lily was without a doubt the shining light of the contest, not least for her incredible vocal control and range, her versatility, her stage presence, her looks and of course her age (16).  Not to notice these things you would have to be incredibly ignorant or simply a little deaf or blind. She may have had one of her weaker performances the night before she was chosen to leave the series but that was entirely down to the inappropriate song choice she was given.



For a decision like that to be based purely on one performance is so obviously complete nonsense when you consider what she’d already achieved on the show, what she could achieve in the recording studio and on the big stage.  Judging by the press and comments everywhere it sounds as though everyone realized the ‘mistake’ that was made by an extremely unfair voting twist (this would have been so easily avoided had the judges been able to vote off one contestant from ANY category not just their own).  I believe the truth of it is that Amelia was quite simply too professional a performer and lacked the vulnerability needed for there to be enough of a story surrounding her or an ‘entertaining’ angle for the producers to exploit.  It might have benefited her not to be associated at all with the show and its obvious baggage.  I think she’ll do alright without it somehow, if nothing else being on the show at least got her into the public eye.  If I understand the machine behind this show they’ve probably set the wheels in motion for her career anyway but see no point in her unnecessary presence any further in the series.


The result of this single eviction from the show seems to me to confirm the actual raison d’etre of The X Factor, and it remains to be seen what twists and turns the producers conjure up across the series with the remaining contestants to try to appeal to the viewers’ increasing desire for controversy.  I don’t blame the other performers for any of this they are all pawns for the producers in the end, as of course are the judges who obviously have little if anything to do with the eviction process even up to the so called public voting stage.  You don’t actually need to be that cynical to see the ill-disguised manipulation that goes on in this show, from the selective interviewing to the embarrassingly contrived editing throughout the performances.


Maybe I’m still being naive but I’m sure this extreme manipulation never existed in the golden days of Opportunity Knocks in the 70’s but if it did at least there was some subtlety and tact involved.  These days there seems to be no time or inclination for dignity and so the ‘car-crash TV’ culture will endure for as long as the producers of these shows continue to shock and gratify the gullible viewing majority who will lap it up like good doggies and wag their tails for more.

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