The X Factor Invective

“Be yourself; everybody else is already taken.”

Oscar Wilde

So The X Factor has returned to our screens this summer, much to my delight. Not. To all those of you who think The X Factor is God’s gift to television: go read Ben Elton’s Chart Throb. Please. It will open your eyes.

I’m not saying that all of it is necessarily strictly true, but once you start thinking about it it is completely plausible. And once you start watching so-called “talent” shows with Chart Throb in mind, you start to think cynically about what you’re watching. You don’t take it at face value.

For example: the girl on The X Factor on Saturday who was dressed as Pink. She did indeed sing “like a lawnmower”, as the kind people on Yahoo put it. In fact, she sang Pink like a lawnmower. And as the judges, one by one, gave their inevitable responses of “Go away, you’re a terrible singer”, each one saying something along the lines of “You’re too much like Pink; go and “find yourself””, whatever that means, you could see the look of mounting horror and disbelief on her face. And then came the outburst: “You told me to sing a Pink song. You told me.”

My initial reaction was probably similar to most people’s: what a nutter. They said no such thing! But then the cynical, Chart Throb voice in my head said: Really? And how do you know what went on behind the scenes? The truth of the matter is that no-one reacts like that unless a) they’re mental or b) they have good reason. Pink Girl did not seem mental. Therefore, I’m going with b). I think someone, somewhere in the auditions process (not necessarily the judges) did tell her to sing a Pink song, probably knowing full well that it would be terrible. Because what’s more entertaining than failure? They probably weren’t expecting her to kick off like that. But she did, and hey, let’s put it on telly, because what’s more entertaining than a nutter? And now the whole country thinks she’s psychotic, and her life is, if not ruined, certainly going to be miserable for the next few months.

All in the name of entertainment.

I also think something else happened like this last year. It may have been on Britain’s Got Talent. I don’t remember exactly who it was, but I do remember someone, on one of the live shows, saying something along the lines of “Go to hell, it’s all a set up” on being kicked out. Actually, that may have been exaggerated. But it was something along those lines.

Now, the popular response to all this – well, the one I’ve heard most when explaining my views – is “They make dreams come true.” Well, let’s examine that, shall we?

According to Wikipedia, about 100,000 people “audition” for the show each year. Basic maths will tell you that this is impossible if you’re thinking about the stage auditions. Let’s say five minutes per person – two minutes for singing, two minutes for cutting comments from the judges, one minute for going offstage. That’s just twelve people per hour – if everything goes like clockwork, which is highly unlikely in the theatre. Say the judges sit through eight hours a day. (Lucky them.) 12 times 8 is…(let me just work it out on my fingers!)…96! 96 people on a good day, at a stretch. That sounds like a lot. But 96 people a day is only 672 people a week, even if you assume 7 days a week. 100,000 divided by 672 is a little under 149 weeks.

Yep. Auditioning 100,000 people would take almost two years, even if you worked solidly 365 days a year.

So basic common sense, given that there is a new series of The X Factor every year, tells us that the auditions process has got to be bogus. (If you want to find out how it’s really done, go read Chart Throb.)

I reckon the judges audition maybe 200 people at the very most. Out of those 200 people, only sixteen go through to the live shows. Many of the others have had their dreams shattered by cruel and unnecessary comments. Even those sixteen will be manipulated by the show’s producers to make good television. And how many of those sixteen actually become properly famous? The show has been running since 2004, so there have been 112 live finalists. Off the top of my head, the only really famous one I can think of is Leona Lewis. Most of the others have become C-list celebrities – Olly Murs, Stacey Solomon – or have simply disappeared. When was the last time you heard of Same Difference or Eoghan Quigg? Their dreams haven’t come true. They’ve just vanished back into murky obscurity.

So. X Factor lies to an astonishingly vast number of people. It manipulates and humiliates its contestants. And it is not a dream factory.

If you have been converted: go forth and multiply. Tell your friends what a huge con they’ve been drawn into. Maybe then Simon Cowell will go and annoy someone else.

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