So after eight months that feel like eight minutes and to a record audience of 11.3 million viewers, The X Factor has made its return to our screens. Syco begun its autumnal stranglehold on ITV’s prime time this weekend and head honcho Si Co has nosedived straight into an online furore as viewers flock to forums to protest the use of auto-tune on the contestants’ voices.
The key bugbear seems to be that everyone’s favourite Saturday night show, a singing contest renowned for handing out fake signs, carefully staged arguments between the judges, and all-round artifice in the name of harmless entertainment has conned the nation. A programme long-labelled “The Fix Factor” that’s renowned for poor treatment of contestants, exploits legal loopholes to avoid paying appearance fees or expenses and that demands all participants don’t so much as look at other talent contests for fixed periods of time, is manipulating hopefuls. A show that charges 35p a vote, disables comments on its YouTube channel and quite obviously holds two of the three red tops in the palm of its hand is making a mockery out of the British public.
Sorry if I’m being slow here, but where’s the surprise? This weekend’s outrage seems to stem from two misconceptions, that A) this highly-orchestrated piece of light entertainment is a genuine talent show that would never dare pull the wool over our eyes and B) The X Factor is a great place for aspiring artists to start a career in music, so its unfair to manipulate them by singling out favourites and propelling them forward.
As for the first complaint, Simon Cowell brazenly admitted his modus operandi three years ago when he was brought to task over staging shots. “If things carry on the way they are” he smirked over his waistband in 2007, “the next time you show Jaws there’s going to be Steven Spielberg at the top of the show saying, ‘by the way the shark is made of rubber’.”
In other words: it’s all fake, deal with it. We’re not hearing their real voices, but then we’re not shown the real person at all in the first place. We’re gawking at a sexed-up, freakier, cuter or more bizarre exaggeration of whatever traits they first displayed at the early producer auditions. And those that do get through are moulded further and further from their original persona until they fit the schmaltzy automaton that’ll be signing CDs in HMV come December 20th.
And as for B, the show’s in its seventh season. 18 million people have auditioned. 800,000 hours of airtime have seen double Germany’s GDP spent on votes for the country’s best singers. And they’ve come up with three genuinely successful acts with some semblance of longevity: Leona Lewis, JLS and Alexandra Burke. Those figures are obviously BS but you get the point. You’d have better odds in the North Korean lottery. Surely every little bit of studio trickery helps?
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There’s speculation that this “revelation” will spell the beginning of the end for The X Factor. It won’t. After this blows over (and the Facebook groups on the issue aren’t exactly bursting with fans at the moment) it will be business as usual. Us clowns taking place in the whole circus at home will be back in our place, on the sofa, soon enough.