Some thoughts on The X Factor

Sometimes things that we love let us down. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to defend something, it just becomes impossible to defend.

I’m a massive fan of The X Factor. I’m writing my dissertation on the representation of ‘deviant femininity’ on the show, and have only missed a handful of episodes. There is, after all, literally nothing better than watching a dinner lady singing ‘It’s A Man’s World’.

Even this year, we got some great performances. The best performance this year was either 4th Impact’s ‘Work It Out’, Keira Weather’s ‘Return Of The Mack’ or Mason Noise’s ‘Sorry’.

But, for the most part, this series of The X Factor has ruined itself.

Things were looking really promising at the start of the series. The trailer promised something fun, with Cheryl poking fun at her fembot persona. The advert also allowed Simon to once again tell us how much he loves Squiddly and Diddly (this is the same man who sent his own act – The Conway Sisters – home ten years ago).

The auditions were fun too. They seemed to drag on for ages, but they did provide us with the closest thing we got to a ‘moment’ this series with 4th Impact (the audition has been viewed over 34 million times). The thing that was so good about 4th Impact was that it never felt like they had much of a push, so them doing well felt organic.

The problems with this series started with the ‘live’ judges houses. The originally planned ‘properly live’ judge’s houses could have worked quite well, in that there could have been actual tension. But equally, it could have been such a mess that it actually becomes quite entertaining.

The ‘studio reveal’ was just brutal though. I mean, it’s hard to imagine that Ben Clark or Ebru Ellis thought that they were shoe-ins given that neither got any real air-time. But it was difficult to watch the likes of Melody Stone and BEKLN Mile get sent home live, given that so much time had been devoted to their ‘competition’. Likewise with returnee Monica Michael, who literally had been pimped all the way along.

The audience heckling the judges was uncomfortable too. Live audiences shouldn’t be ‘a thing’ on the show until the live shows, and they were particularly awful this year. The audience will generally favour ‘the memorable characters’ (like Lauren Murray) and ‘the white bread’ (see: Max Stone, Louisa Johnson, Che Chesterman), but it doesn’t maketh the popstar. Perhaps, without a live audience, we may have got more underrated contestants like Josh Daniel or Havva Rebke.

The show then just de-railed throughout the live shows. For the first time ever, it felt like it had already been decided who was going home that week before the show had even aired. Week 1:¬†Bupsi was given a terrible song, which made no sense alongside her other performances, and was sent home. The week after, Anton had ‘All About That Bass’ thrust upon him (he managed to survive, but it was still shit). Again on Week 2, Monica Michael was given that¬†awful production on ‘Crazy In Love’ that felt so alien performed by her.

Fast-forward to the final and Reggie N Bollie performing their potential winner’s song ‘Forever Young’. The band had never before been given a ballad, but at the most important performance of the series, they were handed a song that is just very boring.

Perhaps it sounds a lot better on record (to be fair, Reggie N Bollie are probably the weakest act vocally in the Top 13). But it did just feel like an attempt to get a win for Louisa Johnson.

It’s obviously nothing new for the producers to try to set up a win for a contestant. The 2014 final is particularly memorable for the number of hints to vote for Fleur East (the ‘champion’ back-drop and Labrinth welcoming her to the stage in their duet, for example). But this year, the push towards Louisa winning was too blatant.

Take her performance of ‘Let It Go’, for example. It was very good, but it was exactly what she had been doing previously. Simon said that it was as much of a ‘moment’ as Fleur’s ‘Uptown Funk’ or Leona’s ‘Summertime’, when really, it wasn’t. It wasn’t the ‘water cooler’ moment that this series lacked, it was just Louisa doing a performance that could have been done by lots of other contestants just as well.

And Louisa probably would have won anyway, without the push. She was one of the most talented contestants this series, and has the most widespread appeal. But instead, it felt like we were forced to like her, and that’s when people will stop liking you. It happened to Emeli Sande during the Olympics (overexposure killed her momentum), and the same may happen to Louisa (her winner’s single could be the first to miss Number 1).

The show is coming back next year, and let’s hope it plays out a little more organically (or it’s just hidden a bit better). Cos you know, being a fan of The X Factor isn’t always that easy to defend, but it’d be nice if it was at least fun to watch.

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