The Random Thoughts of a Forty-Something. Films, Restaurants, Theatre, Concerts, World Events and (Mostly) Nice People.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
X-Factor X-Ploitation -- Lucie Jones & Jedward
Reality TV, it seems, has become the new gladitorial sport. Where else could you find naive, vulnerable and unpaid young people being verbally abused and psychologically tortured in a public arena by egotistical millionaires?
Simon Cowell, the current god of TV exploitation, has sacrificed yet another young hopeful on the altar of ratings. Cowell, lest we forget, has to date demonstrated no talent whatsoever. Fellow panellists Cheryl Cole and Dannii Minogue have been through the mill of pop careers, Louis Walsh has managed two highly successful boy bands. Cowell's talent merely extends to a ruthless, stalinist head for business in an endless pursuit of ratings and ever increasing mountains of cash.
Having mercilessly slated (with some justification) the embaressingly talent-free Dublin twins known as Jedward, he was given the opportunity to jettison them from the competition last weekend and save the talented Welsh singer Lucie Jones. Instead he made a lame comment about neither being able to win (how could he possibly know?) and sent the matter to the public vote, which Lucie lost. Despite his later assertion that he has no prior knowledge of who recieved the lowest number of votes, it is inconcievable that as X-Factor is effectively 'The Simon Cowell Show' (quote Pete Waterman), he would not have such figures to hand or at least to earpiece.
It is reported that the remaining contestants have been banned by Cowell from commenting on the decision. To add insult to injury he subsequently informed Chris Tarrant on live radio that the twins 'don't realise how bad they are.'
What is painfully clear is that shows such as the X-Factor are much less about finding talent and much more about big ratings, which in turn translate into advertising revenue and phone-in rake-offs. The number of consistent success stories from these shows is painfully small -- off the top of my head we're talking Will Young, Gareth Gates (to a point), Girls Aloud and Leona Lewis with the jury still out on acts such as JLS and Alexandra Burke.
What is also painfully clear is that prospective candidates need professional guidance, before, during and after each series. Lest we forget, most of the finalists are barely out of school and completely unskilled in the business of celebrity. They are abruptly catapulted from non-entity to facing the full glare of the public and press, only to be unceremoniously dumped back home after a few short weeks.
Whereas shows such as Maria & IDA at least featured contestants who had some experience in the music business, X-Factor and it's ilk merely pluck hopefuls from the street and exploit their raw talent and naivety. By the end of each series, the winner is awarded a contract, more or less guaranteed the Christmas number one and allowed to sink or swim largely through their own endeavours. The remainder leave unpaid and rejected, in most cases to perform in a few local shopping centres before returning to all too real reality.
Rather like it's bastard cousin Big Brother, X-Factor becomes ever more cruel to supposedly keep interest alive. The recent public disintegration of Susan Boyle on 'Britain's Got Talent' testifies to Cowell's callousness and absence of conscience. In Jedward he sees a talking point, a tabloid fodder to buoy ratings for a few weeks before being dumped into oblivion. An eventual winner will be feted for a few weeks then Cowell will turn his attention to his next expolitative charade.
Make no mistake, these shows are about big business and personal greed and absolutely nothing to do with finding new talent or enriching the musical tapestry. The format panders to the lowest common denominator -- bland karaoke song choices, long 'suspenseful' pauses before results announcements and often neanderthal mocking and interplay between judges. Cowell sits in judgement and says what he thinks of each performance, a task anyone could manage. If the show stood or fell on long-term results, Cowell would be mopping a floor near you as we speak. As it is, such shows are a success merely because people watch -- not because of any artistic merit (which as proved this week is roundly ignored by Cowell) or because it helps the UK music industry in any meaningful long-term way.
Sooner or later the X-Factor and it's ilk will run it's course. Cowell will make a particularly gross error of judgement, a 'reject' will throw themselves off a cliff or the public will wise up and stop wasting their phone calls on manipulative karaoke. Whichever -- the sooner the better. Cowell can retire to one of his villas and Saturday evenings can hopefully be home to less exploitative fare.
In the meantime, Cowell needs to publicly admit several uncomfortable truths -- the show is about HIM alone, he has no real interest in discovering talent, and his pathetic flip-flop posturings on particular acts are every bit as sad a charade as the supposed rivalry between the judges.
Perhaps then we can at least respect his honesty, if not his methods.