Last year, I blogged quite a bit about the X-Factor (the UK version of American Idol) and Big Brother. I find reality TV fascinating – in equal measure compelling and repulsive. There is far, far too much of it. I never watch all those shows about people buying houses abroad or eating insects in fake jungles or swapping partners or being sworn at and humiliated in restaurant kitchens or hiring self-proclaimed ‘experts’ to bring their rebellious children into line etc. But the X-Factor’s brazen fast-track-to-fame mentality and Big Brother’s voyeuristic control experiments are of a different quality – often trashy but nonetheless interesting to watch.
And of course I write a lot about that place (whatever it is) that lies between the real and the unreal, the world as it is and the imagination, the living and the dead, one’s self-perception and how one is perceived by others – and reality TV occupies that place in a unique way. It gives me plenty of material, no doubt about that. Yes, I know, my attitude is all wrong. I should either love this show for what it is or switch off and read some criminally-neglected literary classic instead, because life is short and every hour is precious. But for a couple of hours a week, I crave my dose of nonsense.
Last year, when Leona Lewis hit the X-Factor stage, I guess Simon Cowell and the other judges must have been rubbing their hands in glee. They had obviously struck gold. Leona doesn’t sing the kind of music I am interested in and I hate her recent number one single, but she has an incredible voice. She was way above all the other contestants. Only Brenda, from the previous year, inexplicably voted out the week before the 2005 final, had that same star quality (and I understand Brenda now sings on Broadway).
This year, I can’t get interested. The final takes place this Saturday and I’ve been keeping an eye on the show, but the quality is way down. Every week when someone is voted off the show, I cringe when they say, “This is not the end, just the beginning for me.” The performers voted off so far this year might enjoy their fifteen minutes of tabloid fame, but I don’t see any of them enduring in the public consciousness much beyond March 2008. How many can you remember even now? Perhaps the formula has become tedious, despite the much-hyped changes of personnel in presenters and judges. I watched last Saturday’s show and saw:
Rhydian – I can’t stand this guy. People who sing pop songs in faux-operatic voices do my head in. I hate it. Why anyone likes it is beyond me. What’s more, Rhydian’s voice isn’t that good – not good enough for serious opera and horrible for pop. He is hot favourite. If he wins, it will be a victory for bad taste. If you don’t believe me, watch him singing You’ll Never Walk Alone. Will the UK prove that it has finally lost all its marbles?
Same Difference – remember Dollar? Cheesy pap, ridiculous dancing – OK for a one-off Royal Variety Show, as long as you don’t make me watch it.
Leon – this year’s ‘Ray’ (finalist last year). He sings swing in an entirely unremarkable way. He is Scottish and with the Scottish block vote, he might win. But who will care?
Niki – Niki represents the quality bar of this year’s show. She was easily the best singer of the four, but not a patch on Leona or Brenda. The show’s image-makers had also made the weird decision of making her look like a soap opera barmaid on stage. Anyway, she was voted out, so the final will be between the first three.
I will watch the final, but it will be a struggle. I can listen to the inoffensive Leon. I hope he wins. At least he is not annoying.