Monday, December 10, 2007

The X-Factor 2007

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.


Frances said...

I haven't watched since Leona won. I do watch Strictly Come Dancing which is in the same category. I find the most sinister thing about these programmes is not Simon Cowell or Arlene telling someone they're rubbish - because they usually are - it's how the audience voting seems often to bear no relation to the actual talent or lack of it in the performer. A talent contest judged by professionals is one thing - but these reality shows seem more akin to bear-baiting in terms of moral value.

Anonymous said...

Ahh, X-Factor. That's my Saturday night entertainment right there.

What bugs me the most is that corny "I'm just a marquee-builder / dinner lady / asbestos removal man and I don't want the dream to end."

Niki (she'll be back serving chips at school next week, don't you know) turns out to have been a backing singer for that 80s icon Sonia. Did they tell us she'd already had a crack at stardom on the pro circuit? No, I only read it on the BBC after she got voted off.

They're always angling for a 'poor me' scenario in order to establish an emotional bond with the viewing public. And so I guess they didn't mention the old Sonia gigs on purpose.

Rhydian! Well, in the audition stages he came across as a prize plonker, the most arrogant twit imaginable. I guess they've worked really hard on toning this down with a PR guru or something, because now I don't mind him. In fact, his version of 'Somewhere' had me brushing away the tears.

And Leona ... blimey ... I think she had me weeping every week!! What a voice. Just hitting a note would do it.

This year, then: Rhydian has to win I think. Yes, hard to see what he'll ever do apart from knocking out cover albums to be snapped up by all those folk who thought G4 were genius (??). Maybe he could do a Scott Walker and bring out an avant-garde masterpiece though ... maybe not.

Poor Leon still looks out of his depth, and had never pulled off the star-quality trick. Great voice, though, when he lets rip.

Same Difference ... oh dear.


Rob said...

Frances, I guess the public vote is mainly about money. They must make a fortune every week with all those calls. And yes, as Andy says, the 'emotional connection' often has more to do with the voting patterns than anything to do with talent. It's not really a talent show, more a soap opera - perhaps that's why Niki had the barmaid image (the light dawns)!

Andy, if Rhydian wins, I will buy you his album! That'll teach you. I think you could be right about him winning, more's the pity. Yes, Leon still sounds bewildered to be there at all, every time he speaks. A good thing, probably, but the public may not think so.

Colin Will said...

Last night I watched the best 'reality TV' programme I've seen in years - Phil Agland's film about life in Shanghai in 1997. Not a celebrity or a wannabee in sight - just real people in a rapidly changing society. It was thought-provoking, candid and sensitively filmed - as you expect from Agland. And Shanghai has changed a lot more in the intervening 10 years - it's a fantastic city, even for this country bumpkin.

Collin Kelley said...

Leona is actually getting a push here in the states now, which is sort of shocking since they never bothered with any of the other winners of Pop Idol, etc.

I plan to do a weekly blog on American Idol when it returns in January. It's such a train wreck. lol. I'm keeping an eye on X Factor to see who wins.

Anonymous said...

I thought Chris Sligh had a great voice, from last years* American Idol.

* And -- why does my apostrophe key now activate a Quick Search option on this page?? Cant add apostrophes at all.


Rob said...

Colin - what you're saying makes me reflect on the line between reality TV and documentary. I foresee a future blog post on this subject...

Collin - doesn't surprise me. Leona is far and away better than any other Pop Idol/X Factor winner. I look forward to your Am. Idol reports.

Andy - don't know what's up with the apostrophe thing. I can do them, no problem. Perhaps, subconsciously, you want to search for something, but don't know what, and the apostrophe is being proactive about it.