The X Factor 2013

Someone should market an X Factor doorbell which when pressed lets loose a very loud burst of `O Fortuna` and bellows the name of the occupant so it booms all the way down the road! Celebrating its tenth anniversary the series is by some margin the loudest, most overblown programme on TV today yet it remains a draw. It’s allure is that we would all secretly love to be up there and theoretically we could be. After all why else was Britain’s Got Talent invented than to hoover up the rest of the population not covered by The X Factor’s categories? Nowadays with an increasing number of celebrity infested competitions, this show remains the place where the girl or guy next door can become a star, if only briefly. 
None of them are jealous of winner Sam Bailey, honest...


This year’s series though has seen a shift in public perception. For so long the leader of Saturday night TV, the 2013 season has been challenged twice; first by the sudden resurgence of  Strictly Come Dancing, then for one week by another more venerable anniversary, that of Doctor Who. The X Factor has rarely won Saturday nights this year and it does seem to be the case that the finalists have not generated as much chatter as before. Any quirkiness – a la Jedward or Wagner – has been eliminated early leaving a somewhat generic collection of bands who like to point at us, faux soul singers and boys with a lot of hair gel. From this group three finalists emerged.
Winner Sam Bailey has a powerful if rough voice that translates live far better than her two rivals. She has a certain soul and while it’s hard to see quite where she will fit in today’s dance dominated music scene, you can imagine she will last a while longer than the last couple of male winners. Perhaps because of his hair, Nicholas (“he’s only sixteen”) Macdonald came second despite giving the impression that he is not capable of making any decisions for himself. In many ways typical of the sort of entrant the show has- and who frequently do well- he seems ill equipped to deal with artistic matters and was stylised to within a millimetre of becoming a mannequin. Third placed Luke Friend is at least a musician and has his own hairstyle. If he wants to and given a little luck, he could be the breakout star of this series. The fact that he didn’t seem too bothered about his final placing suggests he realises that in recent years finishing amongst the runners up offers better prospects than actually winning.
The final three take time out to serenade a mouse
The bombast of the show has surely reached a pinnacle. Much of the running time is taken up by introductions, behind the scenes and build up with a comparatively small amount of actual singing. Many of the contestants sound out of tune, possibly because despite earplugs they still can’t pitch amidst all the noise, something that seems to affect the celeb singers too.  The judges – who nowadays have their own over the top introduction- remain one of the biggest draws of the show if only because we’re waiting to see them pretend to fall out over particular acts. The nadir / peak of this was the week Sharon begged and begged and begged Louis not to vote out her act. But he did. Gary Baarlow has been surprisingly effective since joining because even at his most enthused he still sounds droll and downbeat and remains largely un-swayed by the inevitable sad stories dredged up from the contestant’s lives. “I’m going to win this for my gran who was kidnapped by baboons before she could hear me sing” says someone and Gary’s reaction is an expression that screams  “so what”. Brilliant!
The Judges: Gary Baarlow, Nicole Shirtzinger, Ozzy Osbourne, Patrick Troughton
As ever it is the public who are the most random factor. Each year they determinedly vote for someone that the judges clearly hate and the latter fight back saving people the viewers are not as keen on. To describe it as a singing contest –which to be fair nobody does now- is to misinterpret what the show is really about. Like a large (shouting) mirror it reflects our obsession both with fame and with every aspect of people’s lives. Now not content with knowing everything about a celebrity people can actually help create one. It is like being a witness to the conception and birth of a star over 12 weeks instead of 9 months.
There’s a knowing craftiness to the whole enterprise. The winner has to sit about for a year before releasing their album by which time the head of steam they’ve built up has dissipated and people are more interested in the new set of contestants. The winners are also mercilessly dropped from their contract if they fail to have enough success whereas those who are knocked out earlier are freer to develop a career. Lest we forget One Direction were neither winners nor runners up while Jedward have managed to keep going as a recognisable brand for about four years now. 
For all the talk of possible demise and lower ratings there is little chance of the show disappearing yet. Expect changes in format (this year’s final selection process involving a limited number of seats was too cruel) and possibly an entirely refreshed judging panel. More than anything expect to hear lots of people moan and complain about The X Factor with the detailed knowledge of someone who watches it every week!

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