Saturday night TV talent shows are nothing new. When I was 4 ft tall and surviving on regular parental handouts and penny chews, New Faces and Opportunity Knocks were the stolid fare served up on 2 of the only 3 existing channels. The whole family, pets included, sat around the bulging screen, our eyes drawn to the cathode rays like cold hands to a campfire. These were simpler, innocent times where executive producers had yet to discover flashy graphics, jump cuts to posing judges and Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana.
In danger of sounding like a cantankerous old naysayer (which is only a half truth), talent contests these days are an edgier and more sinister affair. The public are set up on 3- minute pedestals, very high in prime-time terms, and are then either prodded off the perch or exalted to higher planes (the next round) by rich flippant narcissists whose belt-line height or make-up bill far exceeds their intelligence.
The worst offender is X-Factor, the brainspawn of pop sweatshop propietor, Simon “Irritable” Cowell. If there were shares in false hope, this show would be providing them in spades to line retired bankers’ deep, disused fur-trimmed pockets. The show is at best distasteful and at worst morally reprehensible for several reasons.
Firstly, music is not the priority of the show: entertainment is. Fine, if music is an integral or over-riding facet but the opening credits set the scene by not featuring any of the artists, only a flying “X” from another planet, presumably returning from self-imposed exile after yet another dire series. The auditions are often unaccompanied by any instrumentation and self-penned songs are rarely featured. Vocal imperfection is outlawed like some musical eugenics programme while warbling, pitch-perfect drones flounce into the upper echelons of the next round: very discouraging for those real character-driven singers watching or participating. Imagine the future without any more Ian Durys, Sean Ryders or Ian Browns- not famed for their singing but wonderful performers all the same.
The show also promotes the idea of music as a facile passport to fame and fortune. This is not why I’m a musician. Sure, I need to exist on a living wage but this small sum of money is a consequence of, not a reason for, what I do. If I had eyes like [$_$] when I wrote songs, they would be radically different as the creative process would be stifled by the pressure to be financially viable. This happens in other professions too, notably journalism- with populist, celebrity-driven claptrap in place of thought provoking and emotive articles.
On top of all this there is the freak-show mentality of the viewers and producers alike: let’s see fools fall and make ourselves feel better and richer in the process. Pointing and laughing at these deluded hopefuls demeans all involved. Is there a difference between slating a poor soul who was born without Mariah Carey’s vocal chords and sounding off at a wannabe can-can dancer with only one-and-a-half legs? [How long before this gets broadcast?]
All of the above “factors” are self perpetuating, with each series consolidating the need for another by conditioning the audience and auditionees to be open to more of the same treatment. Indeed many of those vying to be King or Queen of Saturday Night Telly are repeat offenders, much like the viewers. The public deserve better and even with (at least) 70 other channels available, many with a better programming schedule, they are still drawn to this tawdry circus.
I may be repeating tired old opinion but this programme is still on the air and pulling in millions of viewers. This alone does not justify its continued existence. Popularity does not underpin morality. Take the News Of The World, the most popular newspaper in the UK, morally and legally corrupt and now shut down. I am still waiting for the same fate for X-Factor. Let’s put this show, and as a consequence its contestants and viewers, out of its misery.