The X Factor: Beneath Contempt

I wrote last year about X Factor and its ‘contempt for pop music’. What I perhaps underestimated was its contempt for its own viewers. As I previously noted, it’s now at the stage where I feel grubby when I watch it. My fiance, on the other hand, has almost no interest in pop music and so is an avid viewer. He never listens to any of the music which results from the show. Really, approaching it as a car-crash reality show is the only way to possibly derive any enjoyment from it. Living with a ‘fan’ I long ago realised that it’s futile to attempt to avoid it entirely and so on Saturday I found myself in G-A-Y with a few friends. Low-level drunkenness makes everything a little bit better, right?

The audition above was one of the centrepieces of the opening episode and it perfectly encapsulates everything that is wrong with the show. It has been presented in a predictably sensationalist manner and was heavily trailed both before the show and during it. It ostensibly shows a deluded, mediocre girl with an attitude problem going postal when she is turned down by the judges. 

What is hard to swallow is how disingenuous it is on pretty much every level. The girl in question, Zoe Alexander, has claimed that the producers head-hunted her from Youtube videos and invited her in to audition. They urged her to play up the P!nk persona and to perform a P!nk song against her better judgement. It’s even been claimed that they all but guaranteed her a slot on the live shows, a claim which has cropped up with monotonous regularity over the years. It would be easy to dismiss all this face-saving lies but if you’ve taken even a cursory interest in the show beyond the PR gloss, it’s difficult not to take the claims at face value.

It certainly gives the video a grim context. Zoe’s face when the judges are telling her ‘no’ suggests utter disbelief – not, as we are encouraged to believe, because she is completely insane, but because she’s already been told that she’ll go through. To make matters worse the judges instantly misrepresent her claim of being told to sing P!nk. Anyone with half a brain (even these four) would know that she means the producers of the show. I have no doubt whatsoever that Tulisa and co immediately understood this – yet they deny that ‘they’, meaning the four of them, said any such thing and deliberately seek to humiliate her. Then we have the farce of Tulisa demanding that she be kept on stage, as if there is any chance in hell that a contestant would be able to assault her. Zoe’s response is a lot more understandable if you view it not as the result of a grossly-inflated self-belief but rather as someone realising that she has been lied to and humiliated in the name of ‘entertainment’.

It was all horrifically contrived and fake. The problem is that by this stage, everyone knows this. The judges know what was going on, the tabloids know what’s going on and yes, we the viewer knows what’s going on. However in order to avoid facing the unpleasant fact that we’re witnessing the deliberate and calculated humiliation of a girl whose main crime is shocking naivety, we must all pretend that what we’ve seen is something different. We must continue to buy into the myth that it’s about the singing voice, even knowing that people with far worse voices than Zoe have previously made it to the finals (and were put through on Saturday, even). The reality is that some contestants are set up to fail before they’re even on the stage while others are deemed to be good ‘fits’ for the well-established characters which populate the live shows. It’s tired – and so are we.

Happily, the overwhelming response I’ve heard from people re: Zoe’s audition has been sympathy and a belief that she was ‘set up’. Viewing figures are massively down. It seems that the viewers aren’t as cruel and devoid of empathy as the producers had hoped. Yes, I long ago realised it was futile to try and avoid X Factor completely – but by God, this year I intend to try. It’s time this cruel spectacle, which only the most deluded could possibly think was about pop music, was consigned to history.

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