The fat lady has sung, sobbed and been voted off and even if this run doesn’t prove to be the last, it certainly should be. Indeed if Cowell & Co manage to squeeze out a 2012 series, the only people still watching will be the same ones who kept tuning in to Big Brother after it went over to Channel Five.
There was a time when the talent show everyone loves to hate was guilty pleasure water cooler television at its best, all tear-stained high notes and sequin-encrusted key changes. Today, however, eight series in and with the tired formula stretched more thinly than Dannii Minogue’s face, it is dying a slow, painful and noisy death. Viewers have switched off in their thousands, the programme has been plagued by the wrong sorts of controversies (drugs, auto tune, trademark battles with charities over band names) and the new judging line-up is completely lacking in both charisma and good hair.
Weary viewers who have seen it all before will watch this year’s victor being crowned next weekend, knowing that each piece of ticker tape raining down on the stage as they perform their forgettable winner’s single could represent a past victim of The X Factor machine who has since faded into obscurity.
It’s not so much that the programme has taken a wrong turning, just that we’ve outgrown it. It’s beginning to look rather quaint in the way that Saturday night telly of yesteryear inevitably does.
The judges’ feedback, once one of the show’s high points thanks to Cowell’s acid tongue and Cheryl Cole’s shiny hair, has now become the moment the nation gets up to put the kettle on. This year Louis Walsh summoned his decades of experience in the music industry to tell boy band The Risk that they should have got up off their stools for the key change. A metaphor for life perhaps?
In an effort to win votes for her act by proving how down to earth they are, Tulisa told viewers that the girl band Little Mix “won’t steal your boyfriends” and on another occasion Kelly Rowland told Craig Colton that his performance was so good that “I almost threw my pen at you”. As for Gary Barlow, he can no more say something interesting than Cowell could say something nice.
The nation’s relationship with The X Factor doesn’t need to end badly. We needn’t keep tuning in, the resentment building until one cold winter night yet another screaming rendition of Purple Rain pushes us over the edge. No, things can, and should end here. That way we can look back fondly and laugh at the decade we spent watching Cowell’s hairline advancing. We can remember it as jolly japes, a rather odd blip which took the British music industry on a surreal diversion before it found its way back to the right path.
Like the end of most love/hate relationships, however, a drawn-out parting seems inevitable. But what will finally sound the death knell for The X Factor? The exploitation of vulnerable auditionees didn’t do it, nor did the accusations of miming, fixing and cheating. No, I suspect the programme will meet its end at the hands of a more mundane mistress: boredom. Every time a contestant whines that they “want this more than anything” you can almost hear the collective click of another thousand television sets being switched off.
We have become immune to it all, our ability to give a fig lost long ago while sitting through yet another ad break. Listening to contestant Sami Brookes, like some 21st century Tiny Tim, plead that “I know there’s a recession at the minute but if you could spare a pound and vote for me I’d be eternally grateful,” left us cold.
Beyond our collective sense of apathy however, I suspect pop fans will start wanting their artists to come with a bit of mystery once again. We don’t need to see them sitting in the living room of their nan’s council house clarted in snot while they bang on about “how much this means to me”. We want them demanding their dressing room be filled with albino puppies and weeping into their champagne in private.
We certainly don’t want to buy their records based on how “humble” Barlow insists they are backstage or how much they love their Mum, but rather their ability to both hit a high C and lob their mobile phone accurately at their put-upon publicist.
The X Factor has been slowly strangling the pop music industry for the best part of a decade. Around half of the songs in the current top 40 are by artists who have either competed on, performed on or appeared as a judge on the show. There’s little room for musicians who don’t follow The X Factor route, and even semi-credible acts are forced by their record labels to perform on the results show because it shifts so many records.
For these reasons and many more, we, the viewing public, are tired. Even the contestants’ pick-up-your-phone-and-vote-for-me hand gesture thing leaves us unmoved. Simon Cowell, I implore you to do the right thing for once in your slimy career and put us out of our misery. This must end here.
The X Factor Final, Saturday, 8pm, STV