This weekend The X Factor Boot Camp hit new, cruel lows as contestants were not only pitted against each other but subjected to screams of support or abuse, sometimes both, within minutes of each other, from the ‘fifth judge’, the raucous, and vicious, audience of 5,000.
he cavernous Wembley Arena, crammed to the rafters with baying crowds of spectators determined to have their say, as is their right by the current rules, may as well have been Rome’s Collosseum at the height of bloody gladiatorial battle.
Of course, X Factor is a TV singing competition and being judged is part of the deal but should contestants really have to endure acceptance followed by rejection, sometimes followed by acceptance again, within the space of a few minutes, purely for the audience’s amusement/satisfaction?
The chair process, which sees contestants in the boys, girls, groups, and over 25s vie to get their bum on one of six chairs which will take them to the next stage, judges houses, seems unnecessarily cruel given that a judge can award a seat only to take it away if a ‘better’ performance comes along (or in Stevi Richie’s case ‘funnier’ will do).
Last night the group competition descended into farce as Louis Walsh, seemingly completely at a loss as to which acts he should choose (which is strange since this is what he does for a living, and has done on the show for 11 years), opted to send Pow Pow packing. The audience did not agree with his decision so he gave them a seat. But then Overload and the new girl band performed well so he challenged the three bands to a sing-off and sent Overload and Pow Pow (for the second time that night) home. He gave the seat to the new girl band but the audience were apoplectic with this decision and worked themselves up into some sort of hysterical frenzy, much like the one Pow Pow were whirling about in like rag dolls in a twister.
Prior to this seemingly staged sing-off, Simon Cowell, the undisputed King of TV Pop, swivelled around in his chair to assess the reaction of the 'fifth judge' - the baying crowd - as they screamed at him to save Lizzy Pattinson over Janet Grogan, which he promptly did (only to tweet this morning that he’d made a “mistake”).
It’s clear this process is just not working. What does an audience of biased parents and prepubescent kids know about which contestant has the most potential?
Anyway, while all this frenzied, manic judgement makes for dramatic telly, spare a thought for the actual contestants, many of who are just 15 years of age. Yes, the music industry will chew you up and spit you out at any age, and perhaps the chair process represents that rollercoaster, but the mob mentality of the audience is unnerving. Whilst the rest of us may be screaming and shaking our fists at the TV screen in the privacy of our own homes, at least we’re not doing so in the contestants’ faces which is effectively what the Wembley audience is doing, at the behest of Cowell and co.
X Factor may be losing the ratings war with Strictly, but surely behaving like emotional abusers (patting the kids’ heads and heaping praise before beating them off stage – and sometimes asking them back again ) on live TV is a sure fire way to get viewers at home to switch over to the less abrasive Strictly?