Tuesday 16 January 2018

The six secret rules that make sure you still love (or hate) 'The X Factor'

The miraculous return of the hard-done-by victim can only complete the storyline, writes Joe O’Shea

Louis Walsh, Nicole Scherzinger, Dermot O'Leary, Tulisa and Gary Barlow are experts at playing the television ratings game
Louis Walsh, Nicole Scherzinger, Dermot O'Leary, Tulisa and Gary Barlow are experts at playing the television ratings game

The X Factor has had its Wizard of Oz moment. Millions of TV viewers got what appeared to be an unplanned peek behind the curtain of the talent show during last Sunday night's dramatic vote.

And for a legion of conspiracy theorists at least, the Wizard of X was a 62-year-old TV producer, frantically pulling the levers to ensure a controversial, ratings-grabbing climax.

Within minutes of the confused exit of singer Carolynne Poole, allegedly sacrificed to save "entertainer" Rylan Clark, a blurry, screen-grab image of producer Richard Holloway, crouched next to Louis Walsh, was all over social media.

An unfortunate camera angle had caught Holloway as he slid on to the judge's platform to confer with Walsh, even as poor, brave, unsuspecting Carolynne sang her little heart out.

"It's a fix!" screamed Twitter.

Not so, countered the clearly rattled producer this week, explaining to various newspapers that he regularly talks to the judges during the show and was merely letting Louis know about the running order.

"On Sunday night I was telling Louis the order the judges would vote in and that he would be last. We don't tell the judges how to vote," said Holloway.

Of course, it may be mere coincidence that on the previous night, The X Factor had lost out in the ratings to mortal enemy Strictly Come Dancing.

Cynics might think that a major controversy, guaranteed to keep The X Factor in the headlines for the entire coming week, would be just what Simon Cowell would want.

But as Cowell, now the absentee Evil Overlord of The X Factor, has pointed out many times, those are the kind of baseless allegations you get from heartless people who hate success and don't want talented young people to fulfil their lifelong dreams of being famous for 15 seconds.

Whatever happened on the judges' platform (and as with the Kennedy Assassination, we may never know the full, awful truth) the show can count on a significant ratings spike this weekend.

And do not be surprised if Carolynne Poole gets a reprieve. The miraculous, 'Back From Reality Show Death' development is just one of the standard story-lines of TV talent shows, which also include:

The Hopeless, Cringe-Making Wannabes

Up to 200,000 people audition for each season of The X Factor. And Simon Cowell's genius move was to make his talent show the first to include as a major feature the kind of deluded, hopeless, deeply embarrassing wannabes most producers wouldn't let within a mile of prime-time TV.

In 2010, best friends Abi and Lisa (AKA Abilisa) murdered a Shayne Ward song before a baying crowd (which had been set up by Cowell's snarky, sarky comments to the teenage girls) and then proceeded to have a fight on stage.

Critics have slated the show for shoving obviously vulnerable, often very young people into a bear-pit. But hey, that's entertainment!

The Mock Shock

The various judges from down the years all have one factor in common: they are all easily shocked. Cheryl Cole's signature move was to reel back in her chair and cover her mouth with her hands as if she had just seen somebody spontaneously combust on stage.

Louis leans forward over the desk with an eyes-popping, mouth open 'I cannot believe I've just seen that!' expression. At least 15 times per show.

After Dubliner Mary Byrne's first audition, Louis slapped the desk so hard you could hear the props designer audibly groan. You could also count his fillings.

The Bait-and-Switch

The contestant is overweight, a bit funny looking (though maybe not as funny looking as the botoxed beauties behind the judge's desk). But WAIT! They can siiiiiiing! A battery of cameras swoop in on the shocked reaction of the crowd, who were primed to throw rotten tomatoes but are now instantly in love with this check-out-girl/road-sweeper with the voice of an angel. Susan Boyle on Britain's Got Talent in 2009, remains, of course, the classic example. But it is also an X Factor standard.

The Tragic Backstory

An amazing voice is great. A recently deceased granny who dreamed of one day seeing your name up in lights is TV gold. You are doing it for her. Or for the family pet who was seriously injured in a freak lawn-mowing incident last week.

This season has actually thrown up a really tragic back-story that defies cynicism -- contestant James Arthur, who had slept rough and put himself into foster-care to avoid conflict at home.

Sadly, the UK newspapers were reporting this week that since becoming famous, James has split from the loyal girlfriend who backed him during his hard times.

Ah well.

The Emotionally Incontinent Judges

Viewers might be forgiven for thinking The X Factor is sponsored by Kleenex. Almost all the judges are primed to break down in tears at the drop of a granny.

Cheryl Cole was never far from tears. In 2008, 38-year-old father-of-three Daniel Evans, who was singing for his recently deceased wife, had Cheryl (perhaps understandably for once) in an emotional breakdown.

The We'll-Be-Best-Friends-Forever! Moments

The judges form bonds of enduring love with their charges that can only be broken by them leaving the show. Each week, the judges are blowing kisses and declaring their devotion to the acts they personally mentor.

And of course, even if they don't make the final three or win, those judges will be on the phone to their contestants daily, for months after the show ends, offering advice and encouragement.

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