Sunday 25 August 2019

‘X Factor’ proves nothing is sacred

* The X Factor, TV 3
* Stetsons and Stilettos, RTE One

X Factor judges: Rita Ora, Nick Grimshaw, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, Simon Cowell, and presenters Caroline Flack and Olly Murs
X Factor judges: Rita Ora, Nick Grimshaw, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, Simon Cowell, and presenters Caroline Flack and Olly Murs
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

There was a time when The X Factor had pop culture by the short and curlies.

Perfectly surfing the Zeitgeist, Simon Cowell’s evil brainchild convinced an entire generation that all they needed for a life of fame and fortune was a decent sob story and a willingness to sell their soul.

Incredible though it may seem, the talent show is now in its eleventh year and while you might think it would eventually simply run out of contestants, there seems to be a never-ending conveyor belt of gullible dupes who, despite all the evidence to the contrary, still think the show can make them a star.

Out of a weird sense of masochism and a series of unfortunate social mishaps, I ended up tuning into Saturday night’s show to see if it was still as bad as it used to be. It’s not. It’s even worse.

At least when Louis Walsh was a judge there was a sense of mischief and the fact that the Mayo man realised the whole thing was bunkum.

Walsh has since departed the show, of course, and whether that is a genuine axing or simply another cunning publicity stunt which will see him return in all his diminutive glory remains to be seen.

In fact, Walsh’s absence reminds me of a footballer who is out with a long-term injury — the longer they’re gone, the more they’re missed and his replacement, the spectacularly irksome Nick Grimshaw, is a squad player at best, rather than a starting fixture.

Of course, the show was never really about the music at all — as Walsh used to point out — but nor is it about the contestants, either.

Instead, it’s ultimately about the judges and their interaction with Cowell, a man who is now so botoxed he has the flawless complexion of a porcelain sink.

But while the line-up of the judges may change, the contestants are all the same.

Sure, they might not actually be the same people, but they’re the same stereotypes; a series of interchangeable ciphers who are picked more on the basis of what demographic box they might tick than any inherent talent.

This is Cowell’s universe and if you want to live there, you have to pay a Cowell tax. This takes the form of opening up about your deepest, darkest family secrets and spewing them out on live television for the “oohs” and “ahhs” and fake, plastic sympathy of people who quite like spending a few hours on a Saturday night watching people tell the judges the kind of stuff that would be more suited to a call to the Samaritans.

Competitive victimhood is the national sport of choice these days, of course, and to further batter the football analogy, the contestants are a bit like those players who fake an injury and roll around the pitch in pretend agony.

It’s inevitable that some of them will over-egg their own unique sob story and anyone who saw Anton Stephans tell the tearful tale of how he was adopted from a care home before securing a scholarship to Cambridge and getting a double first would have marvelled at such an incredible story.

As it happens, his birth family are understandably furious and his father has slammed the wannabe singer, calling him a deluded fantasist who is telling porkies just to get on television.

But that’s not my beef with The X Factor. No, last Saturday night saw a terrible crime committed in front of millions of people on national television and nobody intervened.

Aspiring singer Louisa Johnson took to the stage and absolutely slaughtered ‘God Only Knows’.

One of the greatest, saddest and most beautifully heart-rending songs of all time, it was reduced to a quivering mess by a girl who had never heard it before but insisted that it “could have been written for me”.

By that stage, the Halloween bangers going off outside the house were nothing compared to the fireworks in my head.

Look, if we’re to live in a civilised society, there have to be certain ground rules we all live by.

Fist amongst those should be the general agreement that Brian Wilson’s majesty must never be sullied by some X Factor contestant who reckons she can do a better version than the original.

Cowell has taken over the weekend TV schedules and now seems to own the charts as well, and we just have to suck it up.

But there’s a line that shouldn’t be crossed and using ‘God Only Knows’ as a prop for some young wan to show off her vocal gymnastics leaps over it.

By the time the song finished, the judges gave her a standing ovation and that would have been the moment my head finally exploded. Instead, I had simply rooted out my old copy of ‘Pet Sounds’ and listened to the original to try to erase the memory of such desecration 

Some things are sacred, Simon. Can you please leave them alone? After all, it’s not as if there is a shortage of awful songs for them to use without cheapening the classics.

Is there a more terrifying phrase than: “From Ballymena to Ballydehob, dancing venues are reporting crowds like it was the Showband era all over again”?

Stetsons and Stilettos is the surprisingly charming look at the largely ignored world of country ’n’ Irish music — a genre which is ignored for a good reason. It’s a weird sub-genre which takes American country music and gives it a rural Irish spin but while I wouldn’t be fan, you have to love any programme which features a farmer saying: “You know, Leitrim is a lot like America.” Who knew?

Irish Independent

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