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>REALITY CHECK Just when you thought things couldn't possibly get any more vile on The X Factor, along comes yet another accusation that the show is exploiting the vulnerable and mentally fragile.

>A SWIFT ONE There was a young woman called Amy drinking vodka in Emmerdale this week. Nothing unusual about that. People in soaps drink all the time. They have to. If they didn't, there'd be a serious problem.

You can have lots of things happen in a soap pub: a wedding, a divorce, a punch-up, a revelation of a dark secret that's been lurking in the shadows for months, just waiting for the right moment to pounce (usually, at the climax of the hour-long Christmas Day special). If the soap happens to be EastEnders, you can even have all of these things happening at the same time.

One difference here, though, was Amy was doing it straight from the neck of the bottle. That's unusual.

Another difference was that she wasn't doing it out of a craving for alcohol or a need to desperately drown some sorrows in a deep, deep pool of booze. She was doing it because she was pregnant and didn't want to be.

It's probably the first case in soap history of an attempted vodka miscarriage. I suspect most people won't make a big fuss about the Emmerdale storyline. They'll be too busy talking about the rape of Carla in Coronation Street by former fiance Frank.

That's the soap plot that's getting all the attention at the moment, blotting out all the others. It's what publicists like to call a "hard-hitting" storyline. The trouble is, when you have so many hard-hitting storylines knocking around, the only thing that feels like it's being hit hard is your skull.

Actually, screw "accusation"; it's too wimpy. Last Sunday's edition of the karaoke carousel, which saw the judges have a good old sneer at a woman called Ceri Rees, was cynical exploitation at its most revolting.

Rees doesn't have a note in her head. What she clearly does have, however, are mental-health issues. This would have been plainly obvious to the vermin that make the programme, since this was the fourth time the poor woman had auditioned.

But that didn't stop them broadcasting this cruel and humiliating spectacle for the sake of extracting a few cheap laughs.

And that's not the end of it.

In a segment of the show that wasn't shown, Mr Clean himself, Gary Barlow, ridiculed Rees by rifling through her handbag, pulling out her passport and inviting the crowd to laugh at her.

Take that, Barlow -- and that and that and that, you human skid mark.

>RATINGS BLOW As much as I hate to sully my fingertips by writing about The X Factor twice in the same day (I promise I'll wash my hands before touching food), I must. But fear not, for the news is good.

Early reports suggest the viewing figures for the US version of the show, which began this week, are considerably lower than had been forecast.

We already know there is a Devil. He walks about using the alias Simon Cowell. But maybe there's a God, too.

If there is, tell him to bless America for me.