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Elton is right, Mary...X Factor can mess with your head

Elton John is right to question whether The X Factor does psychological damage to its contestants, some of whom go on to fame and fortune while others fade or struggle to stay in the limelight.

For those who fail to carve out continuing fame, getting used to life after The X Factor cannot be easy and may be very hard indeed.

As Elton said in a radio interview: "They're a bit like products, to be honest with you. They're products, and the record comes out at Christmas, and it's always number one, and then what happens next year? Why aren't they touring? Who's managing these people? Why aren't you building their career properly? That's what worries me."

He specifically mentioned Alexandra Burke, the 2008 winner, who he says is genuinely talented but needs to play live in order to learn her trade as a performer.

And it may be that very absence of years of experience of playing live that causes the biggest psychological problem for singers who leave the talent show.

Building up a career, however modest, through performing live provides a tough education in the school of hard knocks. As Elton put it on the Absolute Radio Breakfast Show, "It's hard enough to see someone in a hotel lobby playing a piano who's really good and nobody gives a toss, you know." He added, "I've done that. It's bloody hard work."

Those who haven't taken the hard road and who arrive on the scene via The X Factor have to learn awfully fast to develop a very thick skin.

And there's the sense of isolation. The X Factor experience is a very intense one. Those who get dumped out at a late stage in the show risk undergoing a very difficult period of disorientation. You have been a member of The X Factor "family" -- now you're on the outside, notwithstanding the fact that you may have The X Factor tour to look forward to.

It may also be that the life you left behind when you began your X Factor adventure is now gone or greatly changed. People see you differently.

They've been watching you on television and voting for or against you. As an X Factor contestant, you have had experiences that the people back home have not had, so you are different too.

What helps? Probably good management and that's another challenge -- in his interview, Elton (left) questions whether some ex-X Factor stars are being well-managed at all.

The other big help is supportive friends and family.

That makes a huge difference to those who have such support, though unfortunately not everybody does.

As the would-be star seeks to build a career post-X Factor, contact with other people in showbiz will also help to combat isolation -- though one wonders if some old-timers in show business might be jealous of the sudden fame of the new arrival.

Alexandra Burke has by no means disappeared since she won in 2008. Still, her career as not exactly been superstellar though she will be back on The X Factor next week, according to her tweets. But where will she go from there?

That's the question Elton John is asking about her and about others who seek to build top-flight careers through their involvement with the ruthless machine that is The X Factor.

The lesson, I suppose, is that everything in life has a price and the question is whether for some the price may be too high.

Establishing a career in showbiz is a tall order at the best of times and The X Factor gives successful contestants a great leg-up.

But as Elton John points out, after that they may well be on their own.

Padraig O'Morain is accredited as a counsellor by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy