Sunday 16 June 2019

OK, we lost the football, but . . We still have Jedward!

Jedward have become a cultural phenomenon
Jedward have become a cultural phenomenon

It's been a lousy week for Ireland on the international stage. Our World Cup dreams have been shattered by the hand of Thierry Henry. Brian Lenihan comes bottom of the class in a Financial Times poll of European finance ministers, and our beloved Blarney Stone is voted the most germ-infested tourist attraction on the planet.

But amid all the gloom and forlorn hopes, there is one silver lining to cling onto -- two boys from Lucan still flying the tricolour on their roller-coaster ride to mega-stardom.

No matter how bad things seem, we still have Jedward.

Inundated with lucrative offers, immortalised in a video game, and voted more popular than the Beatles in a teenage poll, the tone-deaf twins will bring the nation to its knees again tonight when they take to the ITV stage as Wham.

There's no escaping The X Factor now. It's become our national obsession, our weekend fix. If you're not up to speed with the latest twist on Dannii's power bob and Cheryl's wedding ring (or rather lack of it), Simon's best jibes and Louis' worst gaffes, step away from the water cooler now. You're clearly out of touch with the zeitgeist.

Last week, the Sunday show occupied half of Twitter's top "trending" global topics list. Even Sting, pop music's biggest snob, admitted it's been on in his sitting room. In a rant more cliched than the show itself, he became the latest paid-up member of the self-appointed cultural intelligentsia to damn it as "a preposterous and appalling form of karaoke that has put music back decades". Whatever.

Of course, it's been some time since Mr Sumner adorned the walls of a teenage bedroom or the top of the charts. Then again, that would be some feat these days given that they're pretty much permanently stuffed with artists discovered by The X Factor and one of its judges.

Lust over it or leer at it, the chances are you've seen it. Last Sunday's show was the second most watched programme in TV3's history, pulling in 765,000 viewers, almost 200,000 more than the number who watched the 2008 final.

Only an episode of Coronation Street in 2003 scored a higher number of viewers, when more than 800,000 people in Ireland (16.4 million in Britain) tuning in to see serial killer Richard Hillman admit to his wife Gail that he was a murderer and she was next on his list.

Last Sunday's results show an increase of 14pc on the previous week and with three weeks to go 'til the tinsel-laden final, media watchers are predicting it could even topple The Late Late Show and become our favourite TV show.

Naturally, TV3 is "thrilled" with its success, leaving RTE executives squirming that they didn't get there.

"We're ecstatic," says TV3 spokeswoman Maureen Catterson. "The country is enthralled by it. It's the must-see show of the week now and the numbers keep going through the roof.

"It's changed the whole dynamic of the Irish weekend. You wouldn't believe the number of X Factor parties held in people's houses every weekend. Pubs have copped onto it too with massive signs outside their doors advertising it on their TVs. Some were even promoting it over the World Cup qualifier last Saturday, and we've heard of companies postponing their Christmas parties because employees can't bear to miss the final. "Imagine what the numbers would be like if Irish people could cast votes on the show."

Even if the Grimes twins lose their winning streak this weekend, they're already being honed as the new Ant and Dec of children's TV with rumours that executives from Disney and Nickelodeon are queuing up with contracts. They can also look forward to earning about €100,000 each when they go on tour with the rest of the 2009 finalists next year.

But the real winner of this year's show will inevitably be its creator Simon Cowell. Last week in the US, where he fronts American Idol and produces America's Got Talent, he became television's biggest earner, taking home $75m (€50m) last year, soaring ahead of even Donald Trump.

His last-minute reprieve of Jedward a fortnight ago, despite previous protestations that he would emigrate if the "vile little creatures" won, was just the latest smart bit of marketing by the man who has been dubbed "television's evil genius".

With everyone from British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to the Chinese Ambassador having an opinion on the pair, he was never going to throw them out -- not least because they could take at least two million viewers with them.

But how much longer can X Factor's runaway success endure?

Its loyal public is likely to stay glued to the show for another few series yet, but whether its most famous quartet -- and the reason most people watch it in the first place -- can stay together is another matter.

This week, British tabloid headlines were rife with rumours that England's newest national treasure, Cheryl Cole, was on the brink of a New Year split from her soccer star husband Ashley.

Claims of infighting between Cole and Dannii Minogue have also resurfaced with Louis Walsh telling Reveal magazine that "they never speak to each other off screen and only pretend to be friends as they go on stage".

As for Cowell, his threat to abandon Britain if the Grimes win may be just an excuse to fulfil a full-time move to the US so he can focus on his American version of The X Factor, scheduled to launch next year.

But television observers are not convinced the show has run its course just yet. "It still has a long healthy life span," says Paul Moran, analyst with Mediaworks, a Dublin-based media buying agency.

"Even if you look at this year's Christmas toys, there are so many spin-offs from the show -- like interactive singalong games with microphones -- being bought for kids who fancy themselves as potential X Factor candidates. It's a bit of fun. During these times when there is so much bad news about the economy, people need a bit of light relief. Of course it's manufactured and very polished, but commercially it's brilliant.

"There is a snob factor around saying you watch it, especially if you belong to a higher socio-economic group, but there is no shortage of closet X Factor fans. You go to the pub with a group of 40-something males who wouldn't normally dare admit to watching it but when you get them talking about it, you realise they follow it religiously from beginning to end.

"Most of them hide behind the excuse that their kids are watching it and it's on in the background, but get them going and suddenly they're yapping shamelessly about it."

Irish Independent

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