Friday, 27 January 2012

Fools & Gold: Fix Factor?

I don't know quite how this is possible after eight years of The X-Factor but a large proportion of viewers still seem to be under the ridiculous impression that the contest is some kind of democracy. For shame, British Public, for shame.

The elimination of Janet Devlin against the less-voted-for Misha B has thrown a can of petrol on the already towering inferno of the 'fix factor' debate. Voters are livid, tearing through city centres, wearing nothing but bonnets made entirely of bees. "This is an outrage!" they cry, "We musn't stand for this!"

But what exactly is so devious about recent practices on the show? The bottom two has always existed and the judges have always used it to salvage the contestants that they deem most beneficial to the show. The bottom two is not a new and shocking corruption come to scorch an otherwise fair and level playing field. It's an intrinsic part of the game.

Gary Barlow has been moaning recently about The X-Factor being a singing competition. This is nonsense. The X-Factor is a competition that measures popularity, personality, charisma and the ability to pander to a regional voting base. The latter point was a large contributor to Devlin's success on the show. If people want to believe that a lack of focus on real talent is what led the show to dismiss Janet then that, like Scientology or crack use, is their own bewildering prerogative. Were it purely a singing contest, I would not fancy Devlin's off-tune, hiccupy mumbles and forgotten lyrics getting her anywhere near as far in the contest as she has managed to do with the help of her 'quirky' personality 'rebellious' streak and hardcore regional voting support.

It was that 'rebellious' streak, perhaps, that made producers change their minds about Janet Devlin. Around the time of the third live show it became clear that the whining Celtic wind-sprite was no longer a judges' favourite. What ensued was a cringe-inducingly long and tedious assassination of unsympathetic VTs, poor song-choices and negative comments, which last night finally paid off.

Those who immediately reached for their judge-shaped voodoo dolls should remember that this wasn't a general election. It wasn't even a programme on the BBC. The X-Factor is a commercial machine, which is funded by advertising and bolstered by the successes of its most notable alumni. If producers allowed us, the public, to make all the decision on our own then the show wouldn't be producing the same level of quality, marketable acts. It would also struggle to make headlines by retaining controversial acts like Kitty Brucknell and Misha B. Without the power to do these things, The X-Factor would not be able to continue on the same scale. It would not be able to continue at all.

In business, one has to trade. The X-Factor demands trade-offs from both its participants and its spectators. The show has been running for eight bloody years now so those feigning shock and disappointment at its methods don't really have a leg to stand on. For anybody who's still confused I shall clarify. These are the deals on offer:


We can make you rich. We can make you famous. We can guarantee you the best TV exposure available to humanity. We can dress you in expensive clothes, style your hair, send you to premieres and help you to live your karaoke dream on a Saturday night. We can give you glitter and smoke machines and screaming fans. For five minutes we can make the world turn around you.


You must sacrifice your integrity. You must forsake your privacy. If you do what we say then we will play nice but if you try to be your own person (or if we decide that you're boring) then we drop you like a turd in a patisserie box. Once the show is over, you have no guarantee that we will care, or even remember, who you are. If you don't like it, fine. There are thousands of young hopefuls who would kill to take your place.


We can entertain you. We can spice up your Saturday night. We can show you a good time, baby. Not only that, we will let you join in. If you are prepared to pay a small amount of money then you can vote for your favourite act in the hope that they will progress week by week and possibly win.


We will attempt manipulate you at every stage. If you are smart or strong-willed enough then you will see through this and you can take us with a pinch of salt and a self-congratulatory pat on the back. If you are dumb enough to fall for every trick that we play then you will think you are having a great time and forming your own opinions. It's a win-win situation.


So that's the basic outline then. The X-Factor is not a public service and therefore we have no reason to feel short-changed by its lack of transparency. People have allegedly been complaining to Ofcom about the unfair treatment of Janet Devlin. This is ridiculous. Next week there will be millions congregating in Trafalgar Square to protest after Misha is inevitably saved from the sing-off for the fourth time. I hiss and spit at you. Kill-joys every one.

The judges need to save Misha because we live in a patriarchal society that thinks black women should be meek and grateful like Leona Lewis. The judges need to save Misha because she's the most talented and charismatic contestant in the show (when she's not desperately trying to convince the audience that she's not a bully). The judges need to save Misha because the public is incapable of electing a winner whose music it will actually listen to. The public need to save Misha because her version of Girls Just Wanna Have Fun was the epitome of great pop music.

You give the people a vote and what do they do with it? I'll tell you. They vote for the act that the judges say are good, regardless of the quality of their performance. They vote for the act that hails from their hometown. Most distressingly, the public invariably votes for whichever act performs in the last slot of the live show. When the public can learn to think for itself, the public can come back and complain about the manipulation of its vote. Until then, it can wait for the BBC to launch The Voice, which is all about vocal ability and being wholesome and boring and sounding like Jessie J or James Morrison or something.

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