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And now, here's some music...

Back in the dark ages of TV, you used to get technical problems. An announcer would come on to apologise before playing you some pan pipes music. On screen, they’d show a picture of frolicking kittens while they sorted things out.

I did not expect to see this distinctly analogue issue strike a flagship show in the strictly digital Reality TV Land, the rogue entertainment state that refuses to die.

On top of the mishap, which saw ITV1 replacing the first 15 minutes of its top-rated programme, the X Factor, with a highlights reel of the series so far, it seems that there was some issue with the outcome of a public “vote” being published online before the phone lines were actually due to close.

Added to the transmission breakdown, it was a night of gremlins and demons which seemed to bedevil the Saturday night staple from the very first. It was most entertaining.

As for the apparently clairvoyant web page story, I wouldn’t be too hasty to cry foul. It looks to me like a page was prepared under embargo and broadcast by accident – I’d give them the benefit of the doubt. Even though it did reveal the actual winner of the side-contest to re-enter the show – Amelia Lily – before the fact.

Maybe the voting patterns were so obvious that they knew she would come through? That would make some sort of sense.

But there’s very little about the X Factor that does make sense. And now, people are finally getting a bit suspicious about the entire set-up of these shows. About 10 years too late.

I have to laugh at the reactions. “It’s a fix!” people cry.

Of course it’s a fucking fix. The X Factor and its derivatives are the most dishonest shows on television. Everything, from the way the contestants are selected to the costumes they’re given to the songs performed to the reactions of the judges to the edited highlights they choose to show on television to what a febrile PR department allows to be covered in the press… All are designed to manipulate the audience’s reactions. It’s not a true contest.

And on top of that, the judges have the final say anyway, so even a massive majority vote in favour of one act could still count for absolutely nothing if Louis Walsh doesn’t agree with it. Try calling that a “vote” in any other public forum and see where you get.

These are shows which appear on a commercial station, pulling in colossal sums of money from advertising every 10 minutes, and yet still have the hide to charge you even more money to register phone votes. Television, cut and dried, is cheap entertainment. The idea of paying one single penny to a commercial broadcaster in phone line charges is utterly appalling. They’ve been getting away with this for years.

And yet folk do it in their millions. And some people complain about having to pay a licence fee!

If you’re gullible enough to spend your money to participate in the result of the X Factor, then I’m tempted to say you deserve all you get.

I’m one of these slightly smug people who normally says of the X Factor: “Sorry; dunno who you’re talking about. I don’t watch it and avoid it when I can.” I used to see a lot of these shows owing to a former partner who was obsessed with them when they first came out. Those kind of scars never fade, and since then I’ve been happy not to care one bit about Big Brother, Britain’s Got Talent, and all the rest of them. I simply don’t give a monkey’s. I’ll be over here by the gramophone listening to scratchy Yes LPs on my oversized headphones, thanks.

But having seen a few episodes as part of a captive audience this year, and being prepared to give it a fair crack of the whip, I was astonished at the language the judges used. Bad language in the truest sense.

Almost every single statement uttered by the panel for the unfortunates who bet their lives on appearances on this entertainment show was a lie or a cliche.

“You knocked it out the park tonight…” No they didn’t, they butchered a good song and were flatter than Luxembourg.

“You’re hungrier than the rest, you want it more…” What on earth does that mean? They do well because they want it more? They are talented because they desire to be talented? Hey, I quite fancy being an astronaut – how far will “wanting it more” get me, there?

“Listen to the audience, they love you!” They sound like hooting morons that would cheer on a wanking monkey, mate. They’d cheer on someone being kicked to death if you presented it the right way.

I could go on all bloody day quoting this garbage routinely spouted by Louis Walsh, Tulisa Contostavlos, Kelly Rowland and Gary Barlow. Every single statement, even the pantomime villain barbs delivered by Barlow (whose very soul appears to have been sucked out along with as the flesh on his bones since he began keeping show supremo Simon Cowell’s empty seat ice cold) appears to be either pre-scripted or a gigantic cliché you could safely say about anyone without qualification. It oozes mendacity, and it galls me.

It gets so that when one of the judges loses the plot and finally does say something honest – like when Louis Walsh broke ranks and lambasted the tone-deaf, talent-free Frankie Cocozza the other week – I was actually elated. “You’re not a rock star, and you never will be!” the Irishman spluttered, indignant as a priest losing his temper at a giggling RE class.

Here, at last, was honesty and spontaneity. The two terms that are death for these shows.

So yes, Frankie Cocozza: a young lad who, in a kinder mood, you’d be tempted to offer a pass for effort, if not quite the mead of indulgence… were it not for the fact that he is clearly a GIANT ARSEHOLE.

A boy whose hair resembles a freehand sketch by a two-year-old, whose fashion choices appear designed to attract the maximum derision or adoration from his audience – note that word “audience”, it’s important. A lad whose audition for the show included a moment where he revealed his backside to the judges – upon which was tattooed the names of all the girls he’d slept with in his life. What happens if you finally live the dream and begin to sleep with a different girl every night, I wondered? You’ll start to look like a fucking dictionary. He’s one of these guys you can see appearing on a “where are they now?” show in 20 years’ time, fat, bald and wistful, and all the while you will know that he still has those bluish words squiggled on his burst balloon buttocks below decks. Ghostly intonations offered every morning to the toilet bowl.

I find myself taking on the rhetoric of a schoolyard bully. He asks for this, he truly does. He had it coming.

He’s not alone, though. “Misha B”, from Manchester, is the most talented performer on the show by several miles and in a fair world she should win it comfortably. A columnist once said her performances look like those of an actual star making a guest appearance on the programme compared to her peers, and that’s spot-on.

But Jesus Christ… I saw the first couple of shows, and why on earth were we continually told about her “birf muvva”, who is no longer a part of her life? Usually accompanied by a sudden influx of D and A minor? Her “birf muvva”? What in fuck is that? Distinct from another kind of muvva? And who cares?

Bad things happen to everyone. It does not equate to talent and should never give you a free pass for anything. If a researcher on the show asked about her family background, the correct response should have been: “None of your business. It’s got nothing to do with you.” I guess that’s not good telly, though.

She wasn’t alone. The Irish lass, Janet Devlin (they’ve been desperate to portray her as a wee Celticy witchy woo ginger earth mother person the minute the stylists got their hands on her), did a piece to camera about her grandfather dying just as she was accepted for the show. To her credit, she refused the invitation to cry which the judges and programme-makers repeatedly threw at her during the live broadcast.

The X Factor truly has turned into that Peter Kay spoof show from a couple of years ago. Got a tragedy? Oh, great, that’ll get some sympathy votes in. You’re hired.

I don’t normally go in for bullying people online – but I believe this is a normal reaction for long-term viewers of the X Factor. In its point-and-laugh aesthetic vis-a-vis some of the more obviously untalented entrants, it’s a freakshow. Its habit of broadcasting people who don’t seem the full shilling, or are full-on mentally ill, for others to laugh at is only really an extension of the kind of thing that saw well-heeled Victorians undertaking paid tours of asylums to gawp at the antics of the people in the funny jackets. It has to stop, that shit, it really does.

On the other side of the coin, the X Factor builds up feeble modern folk heroes for people to invest time and enthusiasm into… For about five fucking minutes, before dumping them while the tickertape still falls on the grand final.

Oh, and Cowell: thanks for killing the Christmas song. I know many Christmas songs are crap, manipulative and plastic like a toy in a cracker, but people actually liked them and sing them every year. Not so much, the insipid cover versions with baffling key changes you offer up. Your towering achievement is to replace one synthetic phenomenon with something even more synthetic, false and cynical. Seriously, that is an achievement.

At best, I hope the contestants make some money out of their ordeal on television – because one thing you can count on is that in five years’ time, you’ll be lucky if a single one of this year’s intake still has a record deal, or is even remembered. The public are bloody fickle with the winners at any rate, but it’s not helped by staggeringly poor management choices and crap songs released once the show is over.

This time last year, a bloke called Matt Cardle was the bookie’s favourite to win, and he duly did. Big hit with the ladies, apparently, and a trouper who had worked pubs and clubs with a band well before taking a punt on the show. They glossed over a privileged background in order to portray him as a humble painter and decorator, of course. Look, I couldn’t care less where the boy comes from, but the fact that it was lied about sticks in the throat.

But, shit, we’re back to that “dishonesty” thing again. We need to get off that bus.

One year later, his management firm is doing its level best for him. He’s on Radio 2 a lot, he’s switching on Christmas lights, he’s got billboards in train stations… but he’s not selling records, nobody cares, and he’ll be lucky if he sees out his deal.

Which would be fine, if not for the fact that these people are the faces of a gigantic multimillion-pound industry where people like Simon Cowell are trousering STAGGERING amounts of money, whereas they get comparatively little.

Cowell makes a fortune, but in return, all you get is a chance. That’s not right.

One last point of rage, now. The thing that may well be the most poisonous feature about reality TV – the culture where the only catharsis on offer comes from being judged.

It’s not enough to sing a song or perform well. It only truly matters if Louis Walsh says you’ve sung a song well. Then the true applause can sound.

Some children have grown up thinking this is normal. Misha B or Frankie Cocozza or the other youngsters have known nothing other than this practice of standing there and allowing your emotions and your best efforts be mangled or gilded by a panel, whose own talents are dubious at best. It’s disgusting.

Where’s the rock and roll? Why do they all just nod and accept the criticism or empty praise as if they were good little boys and girls at assembly? Why doesn’t one of them tell the panel to take a flying fuck to themselves, give the audience two fingers and walk off? I’d be tempted to buy their records, then.

Personally, I want to see an X Factor mole. I want someone placed in there with a nice stage school background – ‘cos you can bet they will be looking out for that, the producers – to expose the whole thing for the sham it is. During the live final, ideally, after they’re crowned as winners. Any of the papers want to go for it? Of course, they may well be shutting the gate after the horse has bolted going by this morning’s headlines.

Bottom line, this show has been on long enough, it has had its day. The format is so tired, it must surely be on the way out, like Big Brother before it. People must be well aware of the levels of editorial manipulation and there’s barely an honest word uttered on it.

And this is the key problem, the main issue, for a product which claims to reflect “reality” – look that word up in a dictionary if you are confused. But I’d even be prepared to accept everything I’ve just slagged off, because after all, it’s only Saturday night television… except you have to pay to participate! They’re taking money off you to vote!

Unbelievable. There are some mugs out there.

Oh, and… purely speculation of course, but if the results are found to be fixed, someone should be in court for it. Then we will hopefully see some true judgment on the part of those responsible prior to a stint in the reality show no-one wants – the fucking jail.

Lines are open now.


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