Now, it may surprise you to learn that I am an XFactor fan. In order to watch TV I have to activate a single-button library-to-cinema conversion which is deeply satisfying and something I like to think James Bond would have been proud of had he pursued an academic career; but the combination of dramatic room-transmutation and dumb ignorance of televisual scheduling means that I don’t bother generally. But XFactor has been the exception; I enthusiastically join the ranks of fanatics. But mingled with my guilty love is a small concern, which I want to share with you this freezing, gloriously Rachelless morning.
It is not that I cannot watch the auditions, hysterical as it is to many to watch the deluded and cynically encouraged embarrassing themselves on television and experiencing heartbreak for our entertainment. This is the worst sort of insidious TV cruelty: these poor creatures (and I talk only of the terrible ones) are misled in the early stages to believe they have a chance and then paraded in a grotesque and mesmerising appeal to our nationwide sense of Schadenfreude. Since Big Brother, our young disadvantaged ranks have been offered an image of easy celebrity that is both encouraging and quietly damaging: that you can have everything you want without working for it, and that being outspoken and ill-informed are qualities to be celebrated. Making it on XFactor demands real talent, of course, but in those early stages of encouraging and exploiting self-delusion, I feel the same distaste we feel for spiteful celebrity gossip in Heat. Someone – and it was either Plato or Cyndi Lauper – said that to blame the public for ‘demanding’ so voraciously this kind of nastiness is like building a sweet shop, letting the kids flock to it, and then blaming the kids for demanding the sweet shop when their teeth start to fall out. There’s no kindness in the process, and I think kindness is a very good thing. (I’m aware I sometimes seem to do awful things to people on TV, but we go to great, unseen lengths to make sure the participants are entirely happy and exhilerated by the whole experience).
No, my concern is actually with the voting structure. It’s something of a magic trick, whereby you allow the punter to feel he has a free choice in something you can in fact control yourself from the very start. It works best when the dupe is so emotionally involved in making his own choices that he misses that he has no actual control over the outcome. Now, I don’t like to give magic tricks away, but in the same way that you know a magician will want to have complete control over the trick to ensure the best possible outcome for all concerned, equally a record company behind such a successful TV show want to make sure they have their favourite, most commercial contestant do as well as possible. They’re not going to leave that to chance.
I knew one judge on a previous, unnamed show, who told me she caused a huge fuss by not towing the line and voting the way the judges had been told to that week. For my money, something odd is going on with Eoghan who has, undeservedly, not received a single criticism from any judge all through the series. Austin said in interview that Simon spent the vast majority of his time with the adventurously-haired Irish youth: clearly someone has plans for him.
But I digress. Think about the voting structure, and about the fact that the judges decide each week between the last two. If you wanted to create a show where the public would become so emotionally involved in casting (and paying for) their votes that they missed the fact that they had no actual control over who stays or goes each week, then this would be the perfect structure. It takes a slap round the face to realise how simple it is. The contestants in the final can be pre-decided before the series, based on the voting structure alone.
Then if it were me, just to really speculate, I’d put in place another unquestioned process whereby the phone lines are closed at the moment that the show wishes them to be, rather than after a count-down or some transparent means of ensuring fairness. That way, if results were neck-and-neck, I’d be able to keep push my favourite through right to the winning post.
Thankfully, if any of this goes on, it would be for no more sinister reason that to ensure the most commercial artist wins. And I trust that the non-winners have every chance of getting signed up themselves.
And as you’ll want to know, I have voted twice – once, of course, for Scott when I felt sorry for him, and then later for Diana. I think, now, on reflection, that Alexandra should win, though I love Diana and Ruth enormously. Now I’m happy to sit back and see who Simon has in mind, and I suppose I trust his judgement. What a show. I love it.