And so it came to pass that the Queen of the Judges Panel, Kelly Rowland, in her infinite wisdom and bountiful mercy, did turn her gaze upon The Girls and take unto her bosom the one doing an impression of Diana Vickers and cast into the shadows the one doing an impression of Adele. And lo, throughout the land there was a great wailing and a gnashing of… what? What do you mean you don’t care? What do you mean when is Downton Abbey coming on?
When, last weekend, competition front-runner Jade Richards lost out on a place in this year’s live finals, X Factor bigwigs must have been steeling themselves for a backlash. This was 12 months, remember, since poor old Gamu was told her journey had come to an end (the Home Office, of course, had its own journey planned for her; by freight, to Harare), and you could scarcely lift a page without accusations of wrong-doing on the part of programme-makers. Exploitation, wagged one finger. Duty of care, wagged another. Gamu-gate would later earn the series the accolade of ‘the FiX Factor’.
This year, we all had high hopes of Jade Richards. How could we not, when her progress through the early rounds was edited with such fanfare? An Adele song had been nailed. A rosy-cheeked grandma had been rolled out. She was even given the obligatory X Factor sob story (although, with her immediate family all obstinately alive and kicking, this seemed to amount to little more than: ‘I live in Fife’).
‘I had a dream,’ sobbed Kelly after Jade’s first audition, voice cracking, glossy Evian tears rolling down her perfect face. ‘I have been thinking about this song all weekend and the fact that you came here and stood on that X and sang that song so beautifully, it’s amazing’. This, thought Britain, is our winner. Then, with no preamble, beneath an unforgiving Miami sky, she was Gamued. Strange. Given the way her story had been built up over the weeks, it was almost as if the production team wanted us to be outraged. The nation gave a collective shrug.
So why the under-reaction? Was it that, following her elimination, she was unlikely to be forcibly relocated to anywhere less palatable than Kirkcaldy? Was it our unspoken recognition that one-time gospel singer Kelly Rowland (sample quote, via The Writing’s On The Wall: ‘Thank you almighty, heavenly Father for choosing me to receive all the many blessings I have. I will never turn my back on you. I give you all the praises. I love you.’) might have issues with mentoring a girl like Jade (sample quote, via Facebook: ‘I’m so goth I f*** bats’)? Or could it have been – with the show now in its eighth year – that we have finally grown jaded to the unexpected?
Because the most shocking moment of this year’s Judges’ Houses wasn’t Jade getting the strappy sandal from K-Ro, or Tulisa coming over all Doctor Moreau on the Groups category, or even old Disco Knickers murdering Kelly Clarkson then lobbing herself in the pool (who else thinks she’d spotted a Beta Blocker circling the drain?). The real twist came when we were informed by voiceover that high-kicking novelty act Goldie had dropped out of the competition, and ‘size sexy’ Sami was being air-lifted in from Rhyl to replace her. Let me repeat that: by voiceover.
Where, we wanted to know, was the footage? Why, we demanded, had cameras not been dispatched to Denbighshire without delay to record Sami’s surprise and elation on hearing of her reprieve? Hadn’t we read somewhere the show’s producers can sniff out potential lady tears in much the same way a great white shark will detect a single drop of blood over three miles of ocean? And what of Goldie? How is she going to reimburse Louis for what was essentially a free minibreak in Barcelona (good choice!)? This, above all things, has preyed on our minds. She can’t earn that much dancing on Jabba’s barge!
This, in a roundabout way, sums up the programme’s appeal. It may have now grown so formulaic that even the Voice Of God promising A BIG TWIST can scarcely raise an eyebrow, but there’s a strange joy in surrendering yourself to the formula; in putting your intellect on hold for the night and letting your baser emotions get their claws into you. As the long winter evenings draw in, it’s unsurprising that we fall back on the things we know will cheer us up: pyjamas, comfort foods, and the unremitting theatre of cruelty that is X Factor. You see, we want the judges to bicker. We want Dermot to fluff his lines. We want there to be one contestant we all hate, and we don’t want her voted out until at least week six so we can have a properly long time in which to tell everyone how much we hate her. In short, we want blood, and if we can’t have blood then lady tears will have to do!
So that is why I love ‘the FiX Factor’. For all it is the most staged, manipulative, gladiatorial show on the box, I don’t think anyone can argue with the fact it’s still bloody good TV.
X Factor airs on ITV on Saturdays from 7.30 to 10.00pm, followed by Xtra Factor on ITV2 from 10.00 to 11.00pm. The results show airs on ITV on Sundays from 8.00 to 9.00pm, followed by Xtra Factor on ITV2 from 9.00 to 10.15pm.