(Originally published 3 Nov 2013)
The X-Factor, the world's most pointless karaoke competition is currently taking up the chunk of the weekend's evening television viewing at the moment here in the UK. I hate that show. I hate it for a number of reasons. One reason it riles me so is that I love music and, with the best will in the world, it isn't about music. I appreciate that it's not really about finding a new pop star, it's a vacuous entertainment show and if they happen to find a new cash cow who can string a couple of notes together, then that's just an added bonus. No, the main reason I despise it is the way they (and by 'they' I mean the director's and producers) enjoy ridiculing those who are, shall we say, 'vocally challenged'. Oh how we laughed at these people murdering popular ditties from the hit parade (it's still called that .. right?). We know they can't sing, the judges know and, deep down in their tonally afflicted hearts, I'm sure they know it too. The thing is, they have to go through 3 auditions before they get in front of the judges, so it's not like it's a shock to anyone that what comes out of their mouths is anything other than a cross between fingers scraping slowing down a blackboard and a fax machine. They are set up to be figures of ridicule, for the nation to point and laugh at.
But how do YOU know that, I hear you asking? Well I'm glad you asked. I know this as an old friend once auditioned for the show. OK, so he was no Leon Jackson or Steve Brookstein but he had a perfectly decent voice, in fact he toured the local clubs entertaining people. Sufficed to say he didn't get past the first round but then he wasn't what they were looking for. You might think it's just harmless fun. It's like being back at school where we can all laugh and point at the funny kid in the playground. We're young, we don't know any better, what harm can it do! Let's look it at it another way. Let's say, for a moment, that we weren't just looking for the best singer in the UK, but we were looking for the greatest vocalist the world has ever seen....who also had a mental illness. Do you think you would still feel the same about them? Would the production staff still set them up in the same way? Would it be just as harmless? I don't think so. The fact is they might have, we'll never know, but if the fight to end stigma for those whose poor mental health is more apparent is important, then is it less relevant when it's covert. I don't think so. If people want to audition when they clearly have no chance of winning, that's their business but we don't need to share in their misplaced dreams...it can be the stuff of nightmares.
Incidentally, if you're under some illusion that The X-Factor IS what it appears, go to your local library and read Ben Elton's Chart Throb (better still, lend it out - you'll be in there ages otherwise). It's in the Fiction section, but is more suited Non-fiction than Mr. Cowell and chums will admit.