Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Dr Cowell and the Frankenstein X Monster

So, Dr Cowell, your creature has taken on a life of its own.

The beautiful experiment has turned into a monster and deserted you. Despite its good intentions, it continues to gather more victims in its wake, unsure who or what it is anymore.

It is a shadow of its once tiny but perfect self. Small wonder you are weeping and Tweeting.
There is more than a tiny similarity between the tale of Dr Frankenstein and his out of control monster, and Simon Cowell and The X Factor. Both perfected a formula; both loved their creation; and neither could predict the devastation that creation would cause, once it took on a life of its own and set itself free in the world.
On Saturday night, Cowell was in the US, where he is a judge on their version of the show and, when one-time favourite, 16 year old Ella, in the UK show was evicted, he Tweeted: “Unbelievable”.
Really? Earlier in the week, I had been on the phone to UK judge Louis Walsh and told him that Ella and James would be the next to go. Ella’s songs had not only been pitched for her in the wrong key (as Nicole pointed out twice), she looked a mess and was, bless her, boring. Go to the Welsh Eisteddfod in August, and Ella voices are ten a penny – and kids with more personality.
James is undoubtedly a huge talent, but he too looks a mess. The urge to promote “urban” on the part of the judges (in particular, Tulisa) will simply not wash with the ITV audience. They want one thing: entertainment; and if that happens to go hand in hand with talent, great; if not, c’est la vie de showbiz. It is something that the current crop of judges does not understand. It is something that Cowell once did, but does not seem to anymore.
Look at the so-called novelty acts that have gone on to make money, if not very lucrative careers as a result of their laughable appearances on The X Factor – Jedward, being the prime example. They can’t sing, they can’t dance, they are irritating beyond belief, yet they are recognised and audiences flock to them the world over. In the current X Factor, Rylan Clark is a veritable Tom Jones alongside them; Christopher Maloney (who, unlike Rylan, really can sing) is a veritable Pavarotti.
Every week, Christopher gets booed by the studio audience, yet he has yet to be in the bottom two. No, he is no Leona Lewis but he delivers what the studio audience at home want: good tunes, nicely sung, by a seemingly nice, down to earth bloke. Whatever the truth behind newspaper reports of backstage tantrums, the voting audience neither knows nor cares.

So he’s someone who, according to the judges, would be more suited to a cruise ship or a karaoke bar? Well, sorry, but that’s what the audience wants: accessibility. For all Louis’s protestations – “We’re looking for a recording artist” – the show is not, first and foremost, about finding the best singer; if it had ever been about that, it could have gone into every school in the country and picked out an Ella, or visited every “urban” hangout in Camden and found a James.

The X Factor is, and always has been, about giving people something to stay in for and to argue about with their family and friends on a Saturday/Sunday night.
The X Factor was never better than when Simon, Sharon and Louis were on the panel. Here were three people who were in the business, had been for donkeys’ years, knew it backwards, and were not afraid to speak their minds. Then came the glamour girls and, with that, the fashion competitions in the press, the backstage sniping, and the belief that they were bigger than the show.
Now, the show is lucky if it can find anyone who even knows the difference between a note that is too sharp or too flat; instead, they resort to the irritating American Idol-ism “It was a bit pitchy”, which means nothing to your nan sitting at home with a sherry on a Saturday night (Simon, who is not a trained musician, still knows in his gut when a note is just plain “wrong”).
Even worse is the “You nailed it”. Not one of these judges even comes close to Cowell’s remarkable astuteness and ability to say, in one sentence, exactly what is right or wrong. Louis, whom I love, still interacted better with Simon and Sharon than he has with anyone else. In essence, Simon has the ability, as a judge, to nail it.
Is it too late to save The X Factor? To bring the monster back from the seeds of its own destruction? I fear it is. The studio audience used to be a reflection of the audience vote; now, they are little more than puppets in the hands of the judges, who must bear some responsibility for the appalling attacks and even death threats on Christopher Maloney.
It would not have happened with Cowell on the panel. This is a man who knows showbiz – and, for all the money it’s made him and pleasure he gets out of it, knows it for what it is: just showbiz. At least, that’s how I remember him.

But has Dr Cowell, with his American profile and riches, deserted the UK X Factor and left us staring helplessly into the eyes of his monster?
It was, perhaps, inevitable. As Dr Frankenstein said, when his monster came to life: "The beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart." Or, as Simon Cowell might say: "Unbelievable".
Now, there are other monsters, other continents. But beware, Dr Cowell: they, too, will have lives and minds of their own.

And they may all come back to bite you.

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