Ben McCarthy immerses himself into the insanity that’s going nowhere fast.

Yes, it’s that time of year once again. It’s back. The annual weekly update of the growing population of pennies in Simon Cowell’s bank account. The so called “singing contest” that seemingly got lost on the way and became Britain’s Next Top Model. The amusing sight of watching Gary Barlow try to keep his eyes open. Ladies and Gentlemen, your insanity starts right here: The X Factor has returned.
You know the drill. It was old ten years ago, when Simon Cowell blatantly ripped off Pop Idol and sloshed the show together. A bunch of people attempt to sing in front of a panel of judges, so called “experts” in the field, despite having questionable qualifications themselves. Said panel either rip into them or swoon over them. Either way, by the end of the series you’ll have another bland pop star to add to the mix, off out to international stardom. Or to end up back in Butlins before the year is out. I mean, who even won last year? I’ve even seen the guy live when they saw fit to book him for my Grad Ball, and I can’t for the life of me remember his name.
I’ll come out and say it: I goddam hate this show. It represents everything I despise about dumbed down reality TV, and the music industry as a whole. And yet, while its star has wavered in recent years, it remains insanely popular. Why? Well, I decided I’d find out. Sitting down on Sunday night to watch the pre-recorded Saturday show (no way in hell am I sitting through 45 minutes worth of adverts. Yes, I counted), I braced myself for the inevitable. Would I make it through the entire episode? Would Sharon throw a wobbler and storm off the stage? Just how ridiculously shallow would they manage to be in 2 and a half torturous hours?
It opened to the usual fanfare. Judges Louis Walsh, (famous for Boyzone, Westlife and his catchphrase “pick up the phone n vote,”) Sharon Osborne, (famous for being married to Ozzy and her huge dislike of Dannii Minogue) Nicole Shertz…thingy (famous for looking like a solo artist with a bunch of bimbos dancing behind her) and Gary Barlow (famous for Take That and his obvious love of ITV’s money) all marched onto the stage to fireworks and applause, like the four of them were the risen Jesus. Sadly, Simon Cowell couldn’t be there, having completely abandoned the UK show to take it over to America, dollar signs shining in his eyes so brightly I’m surprised he can still see.
Straight away, the X Factor clichés became hugely apparent. This show takes no prisoners; it will try anything, anything to get its audience spending money. Right off, host Dermot O’Leary told the crowd about “Flashvote,” a new aspect of the voting process that sees the person with the lowest vote guaranteed a place in the sing off, not announced on Sunday, but Saturday instead. So make sure you get voting, folks! Oh, and you can download the tracks as sung by the contestants the minute they finish singing it. Already, I was sighing, and none of the singers had even opened their mouths!
What followed was what one would come to expect from The X Factor. Some acts where good, hell one or two where great, but the rest where just hilarious. You’ve got girl group Miss Dynamix, whose blatant similarity to 2011’s Little Mix is so obvious I was laughing my head off when I saw them. But even these three admittedly okay singers pale in comparison to Kingsland Road, who might as well simply have called themselves One Direction. I’m not kidding. Put the two boy bands in the same room together and you would struggle to tell the difference. There is nothing, nothing original about these two groups; the producers know Little Mix and 1D have made them bucket loads of money, so here are some clones to gather more votes.
And then there is that other X Factor tradition: its blatant message that, as long as you look like a TOWIE reject, you don’t actually need to be able to sing. This year’s response is Sam Callaghan, who’s frankly embarrassing rendition of Summer of 69 should make the producers ashamed of themselves. During Judge’s Houses, three other boys were turned down for this guy, and he can’t sing to save his life. What’s worse is that he knows this. His little video intro was blatant in how full of himself he was. One moment even had him gaze at the camera and proclaim he was single. So, vote for him, girls! You never know. He might re-tweet you one of these nights. We have this year’s Frankie Cocozza it seems, who will be loved by the teenaged girls and despised by everyone else.
The rest of them where… OK. Long gone are the days when the likes of Leona Lewis or Rhydian would effortlessly wowed you every week. The only contestant who even came close to that on Saturday was prison officer Sam Bailey, whose amazing performance of The Power of Love was by far the stand out. Of course, she’s not a 20 something, perfectly thin young girl, so has about as much chance of winning this year as I do. Special mention also to Abi Alton, who while not having the strongest voice has a style all her own very different from everyone else. And trust me; after two and a half hours of this crap, anything remotely new is welcoming.
Then came Sunday’s results show; the one where ITV’s budget evaporates to hire some famous guests. And hey, you could do much worse than Cher and Ellie Goulding, even if I did spend watching the latter’s performance being utterly mesmerized by her, urm, dress.  But after half an hour of padding, the moment of truth arrived. No such luck that people would remember this is a singing, not a modelling, competition. Sam Callaghan and the unoriginal groups sailed through, as did, thankfully, Sam Bailey and Abi. Thus, we were left with two singers with more talent in their little finger than the likes of Callaghan: Shelly Smith and Lorna Simpson.
Of course, it goes without saying that neither of them really deserved to be there. But this is The X Factor, a show that lost all credibility for me when Leon Jackson beat Rhydian back in 2007. So I have very little to say about the resulting sing off, as I saw it coming a mile away. Sadly, it was Lorna who was sent packing, a girl with quite a good voice who could have done well if given the chance. A good singer leaving in the place of a poor one? What else is new?
In all, it wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be, but that really didn’t make it good. The Judges were annoying, the acts were mostly dull and the show is just another promoter of this looks before talent way of thinking plaguing most TV shows these days. Its ridiculous structure would actually be watchable purely for a comedy element, if not for the fact people are pumping millions into this farce every year, and Simon Cowell is sitting in his Beverly Hills home laughing his head off. So, we can hate it, criticise it, call it the worst thing since Britain’s Got Talent, but we must expect the inevitable: this greedy, over promoted show is going nowhere.