Interest in The X Factor seems to have dropped substantially this year. It’s hard to express why exactly that seems to have happened given that Nicole Scherzinger is arguably a better judge than Kelly Rowland and the overall talent of the roster this year outperforms those of last year’s competition. That’s not to say that there’s anything really wrong with performers from series eight such as Marcus Collins. In fact, Misha B, Amelia Lily and winner’s Little Mix have all produced albums and released singles that have done well in the charts. But along with that small handful of people you had a bunch of people who were interesting and entertaining but lacked the same vocal talent.
Series Nine seems to have gone in a new direction, attempting to throw off the criticism of other shows, such as The Voice, and dissenting viewers that the show is all about the image rather than vocal talent. Spearheading this change is Gary Barlow. Initially, when Gary Barlow was announced as a judge on the X-Factor, I had high hopes that he would a strong judge. However, his judging on the show has actually shown him to be out of sync with a lot of what the public wants.
Consider this: in series eight, Gary Barlow admitted that Frankie Cocozza wasn’t the strongest singer but brought him through to the live shows anyway and touted the young rebel without a cause as the act he felt would connect with the audience. This didn’t prove to be true as he ended up in the bottom two on the second week. Fast forward to the current series and we can see that in fact Gary Barlow’s only remaining act in one that the public voted back in to the competition, not an act that Gary himself decided to bring to the live shows. So, looking at Gary’s performance as a mentor in the competition, he really appears to be out of touch with the audience wants.
Across the sea, Simon Cowell, Demi Lovato, Britney Spears and L.A. Reid have begun the live shows for X-Factor USA. Gary often comes across as the being the lead judge in the UK but when the viewer compares his comments to Simon Cowell’s it becomes painfully obvious just out advanced Simon is when it comes to picking what will sell and what will work. Each of Simon’s groups in the US version have selling potential, although personally I’d have taken Sister C over Fifth Harmony/1432/LYLAS. And it’s clear that Simon knows when to let the act take the lead, in the case of Lyric 145 choosing their own song, and when he needs to step in, such as forcing a change in the name of the five piece girl group. In both cases it required innovation. Conversely, Gary has done very little to shape his acts.
The act that was eliminated last week was Kye Sones after the judges went to deadlock and let the public vote decide to keep Rylan Clark instead. Kye later stated in an interview that he didn’t think the comment that Rylan was a better entertainer as Kye himself had performed during his songs too. But that just reveals an underlying misunderstanding in the difference of entertainment and performance and one that Gary should make clear to his acts. Kye came out and sang while accompanied by a colourful or dramatic set or maybe some dancers but there wasn’t actually much that had changed from previous weeks. Rylan, on the other hand, doesn’t just sing and interact with his dancers but there’s energy with the character. He doesn’t walk across the stage, he strides. He doesn’t just sing but shouts out to the audience. And I think he has made an effort to incorporate different styles each week.
That’s not to suggest that I think Rylan Clark deserves to win the competition. Far from it. Given the potential in Ella Henderson, Jahmene Douglas, Union J, District 3 and James Arthur, there’s no way that he can really compete. Not only are most of them capable of entertaining an audience but they’re all very technically acclaimed too. James Arthur, Ella Henderson and District 3 are probably the best in terms of vocal performance with Jahmene and Union J not far behind. So, realistically, Rylan Clark should leave this week or next and given his consistency in the bottom two, it probably won’t take long for it to happen. The only contestant who could leave before him is Christopher Maloney.
Christopher Maloney was the wild card that the public voted back into the competition so it’s clear that something about him appealed to the audience. There are a lot of rumours floating about now though. Some say he’s voting for himself while others suggest Simon Cowell wants him off the show. Either way, there appears to be a backlash against his style. His singing ability isn’t awful but it just seems sort of old fashioned and campy. Everyone states that it’s like a cruise singer as if that’s the lowest kind of performer that there is. However, there’s nothing wrong with that style if you can do it well and make money from it. After X-Factor, Chris will likely be a very rich man if he taps into that market. But it’s not the kind of music that makes the charts. It’s not the kind of music that sells these days. As Tulisa said, it’s not the kind of music that breaks boundaries.
Maybe Christopher Maloney wasn’t made to break boundaries. And that’s fine because not every singer can break boundaries. When compared to older contestants in the US version, such as Vino Alan, who has such a powerfully soulful voice with a morose tone that really makes the listener feel what he’s feeling, you begin to understand why Maloney’s voice won’t sell millions. His nearest comparison in the US version is probably Jason Brock, the man who was branded ‘the entertainer’ by L.A. Reid and was the first to be eliminated by the public.
I think that, going forward, this season of the X Factor can only get better. Week by week the impurities rise to the top and are scraped away. Ratings may rise but it may also be too late for this year’s crop to redeem itself. Looking towards series ten, I can only think of one change that must happen. Gary Barlow must go.