X-Factor is back for its tenth season and as ever there have been a few changes this time around. For once, however, the biggest change has nothing to do with the judges. Yes, Tulisa Contostavlos is gone following a recent alleged drug bust but she has been replaced with Sharon Osbourne. That seems like more of a step backwards though, because as enjoyable as the fights between Louis Walsh and Sharon might have been in the earlier seasons, when was the last time Sharon Osbourne had any effect on the current music scene? Tulisa at least manages to chart.
But really all they did was exchange one female judge with attitude for another. Nothing major and this way at least the X-Factor producers can pretend to have someone to lure in the rock artists that are rarely given a real chance. Overshadowing the perfunctory judge changes are the changes to the audition process. This year, rather than singing in front of an audience, contestants will first have to sing in a closed-off room. If the singer can get three yeses there then they will get an opportunity to sing in front of the crowd.
Singing in a single room to a panel of judges isn’t unheard of. Early seasons of both American Idol and X-Factor have had auditions in intimate conditions. This style of auditioning has the benefit of stripping away everything else so that the contestant can only prevail if their singing is up to scratch. And after all, when everything is said and done, this is meant to be a singing competition, so first and foremost people should be assessed based on their vocal ability. If the participant insists on dancing or show-boating in a room to an audience of four then it may be a sign that they aren’t quite talented enough to succeed.
I can understand the use of the two tiered audition process. Once the judges are sure that a talent can sing to a satisfactory level then it makes sense to test some of the other important aspects of a music star. Things like stage presence and ability to engage an audience are essential. Too many times in prior years we have seen contestants move on in the competition because they were entertaining despite the fact that their singing left something to be desired. Theoretically, this method should produce a superior crop for the boot camp stages. Is it too much though?
To go along with the double auditions, X-Factor now airs on Saturday and Sunday nights. That isn’t likely to lengthen the weekly duration of the programme but it does seem as though it may have been set up to directly compete with Strictly Come Dancing on BBC One. I’m not sure that was really necessary though and more than likely it will burn out viewers faster like taking a blow torch to a candle. That’s not to say that Strictly Come Dancing doesn’t draw out its show to excruciating lengths (last night’s episode spent eighty minutes pairing fifteen celebrities with their dancers; that’s five minutes per celebrity.), but the dancing competition is generally a little more subdued than X-Factor. The latter is a blitzkrieg in terms of talent shows; it goes in fast and loud. With the double shows on weekends, viewers are much more likely to get sick of The X-Factor.
It makes me wonder if Simon Cowell and SYCOtv know how to be subtle. My gut says no. Consider a show like Great British Bake-Off which has really taken off in popularity in recent years. On the surface, it is a group of people hunch over counters for an hour, at the end of which one person is praised and one leaves the group. Unlike, X-Factor though, The Great British Bake-Off does not have an audition process, or at least not one that is shown to the public. While the two aren’t exactly comparable they are both, at their roots, talent shows. And at the moment X-Factor could learn a lot from Great British Bake-Off. Though only in its fourth year, changes to the baking competition have been simply and unassuming. The amount of contestants increased in the second and fourth years and in this most reason season the judges were given the ability to send home two contestants at any time. And that happened this week when Deborah and Mark failed to impress Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. And it happened with much less fanfare than you would assume from a reality television show. It would be pleasant to see X-Factor to place the gimmicks in the background and focus on the music. That isn’t to say they should do away with their tricks but we don’t need to be reminded for the duration of the hour that the contestants have to go through two auditions. In other words, keep the gimmicks but don’t viewers like idiots.
That said, this year’s X-Factor is relatively unchanged compared to its American counterpart. X-Factor USA has partnered Simon Cowell with three female judges as Kelly Rowland and Paulina Rubio join Demi Lovato, so that for the first time in X-Factor history women will have the majority on the panel. Furthermore, the boot camp and judge’s home stages have been gutted from the process. A new middle portion has been developed to buffer the audition stage from the live shows but that feature has yet to be fully revealed.
In terms of the actual singers (after all, the point of the show is to find a good one), this week’s show displayed more variety. Sam Bailey, Tamera Foster and Hannah Barrett from week one stood out but ignoring the bad acts only rocker Fil had a radically different style from the others. And he wasn’t even that good. There was a much greater distinction in this second week between artists such as Abi Alton, Chloe O’Gorman and Dolly Rockers. There were also a lot of returning participants. I’m not saying they don’t deserve a second chance but I didn’t notice much improvement overall so don’t expect any of them to end up winning the whole thing even if two or three do manage to make it to the live shows.
Things will change. That I know. It would be illogical to think that X-Factor or any of the other reality television shows should remain the same as they were. The music and entertainment industries are constantly moving and for a programme to keep up then the producers need to keep innovating. How you go about change is a different matter, but it is also matter that politicians have argued for years. Whatever side you come down on, just make sure you enjoy whatever show you’re watching.