Daytime TV: The entertainers

Gary Day runs out of excuses and watches The X Factor, only to find he is bemused rather than amused

December 2, 2010


Credit: Miles Cole


I can't resist any longer. I have tried, but it's no good. I even turned to DIY until the female of the species took the drill from me before, as she gently put it, I "did any damage". The only option left was the pub, but it was arctic out there. Those figures on the pavement were not snowmen, they were people who hadn't been able to walk fast enough to prevent themselves from being turned into ice sculptures.

So there was nothing left to do but cast aside my scruples and watch The X Factor (ITV One, Saturday November, 7.40pm) like a normal human being. "What's the problem?" demanded the daughter. "It's only a bit of fun." Maybe she was right. And anyway, 13 million viewers can't be wrong, can they?

According to recent research, more than a third of them have degrees and a further 40 per cent have a postgraduate qualification. Which probably means they are watching the pony-tailed Wagner Carrilho in a detached, ironic, postmodern sort of way. At least those who study English probably are. But what about those who have a degree in economics? There's one of them in this very household.

If you want his opinion, you have to catch him in that tiny gap of time as he morphs between one piece of technology and another. I am simply not quick enough. Is he also one of the 20 per cent of male viewers aged 18 to 34 who voted multiple times for the same contestant? Since Cher Lloyd is the only person on the planet who can prise him away from his Xbox, I suspect that her continued presence on the show is down to him, an impression confirmed by the size of our phone bill, which had to be delivered by truck.

The start of the show is reminiscent of the Old Testament. A bolt of fire hurtles through the sky. Is it a sign that God has had enough of Wagner? Or could it be that the letter X, all ablaze, is a branding iron? Whosoever's buttocks it burns will belong to Simon Cowell. Or perhaps the title is a gesture to that mysterious quality that makes one person sing a bit more in tune than the next.

You are still pondering the meaning of X when flashing silver doors slide open and the four judges step on to the stage to receive a rapturous welcome. There was less fuss when Jesus was born. It takes a while for them to reach their seats as they keep being blown back by great gales of applause.

Plato would recognise the layout, the judges facing the stage with their backs to the audience, because it was exactly the same for the Great Dionysia, the Athenian festival of tragedy and comedy. The philosopher bemoaned the way the crowd would try to influence the judges with their shouting, which has only got louder with the passing of the centuries.

The festival was intended as a celebration of civic values. Hmm. What values does The X Factor celebrate? A right medley, just like one of Wagner's performances. They include fame, mediocrity and youth, except in the case of Wagner and Mary Byrne, who can hold a tune. It is also a substitute for the loss of community. And it gives us a feeling of power. We have the means to rescue Mary from her job at Tesco and make her a star.

Each week there is a theme. Last week it was the Beatles, and Wagner included Hippy Hippy Shake in his repertoire. The Beatles did perform the song once at the BBC in 1963, but it was written by Chan Romero not John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Imagine, which Cher covered in sugar, was written by Lennon, but after the Fab Four had broken up. The X in The X Factor means "couldn't give an X about the facts".

This week the theme was rock. Harry, a member of the group One Direction, announced that his master plan was to get everyone singing along to Summer of '69, a year that, according to the lyrics, was the best one of his life, even though, by the look of him, his parents weren't even born then. The advantage of having everyone join in the song is that no one would hear the group's rendition of it. Good thinking, Harry. Katie Waissel sang Sex on Fire and ran around the set as if her dress was. It could well have been, as the stage was swathed in flames.

There was tension among the judges. Simon scored one over Louis by telling him that he had just returned from New York after collecting an award. But he refused to say for what. Being the Gerald Ratner of entertainment? The audience screamed with delight. Well, at least they were having fun.

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