X Factor: A Wormhole to Fame

A guest post by Stephen Lee Naish

Every year I usually allow myself just one clip from the first week of X-Factor, just to ensure my curmudgeon is still intact and I’m not softening as the years go by. As usual I was in general disarray at the whole shambolic nature of the show. A young, sweet natured, and clearly well talented young lad by the name of Reece Bibby was filmed walking around the audition room, clearly aware, before the audition had begun, that his fate was sealed as one of the contestants to rise towards the winning circle. The cameras, set to soft focus of course, tracked him as he surveyed his surroundings, as if to say “yes people, I have arrived”.  In his introduction he states “Simon Cowell is a massive figure in the music industry, so he’s someone I obviously want to impress” The young chap seems to be under the misapprehension that standing before the almighty Cowell and subjecting himself to the Cyborg-like quips of the ageless tycoon brings credence to his very obvious talent (seriously Skynet, if you are reading this from your future abode, congrats for sending back in time a cybernetic Cowell to destroy our civilisation. That is genius). It seems that at no point do Bibby and his young ilk even consider the long slog towards fame and recognition. Fifty gigs a year in shit-town back alleys playing for a bunch of pissed-up students and boorish musos. The idea of knocking together a demo CD that sounds like it was recorded on a Casio watch is ridiculous. Heaven forbid the thought of releasing a cruddy first album with two potential songs that people might like and a dozen others that may as well be digitized vomit. Learning something from that disaster and reinstating the verve and vigour to achieve a true accomplishment: a decent second album, is almost an alien concept. Now it is straight to the readymade audiences of X Factor, fuck the people who actually like and enjoy music as something beyond a national game of Simon Says (Simon says vote for this act. Simon says buy this duff single).

The long hard road to fame has been dispensed with in favour of the quick Christmas hit, the flashy, overproduced album, the brief, yet bright career, and then afterwards, the squabbling years, chasing the coin of a once prosperous future as it tumbles down a piss stinking roadside drain. Is nobody learning this lesson yet? Cowell seems almost thrilled to take the responsibility for the demise of popular culture and the carcasses of people’s dreams he has trampled on these past ten years, but what of the other judges? Despite the name change that gives her an edge of the exotic, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini is a vacant lot. Even the appearance of a doppelganger who enters the chamber for an audition can’t stir much emotion in her. Louis Walsh seems happy to be out, like a old man on a bus holiday to Blackpool Pier. But at least Walsh exemplifies a niceness that could be called to your side if the audition hits the skids, and you need a dignified exit. And what of Mel B? Former Spice Girl and icon. Surely somewhere deep inside she must blame herself for the rhapsody of wannabe pop stars who still cling to the notion of vague talent equals millions in the bank and lasting fame. She has managed it after all. They now parade themselves in front of her, acting like a kid who has sipped the last dregs of beer at a family Christmas party and is now giddy on attention from the grown-ups. Seriously though all the best to that young lad Bibby. I can’t fault his ambition. I just hope he bows out on his own accord and shows that a worthwhile career and be forged through hard work and talent and not through a sense of entitlement that shows like X Factor has promoted within the next generation of musicians.      

 Stephen Lee Naish is author of U.ESS.AY: Politics and Humanity in American Film (Zer0 Books, 2014)

Art by Maria Priestley (@maria_priestley); see more of her work here: http://mariapriestley.com

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