3 years

Why The X Factor Is Dying

With this year's series yet to be confirmed by ITV, has the show's repetitive and self-destructive formula taken it past the point of no return?

The X Factor’s viewing figures have been slowly declining for a while now, but in 2015 the show suffered its greatest losses.

The average audience for the series fell to 6.85 million – a far cry from its peak in season seven, which drummed up an average of 14.13 million. BBC One’s Strictly Come Dancing consistently hammered its rival every Saturday and Sunday night in the ratings.

Although it should be noted that the X Factor is still far from unpopular, the show is undeniably trickling down to its death one series at a time. Gone are the days when it dominated our weekend.

Now there are whispers that ITV, having acquired The Voice from BBC One, are considering giving X Factor ‘a rest’ for a year. Which I can imagine is a bit like being told by your other half that they want to go on a break, whilst they’re holding hands with a younger, hotter version of yourself. So why is the X Factor losing its… X factor?

Primarily, it has completely lost its authenticity. Yes, the show has been haunted by cries of ‘fix factor’ since it began, but it’s always been orchestrated to some degree. Now, though, even the contestants seem bogus and preselected. One girl group from the latest series, 4th Impact, had already been on four talent shows and won at least three of them. Considering Simon Cowell’s prevalence in the industry, you’d expect him to have heard about the girls and their Youtube channel, which has over 25,000 subscribers. Although the show vehemently denies asking the band to appear on the show, 4th Impact epitomise how the acts have transformed from ‘regular Joes’ into polished professionals.

The days of finding raw talent and bringing it into the light are over. Do you remember Andy Abraham from series two? The bin man who came second? Or Andy Williams from series four who worked for an asbestos removal company in Newport?  They were what the X Factor claimed to be all about – encouraging hidden talent to emerge from the woodwork and take a chance on fame. This year, they tried very hard to make a big deal of the fact Lauren Murray was a humble ‘dental receptionist’.  The horror! Imagine being a receptionist? Is it seriously on a par with getting bin juice all over your trousers at 5am or dying from asbestos poisoning like the Andys?

This brings me onto the point of contestants’ misery stories, which is an aspect of X Factor that we’ve all grown hideously bored of. Once upon a time, the odd tear-jerking tale worked to a competitor’s advantage. But now that everyone is shrieking ‘My gran has a club foot!’ before they’ve even got onto the audition stage, we’ve been emotionally numbed to sob stories.

It’s actually very sad that 4th Impact had a father with a brain tumour and needed money for his operation. Yet we have been so inundated with sob stories, I found myself shouting bitterly through my bag of crisps: “Yeah, like you haven’t got that cash already with your tool belt of talent contests!” The continuous barrage of teary tales is such a transparent guilt trip that it not only causes us not to care, but also to feel a little insulted that they expect us to swallow it all mindlessly.

The whole format is stale – the sob stories, the rising notes of Take That’s ‘We Can Rule the World’ before a contestant gets four ‘yes’s’, and the tears of every single person who ‘wants this more than anything’ because it’s their ‘last chance’. I’m waiting for the singer who says ‘You know what? I kind of want this. But I also enjoy landscape gardening and I’d be happy doing that for the rest of my life if this goes tits up’. All of them want it, so why the endless repetition?

The attempts to mix things up by introducing the ludicrous ‘six chair’ challenge, and the soul-destroying ‘beg the judges to be put in the live shows’ round, has resulted in dragging out what is already a slow selection process. Every year we see the same people – *cough* Monica Michaels *cough* – crying the same tears with the same lines. Perhaps that’s why Reggie n’ Bollie, an act who would’ve been laughed out of the auditions in the first few seasons, managed to come second this time?

But what really hammers the nail in X Factor’s coffin is its self-destructive nature, which sabotages its premise and smothers its own dream. The structure of the show dictates that when a winner is crowned they are then contracted to do the tour, which doesn’t finish until around February or March the next year. This means the show cashes in on the winner’s Christmas single, but the winner can’t produce any new music or make the most of the buzz surrounding them until next year’s show starts. By this time, the public are already gearing up for the next victor, and the previous one is forgotten, berated by the public for ‘not doing anything since’ and then unceremoniously ‘dropped’ by Cowell’s label.

Perhaps this is the most stable plan economically – make money out of the votes, the Christmas single and the tour, then clear the way for the next batch, rather than invest time and money in an artist that could fail. But this factory approach has meant the last few winners haven’t even had a chance to be successful. James Arthur, Sam Bailey – both great singers – and even recent winner Ben Haenow have all failed to reach any significant level of fame. Louisa Johnson’s debut last year was the least successful winner’s single of all time by a large margin, which doesn’t bode well.

The premise of the X-Factor is that it will change the life of some hidden, talented individual, but this promise is undermined by its own strategy. If the success of One Direction has taught us anything, it’s that winning the show doesn’t actually mean anything. In fact, it may even be better to lose.

If ITV doesn’t renew the show, there have been suggestions that Cowell will take it elsewhere, which makes sense while the viewing figures are still significant enough that someone will want it. However, if the X Factor is to stop sinking, it has to rediscover its authenticity, rekindle the ‘rags to riches’ dream and give its acts a fighting chance to succeed. If it continues in the same vein, it doesn’t matter whether it’s on BBC 1 or E4 – we’ve seen it all before.

Discussion feed

  • I am afraid that I am in the camp of absolute hatred against The X Factor and would happily see it gone forever (its blight on the Christmas Number One spot is just plain wrong). Even in the early years when it was about the man/woman on the street with genuine talent wanting to make something better of themselves, it was still very targeted at a specific audience and had to have a very specific sound and look. All the names you have listed in your (extremely well written) article...where are they now? With British music legends either too old to carry on or sadly passing away, what we need is someone to take over from these legends...someone with the talent, diversity and genius of David Bowie or someone with the guts, balls and song writing brilliance of Lemmy. There was a time when the British music charts was littered with albums/singles from Zeppelin, The Who, Queen, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, Scott Walker, Kate Bush etc etc but look at it now...its embarrassing!!
  • Gone are the days of when shows like these were dominating the ratings. Here in the US, shows like these are seen in every channel in some form and we're sick of it. American Idol in its heyday was great, but after so many years of being exposed to this kind of TV, it gets stale. The only one that's had renewed success is The Voice, but even that I find to be boring.