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the x factor

The X Factor: the fall of television talent shows

It’s no secret that The X Factor, as a show, has died a death in recent years.

It’s gone from being a firm part of the weekly Saturday night TV ritual to a Saturday night plan we vaguely remember. It used to be the highlight of the months leading up to Christmas, with the winner traditionally taking the Christmas No.1 and being the celebrity on everyone’s lips for the next year. Think Harry Styles, James Arthur, Leona Lewis, and Alexandra Burke.

It became such a massive show that not even just the winners became famous. One Direction, who finished third in the seventh series, went on to have five albums, win nearly 200 awards, and top the charts with numerous singles. They became the biggest names to come out of The X Factor. Little Mix won the show a year later in 2011. They have just finished the European tour of their fifth album and are the girl group of the decade.

In its prime, The X Factor was the most-watched TV show in the country. It peaked in 2010, where the seventh series had wracked up the views to 14.6 million people. However, the success of the show was apparently short-lived, with viewings depleting every year. With every new season, the show became further down the list of priorities for Saturday night plans. The last season, in 2018, had less than 6.5 million views, a substantial drop from the season eight years prior.

What has it become?

The X Factor used to be a show with good intentions at the heart of it—helping talented people from normal backgrounds have a shot at being successful singers. At least, it was portrayed as this. This facade has faded, and its true colours have come to light.

The show’s drive became centred around attracting more viewers. It changed every season in the desperate hope to get views, taking the auditions from a small room with three judges to a big stage with four judges and a massive audience. It then went back to small rooms, changed the age restrictions, and switched the judges over and over again. The show also became known for letting people who would better attract viewers into the final shows, rather than more talented vocalists. Think Jedward, think Rylan, think Vagner. It became a farce, it became unfashionable, and for want of a better word, it became embarrassing. 

And now…

The latest season started this weekend, and Simon Cowell’s desperate plea to get the viewings back knows no bounds. The essence of the show has changed entirely, as now, the competitors are already famous (famous may be pushing it actually, but people who are already celebrities in a minor way). It has officially changed for the worse. Instead of being about talented singers from normal backgrounds, now the contestants are not talented, they're not normal, and they absolutely would have the chance to sing professionally without this show. One of them is David Hasselhoff's daughter, and one must ask if she hasn't made a singing career yet, is it really going to happen?

In the introduction to the show on Saturday night, the celebrity contestants played their role extremely well, saying how much they'd always dreamt of being singers. My heart bleeds. The issue is, this isn't The X Factor at all anymore, it is now a celebrity TV show. It was an amusing watch this weekend, and I have no doubt it’ll be successful, but let’s cut the act and stop pretending this show is ‘helping people’. It is helping Simon Cowell’s already large wallet, as well as the large wallets of the contestants. That's about it. 

Figures courtesy of the Broadcasters' Audience Research Board.
Featured image: Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com