As the leaves start to turn on the trees we start to turn on Saturday Night TV and this weekend and next sees the old rivalry of X Factor and Strictly begin for the tenth year.
When the two first started I, like most watched the trials and tribulations of twelve singers trying to find their way through to the final of a rollercoaster whilst having a journey. But that started to become hugely manipulative, used constructed reality and Simon Cowell became too big for his boots. The show became a secondary thing as the judges pushed to the forefront and the show became more about them than any of their artists. In my eyes the slim credibility the show had wasn’t just being lost, it was haemorrhaging it. Working weekends I rarely saw the show live and found I was fast forwarding huge chunks of the show to avoid the “novelty acts” and the “let’s laugh at the mentally ill” sections which became more important that finding a really good pop artist.
I know there is an appetite for this kind of TV and entertainment; from the travelling freak shows of centuries past to today’s circus of horrors online we can see these things whenever we want. For me the X-Factor crossed the line when they started to “use” these people for their own benefit. Mocking those who obviously have issues becomes bullying in my opinion when a multi-millionaire sits behind a desk laughing in their faces and the viewers are no better for watching it. That’s why The Voice was a better show for me as all the potential acts had talent in the first place – it might not have been as successful or popular, but at least it took the task fairly seriously.
The final nail in the coffin for me (more so than the on-going decision to give Louis Walsh airtime) was when Gary Barlow got involved but nothing changed. Rather than bring the show up in standards with the welcome disappearance of Cowell, the show dragged Barlow down to their level. I like and respect Gary’s work as both an artist and a songwriter. Despite questions of taste I must be recognised that he has achieved a lot in his career and has produced some of the UK’s best pop of recent decades.
A couple of years ago I had a weekend off and sat down to watch Strictly with Jill. Rather than being a ridiculing experience for those involved it was about learning a new skill, developing as a performer and the standard of the show was much higher. Live band who are excellent, a production team who put together a solid show and participants who genuinely work hard and take centre stage over the presenters or judges. Yes there are things that grate with Strictly too – Brucey (bless) is not up to the job any more and when Tess & Claudia present the show it’s much tighter and professional. Occasionally a contestant is booked for their novelty factor – Widdecombe & Sergeant come to mind – but then how many of us thought that about Lisa Riley and were proved very wrong when she showed how versatile a performer she actually was.
Whether it’s age or just that laughing at the mentally ill and pointing at the different and guffawing has become something which I don’t think should be tolerated anymore in a modern society, for me I’d rather watch people improve and learn a skill – show them at their best without being surrounded by a three-ring circus. We know that there have only been a handful of genuine successes from the X-Factor Leona Lewis, Olly Murs and JLS did well and One Direction are the biggest boy band around and I’m pleased for them, but only one of those acts won the show so it’s not actually doing it’s job is it? Strictly for me is the right combination of entertainment and developing talent so I won’t tune in to see the return of the Pantomime tonight, I’ll wait for the real talent next week.