Belfast Telegraph

Humiliation of Ceri was a new low for X Factor

By Jane Graham

It was only a few weeks ago I confessed the startling revelation (for me anyway) that I had enjoyed an episode of The X Factor. Regrettably, this led to me watching it again.

A dreadful mistake. It's now on the list of TV shows I won't let my kids watch because of their unfortunate propensity to hasten the decline of civilisation.

It's a short list, my banned TV. But alongside the likes of Jeremy Kyle and Britain's Top Model, The X Factor has become so grotesquely exploitative it feels like it's suffering a pathological condition which has disconnected the makers' powers of human empathy. You know, the sort of thing serial murderers are often diagnosed with it.

It's not the fault of the show's presenter and judges, though this week Louis did not shower himself in glory. It's to do with the deep cynicism of a production team whose only consideration is racking up headlines, water-cooler moments and repeat watches. Anyone who saw this show last weekend will know what I'm talking about, and may be disheartened to hear that the scene which topped the scale of man's televised inhumanity to man, 53-year -old Ceri Rees' audition, has already notched up 150,000 views on YouTube.

We're used to the Bedlam aspect of The X Factor. The knowledge that a vulnerable and befuddled -looking widow, compared by her friend this week to someone with special needs, was encouraged onstage to chatter happily about getting her hair done specially and her dream of becoming like Whitney Houston, before humiliating herself with a singing voice beyond human ken, is no longer shocking. What is shocking however is the alleged manipulation of Ceri Rees, the extent of which has come to light in the past few days.

Rees' friend Amanda Roberts has spoken out against the show, claiming that Rees has in fact been actively pursued by The X Factor producers to come back and 'try again' repeatedly. She says Rees was wooed with promises of free travel and accommodation and told that Simon Cowell loved her and wanted to see her again. As a result, this year's was her fourth televised audition, after attempts in 2005, 2006 and 2008. Roberts also says Rees' elderly parents didn't know their daughter had appeared and her mother was 'absolutely distraught' when she saw the programme.

As a viewer I immediately felt uncomfortable when Rees was introduced on the show, which traced her backstory through the years and built up her audition with pre-recorded footage of her en route. When she appeared on stage Louis greeted her like an old friend, and with a knowing curl of the lip suggested she "explain all about yourself'' to the other judges.

When she began to sing and the new judges quickly realised that, despite her choice of song - I Dreamed a Dream - Rees was not the new Susan Boyle, Kelly Rowland looked upset and buried her face in the desk. Tulisa looked strained, Gary frowned and Louis, like an orchestra conductor, cackled uproariously.

But the usually boisterous live audience didn't follow Louis' lead. Hands were clasped over mouths, eyes were shielded, and instead of laughter, Rees received raucous applause before being told it - for the fourth time - it wasn't her year. The widow - who arrived and left alone - pulled her shopping bag behind her as she left the stage, despondant and bewildered.

I mentioned the decline of civilisation. Perhaps the return of medieval barbarism is a better way of putting it.

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