Belfast Telegraph

I never thought I'd say this, but the X Factor is better than ever

By Jane Graham

Well here's something I didn't expect to be writing - but I must. Because as a journalist I am, of course, a slave to the truth, even if it doesn't make me sound very cool: I think I like The X Factor.

Last week I wrote about my astonishment that the mild-mannered Hugh Laurie had killed off an entire generation of metrosexuals. I got a good couple of days' worth of surprise out of that revelation, which I thought was pretty good going.

Pah! That was nothing compared to the disorientating dumbfoundment I experienced watching - and expecting to hate - The X Factor.

Many of the old manipulative and phoney elements were still present - the contestants' horrible histories, the arena's baying mob. But instead of the usual meaningless twitter and pantomime villainy from the judges, we got insightful commentary, forward-thinking good sense and genuine warmth.

And not just from Gary Barlow. In fact, the biggest marvel of all was the judge that most of us - including a penitent me - had written off as a B-list clone. Step forward Tulisa Contostavlos - your time has come.

The thing I like most about half-Irish Tulisa - and the more I find out about her, the more I like her - is that she seems to naturally resist all that has become synonymous with Simon Cowell's highly crafted and stage-managed production.

Her refusal to indulge in publicity-generating style wars or to fake a personality clash with co-judge Kelly Rowland must have frustrated the Syco team. But it seems she meant it when she scoffed at the ancient rule book which governs celeb la la land and declared: "I am my own woman. I do not want to be someone else."

She has already caused concern behind the scenes for using too much street slang (ie, speaking naturally), but 23-year-old Tulisa's rejection of the meaningless cliches the previous panel became dependent upon is refreshing.

She and Gary rolled their eyes when old school Louis gushed "You owned the stage" at an aspiring Bette Midler type, whom savvy Tulisa instead issued a gentle warning to, having quickly recognised that she was draining audience sympathy with her contrived display of post-performance 'eccentricity'.

Her comments were thoughtful, authoritative and showed a vocabulary way beyond the endlessly 'amazed' and 'goose-pimpled' women judges of yesteryear.

Most impressive of all was her measured response to the nasty little man who succumbed to the red mist when his tuneless dirge left the crowd chanting for his removal.

Humiliated and enraged, he turned on Tulisa like the half-brain he was, calling her a "dog and a scumbag from the hood". She has a reputation for having a hot temper herself, but she remained remarkably composed as she informed him: "I worked my way up from Camden Town. That's why I'm here today."

This is a girl who was the sole carer for a mother with a severe psychiatric illness from the age of nine, who was bullied at school and overcame periods of self-harm and depression to enjoy huge success as a pop star. Some idiot comparing her to his Alsation was unlikely to unfaze her.

Meanwhile, on the other side, that Bafta-winning celebrated icon of modern women, Essex Girl Amy Childs, was chattering about the joy of blinging up pubic hair and getting confused between 'educational' and 'fictional'.

I know which one I'd want representing me if I was 21 again.

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