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X Factor strikes wrong note through humiliation

By Jane Graham

Published 30/10/2015

Simon Cowell
Simon Cowell

How ironic. Just as I'm convinced The X Factor has jumped the shark, Simon Cowell assures the world it'll be on for another 10 years. Weighing up our relative experience of making live prime-time Saturday night TV shows, Simon's assessment is probably more credible than mine. Which is a shame.

There are many things I hate and have long hated about The X Factor. The ritual mocking of people with learning disabilities, the gleeful encouragement for live audiences to boo vulnerable individuals, the stomping all over kids' dreams until the bleeding intestines of their self-esteem are left to collect dust on the floor - that sort of thing puts a crimp on my evening.

But I've always, until this year, understood its appeal. I've even been known to watch it with my kids, enjoying my role as the disapproving mum and using its ruthlessness as a life lesson on how not to treat people. And Louis Walsh's face as a life lesson on how not to self-tan.

This time round, however, even my kids are disenchanted. After 11 years, the cliched comments of the judges, the insistence on a single, approved approach to singing (dolphiny modern "soul"), the predictability of the whole schlocky routine, all make for a very dull viewer experience.

Maybe the loss of interest has something to do with my children maturing. There was time for much soul-searching and a lot of growing up during that two-and-a-half-hour episode at the weekend. My son, who is eight, began watching as a boy, but felt by the end he'd become a man. A very bored man. Who was up way past his bedtime.

He and his older sister were also discombobulated by the humiliation-for-fun vibe. Years of watching SpongeBob SquarePants have taught them a few things about right and wrong and seeing desperate people forced to beg a panel of celebrities for acceptance in front of a baying audience struck them as a power imbalance too far.

The lack of originality in those little self-selling soliloquies was also disheartening - once you've seen one chap whose name you can't remember clutching at his heart promising to give 500%, or die trying, you've seen them all.

And it wasn't pleasant to observe Simon's body language during this medieval-style showdown - he stretched and purred like an oligarch in a lap-dancing club. At least Nick Grimshaw had the decency to look embarrassed.

The recent format twists thrive on belittlement. The smaller the contestants are made to feel, the bigger Simon Cowell looks. Power really is grotesque in its living form.

The trick of naming the winners who have made it through the rain, to quote Barry Manilow (and why not?), watching them collapse in a heap of grateful relief, then deciding at the last minute to dump one after all, is surely inspired by the animal kingdom.

I've watched a cat toy with a tiny bird, release it to fly free, then pounce on it again and rip it to pieces. I didn't enjoy it then and I find it no more entertaining on prime-time TV.

Singer Kerrie-Anne Phillips compared the process to The Hunger Games. "It was a fight to the death." She came through it, but ended up a rejectee, anyway.

Bit galling, when you've just publicly fought death and won, to be casually killed off a week later. Even after begging for one last breath.

But while news of having lower ratings than Countryfile might keep Simon awake, the broken heart of another expendable won't trouble his sleep.

Been there, done that, got the t-shirt, tucked the trousers into the t-shirt just below the arm-pits. Not a problem.

Jones was honest, not homophobic

I felt bad this week when an interview I did with Tom Jones gave him grief. Recalling his early career, he admitted being “thrown off” when he moved to London and discovered his first producer, Joe Meek, was a homosexual.

He admitted panicking that most of the people who ran showbiz would be homosexuals. Of course, he was pilloried for being homophobic, which he attempted to defend, pointing out the experience had been 50 years ago.

I agree with him. He was simply being honest about provincial attitudes when homosexuality was still illegal.

We mustn’t demand that lies are told about historical truths — even when they’re unpalatable to modern ears.

House is in need of fixing despite rebuff

Hooray for the House of Lords. Sure, the place could do with a shake-up, but this week its interference in George Osborne’s morally reprehensible plans for tax credit cuts showed the benefits of a second chamber safety-check on malicious Government plans.

It’s not an affront to democracy to ask a government to think twice, especially when that government has been awarded total Commons control, with 24% of the electorate’s vote.

First past the post is semi-democratic, at best, and if we replace hereditary peers with genuine field experts appointed by a cross-party committee in the future, we’ll have a much better system than most.

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