Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Y Factor

Why do people subject themselves to ritual humiliation year after year, appearing on shows like the X Factor when they plainly have never, ever sung before? Have they all had common sense bypass surgery? Would it not have been more prudent to take those first faltering steps towards tunefulness in the privacy of their steam-filled bathroom where the combination of condensation and porcelain creates an echo that makes you sound quite good?

X Factor contestants fall into two categories. The first is gorgeous, talented people who can make Robbie Williams’s Angels or that Celine Dion song from Titanic actually sound half decent. These are people the public should engage in collective flagellation over for ignoring for so long and ITV should be congratulated for bringing them to our attention. There are usually two of these and they are eliminated in the second round after initial wild enthusiasm from the judges because they are discovered to be Tony Hadley or Sonia trying to get much needed media attention.

The other category takes in the vast majority of people who pin on the little cloth number and should probably be running the London Marathon dressed as a chicken instead of butchering Kylie’s Can’t get you out of my head. There is a vast menu of sub-categories. Most notably and this is on the way to being classified as a bona fide medical condition, is the sub-set of grotesque, overweight girls who appear to have been colonised by Britney Spears. Mind you Britney Spears is no advertisement for natural beauty these days herself. Showing up with their Primark sweats clinging to their midriff muffins, they hack their way through Baby one more time in a combination of keys that aren’t actually in the alphabet.

These deluded souls invariably claim they have been told they can sing. They might want to get their irony gauges checked or, at the very least review the numbers they have on ‘friends and family’. Having set themselves up for inevitable failure, they stand before three people, paralysed by stage fright, completely incapable of exercising control over their bottom lip and whimper out an a cappella version of a song that is normally accompanied by a thousand sampled rhythm, strings and bass tracks and the entire Welsh National Choir.

To compound the humiliation, they are encouraged to pump themselves up with self-belief and declare to a horrified nation, ‘I have the X Factor and I’m going all the way to the top’. Some lucky viewers at home will get to say, ‘hang on, isn’t that Darren from the IT help desk? What a dork.’ The rest of us wait in morbid fascination as they are frog-marched out weeping by Tony the DMC-shaped bouncer or have Louis throw a glass of water over them. One Britney-possessed reject, tears emerging in floods from underneath her bottle-bottomed spectacles sobbed this week, ‘they’re smashing dreams in there’.

There is a major dilemma here though. Everyone knows you have to have an ego the size of Hawaii backed up by megalomaniacal self-confidence in order to succeed in the cut and thrust of the music industry. Marilyn Monroe was once asked what she would have done if fifty per cent of critics thought she was rubbish. She replied that it wouldn’t have mattered to her if a hundred per cent thought she was rubbish, all a hundred per cent would have been wrong. Self-delusion is mandatory. You genuinely need to think that just because you can sing a bit, people will want to buy any piece of you that you can manage to commodify and Amazon can package and post. Every time you get off a plane, rather than think, ‘I hope no one notices my horribly swollen ankles’, you need to be thinking, ‘I’m going to phone up RandomHouse as soon as I am allowed to switch on my phone and get a book deal because I had a really interesting dream that would make a great, block-busting best seller’.

The auditions are finally over for this year and we move into a different phase where contestants discover that learning to sing properly can be quite hard when it’s just you and a piano. If you are thinking of entering next year’s competition and have based your entire self-assessment of your talent on the fact that you sound quite good singing along with Mariah Carey, be advised that it is Mariah that sounds good rather than you and go from there.

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