Tag Archives: The X Factor

I Can’t Sing!

The X Factor musicalYou’re watching one of those torture porn movies, like Saw or The Collection, in which human captives have their bodies mutilated, dismembered or painfully abused. You’ve paid your admission, bought your popcorn and are enjoying the opening sequences of the Grand Guignol. Then, the first grotesquery approaches, and you can barely watch; you clench your fists and prepare yourself for the bloodshed. You are mortified by your reaction– but enjoying it all the same.

That’s how I – and I suspect many other millions of viewers – feel when watching The X Factor, a television show that has a resilient charm and which returns to itv later this year for its eleventh series. The show features people with slender talent but limitless ambition, who are invulnerable to humiliation even when cruelly derided by members of a panel of judges. We watch not as observers, but as active agents who can cast judgement on the wannabe celebrities by just texting our votes.  The X Factor captivates us typically for five months of the year, concluding in December when the winner is elected. We start watching like anarchists and end up as participants in a cultural democracy.  Often the acts that don’t win our votes, like One Direction and Olly Murs, become more successful than the actual winners.

The show is a ratings phenomenon:  even in it’s declining years it attracts more viewers than Coronation Street. At its height of popularity in 2010 it drew 17.5 million viewers (that’s nearly 28% of the UK population) to their screens. It also thrives on a kind of symbiotic relationship with redtop tabloids, all of which carry gossipy stories, often scurrilous, on the contestants. And now it has even spawned a stage show (see picture, above). I Can’t Sing! isn’t the first musical based on a tv show. Corrie has been the subject of Street of Dreams. Jerry Springer Show, the template for so many shows, has also been the source of a musical, Jerry Springer: The Opera. Happy Days will also be a musical. There have been countless stage versions of movies, of course; so television is presumably the next logical source of inspiration. All the same The X Factor is a curious transposition: its plot notionally inspired by an unscripted, plotless talent contest that has plenty of humorous moments, but which is, if we dare utter this with a straight face, a talent competition.

There are uncertainties. For example, I Can’t Sing! will have an original soundtrack, which means audiences will not be familiar with the music and may not even like it. Unlike musicals based on movies with a soundtrack, such as Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Dirty Dancing, The X Factor tv programme has no original score, apart from its theme music. There has been one attempt to dramatize The X Factor-type shows. Peter Kay’s Britain’s Got the Pop Factor, in 2008, was a misfiring parody. It was one of shows you almost wanted to laugh at. Then you realized it couldn’t exaggerate or caricature The X Factor: in fact, it was more restrained and thus less funny than the show it was meant to lampoon.

So why take the risk? As I Can’t Sing! is written by Harry Hill, we can safely presume it will not have the solemnity of, say, King Lear.  Hill is a known commodity with a strong audience that’s receptive to his singular comedy. Then there is the original show’s fan base. The X Factor has accrued a loyal following. If only a small fraction of the millions who have watched the show avidly over the years are curious enough to see the musical, then the show will be a commercial success. Of course, those fans may also balk at not seeing the real Simon Cowell or Louis Walsh. Street of Dreams probably flopped because audiences were so inured to seeing the likes of Rita, Ken and Deidre on their tv screens five times a week that they couldn’t stand impersonators. In I Can’t Sing, actors will be doing their best impressions of Simon et al. They’ll be playing (irreverently, I assume) real figures, rather than dramatic artifices. And that could be crucial to the musical’s success.

It’s a gamble, but the kind a company like Colgate-Palmolive takes when launching a new dental product. The X Factor is a proven brand, so the musical will be an addition to an already-established range of products bearing its imprimatur. So, there is a commercial logic guiding this play. The same logic could deliver us other tv shows that have proven track records. A comedy drama like Benidorm seems a natural. Or even more serious shows such as Downton Abbey or Call the Midwife, both of which pull in eight or so million viewers in the UK alone. But please, please, please: not TOWIE. The programme’s paper-thin conceit surely couldn’t bear the weight of multilayering. Could it?

This is a slightly abridged version of an article that appeared in The Conversation.


Harry Styles’ deal with the devil


harry styles, where have you come from. amazing

Q: So what’s all this about Harry Styles? He’s taken out an injunction. What’s that?

A: An injunction is a court order or warning, restraining people from continuing an action that threatens the legal right of another. Harry says photographers follow him and invade his personal space.

Q: Which is?

A: 50 metres. So now photographers can’t stake out or loiter within distance of him.

Q: He’s not the first celebrity to do this, is he?

A: No. There have been several. Cheryl Cole won a similar high court order last year after complaining about the “intense and very annoying” experience of photographers camping outside her home. Lily Allen too. And the late Amy Winehouse. In 2008, when Britney Spears was taken to hospital, the ambulance needed at least 12 police motorcycles to escort it through a swarm of photographers.

Q: So you can understand why they get annoyed.

A: You can. But it’s like a professor getting annoyed by persistent students who are always asking questions, calling him at home and constantly asking for reviews of drafts. The students might be a bit annoying, but without them the professor would be sunk.

Q: You’re not serious. That’s a ridiculous comparison.

A: Follow my logic. Without students, a professor has no one to educate, no one to read his or her books and articles, no one who is interested in learning, no one to lecture. So the prof might get the occasional student who calls at inconvenient times or bombards him or her with drafts of essays. But that goes with the job. It’s not 9 till 5. Celebs need exposure: they become famous because the media, especially the paps, give them phenomenal publicity. Someone like Harry has been elevated to stardom courtesy of television (he shot to fame with One Direction on The X Factor) and has been in the public eye ever since. His band’s records sell in their millions and their concerts sell out. But can you imagine what would happen if the global media decided to ignore them?

Q: All their fans, the “Directioners” would kick up a fuss and … well, I’m not sure what would happen after that. What?

A: We’d all forget about them, stop buying records and all the other merchandise. Television shows would lose interest and stop booking them. And twitter traffic would eventually slow down. The band would still make a living, but, without the kind of media attention 1D now enjoys, it would be headed for oblivion.

Q: You say, “enjoys” but clearly the band, or at least Harry, isn’t enjoying all the attention, is he?

A: Apparently, not. Though the phrase “goes with the territory” should mean something to him. The band has shot to global fame in a relatively short period of time. They appeared in the 2010 X Factor. Harry is still only 19, remember. The band finished in third place behind Rebecca Ferguson, and winner Matt Cardle, neither of whom has made nearly as much impact as 1D. Imagine if they commanded the same kind of attention as Aiden Grimshaw or Katie Waissel, both of whom were in show’s finals, but never registered with the media. I think that when people go on a show like The X Factor, they strike a kind of Faustian bargain: they trade in their right to a private life in exchange for a shot at fame, riches and A-list status. In 1D’s case, the deal came off and the boy band got what it wanted. But Harry seems to want to renege on the deal.

Q: A bit harsh, isn’t it?

A: It sounds it, but surely anyone who contemplates fame – and a great many people, young and old, do – must know that being followed by paps is part of the definition. Being a celeb means that the media are going to chronicle your every move and convey this to consumers. If they lose interest, then chances are fans have either already lost interest or soon will. That’s just the nature of celebrity culture nowadays.

Q: So what will happen?

A: Either this is an astute career move for Harry and he is intent of becoming the most prominent member of the band. He probably already is. Or he could scare off the paps and they will just ignore him. I think the former is more likely. Interest in the band is inevitably limited by time. In a couple of years, fans will move on: look at JLS. But my suspicion is that Harry will try eventually to establish himself independently of the band. @elliscashmore