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In Defence of The X Factor

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JADE RICHARDS
ITV

It's easy to attack The X Factor. Popularity is sometimes distrusted. If millions watch something, then it can be characterised as a bandwagon. A runaway success will often attract snobbery too. Arts aficionados hold their noses, signalling their allegedly superior taste. Quality is assumed to be absent.

One of the accusations against The X Factor is that it's all a set-up - that good singers are sourced by the producers and invited to enter the competition. This came to mind on Saturday night when 21 year-old Jade Richards from Fife sang Adele's Someone Like You. Jade's story began in the queue outside the venue. We met her family, particularly her gran, who sang herself in working men's clubs when she was younger. Family photos were cut into the edit, and so by the time Jade stood on the X under the spotlights in front of the judges we knew quite a lot about her.

And then she sang. The first two words - 'I heard' - were carefully measured and pitch perfect. They were probably all the judges needed to hear. Jade's gran, clutching presenter Dermot O'Leary's hand so hard you feared for his circulation, was in floods of tears. As was judge Kelly Rowland. The camera cut to a member of the audience, whose mascara was also running. Louis Walsh, meanwhile, may not have needed a tissue, but his voice was breaking as he told Jade she'd 'just made the whole show worthwhile.'

The pictures were so drenched in emotion that I played Jade's audition back and looked away from the screen. Audio only, the vocal performance still registered. Adele's version of her own song is more ballsy. Jade, meanwhile, used it to display different aspects of her voice; deep and husky initially, and then strong and strident when she reached the chorus. It wasn't perfect but it was utterly authentic.

There was a similar story last week. Misha Bryan from Manchester sang, and rapped, a version of Respect, written by Otis Redding, but mainly known as one of Aretha Franklin's signature songs. It was, in the jargon, a stand-out performance - preceded, however, by a couple of production staples which The X Factor uses to promote its most promising artists. There was the sob story. Misha was brought up by her auntie, because her mother wasn't capable of looking after her. Misha has never known her father, asking for a tissue after a few tears had spoiled her make-up. We also saw her getting ready at home before setting off for the auditorium. Thus the producers knew she was going to be worth watching before she arrived. Or, maybe, the scenes at her house were filmed post audition. Either way, Misha was singled out as someone to pay attention to.

So I Googled her. There were a couple of video performances, neither as good as Misha's turn on The X Factor, one with only 1300 views, the other with 2300. You could argue, therefore, that X Factor is doing nothing more than giving a talented singer a leg-up. Someone who, previously, had very little presence on the net.

There have been a couple of articles elsewhere recently which have dismissed the whole X Factor juggernaut as hype. It's alleged there's too much trickery, such as when a strong performer is suddenly joined on stage by their supporters, who would have been primed to do so by the producers. Cue the whoops from a maybe manipulated audition audience.

But then again, this is a TV programme we're talking about. Saturday night TV at that. Something which has entertainment at its core. Adding in a few family photos, in Jade's case, or filming Misha at home seem relatively minor matters in that context. The alternative is blander and therefore potentially boring. Bland entertainment is an oxymoron.

There was a parade of 16 year-olds on Saturday night who appeared to be rather talented. Who's to say they haven't been encouraged to sing by wanting to get on The X Factor? Now in its eighth series, it's become increasingly the case, too, that winning is not necessary to launch a career. Look at also-rans Olly Murs, Diana Vickers, Cher Lloyd, and JLS, all of whom have had chart success, while Vickers also starred in a West End show. Gamu Nhengu reportedly has an album out soon, as does Rebecca Ferguson. 2009 winner Joe McElderry's post X Factor album may have tanked, but recently he won Popstar To Operastar, and now has a new collection of songs to download.

And for anyone thinking the standard of X Factor finalists in any given year is poor, just watch one of the editions of Top of the Pops from the seventies which BBC4 has been leafing through. Yes, there are gems such as Dorothy Moore singing Misty Blue in the most recent repeat, but also a constant drizzling of dross.

Louis Walsh told Jade Richards that the programme is all about finding someone like her - someone who needs a break. Clearly it's also about making money from someone who needs a break, but Simon Cowell taking a cut out of something is better than no-one taking a cut of nothing.

Getting a start in any kind of creative endeavour is often difficult. The wonderful singer Rumer, who sounds a bit like Karen Carpenter, waited ten years to record her debut album. In that context, The X Factor is offering a route into music which, for some, has probably saved them years of waiting and soul-searching on the artistic sidelines.

And it's providing millions of viewers, after a hard week at work, with a pleasing weekend diversion.

What's not to like?!