The X Factor, eh? It's only been on our screens for six weeks but by goodness do people bang on about it. Whether you're a fan or not, you'll probably know by now that Simon Cowell is no longer on the judging panel. Instead it's Gary Barlow - the new King of Saturday night TV. You'll also probably know that 'the girl' out of 'that band' N-Dubz is now one of the judges (and if you're a X Factor fan, you'll know her as 'Tulisa Contostavlos'). You might even know Cheryl Cole left the show, went to do the American version for a week, got sacked and came back home again. In short, fan or not, you probably know much more than you realise...
But despite Syco's incredible 13-million-a-show viewing figures and the non-stop tabloid headlines, it seems there are actually a whole load of people who don't actually like watching The X Factor. I know... it's... shocking.
At the start of the current series, Lily Allen was the first celebrity to jump on the anti-X Factor band wagon. "X Factor FAIL," she tweeted during Week Two. "Too set up/scripted in my humble opinion... it's shit. FACT! It's everything that I detest about modern western culture. Cowell is the only one who really benefits. I don't know how Simon Cowell has managed to get away with essentially copywriting the talent contest. It's beyond me, really."
And she wasn't the only one who thought that way. The same weekend, I had one of my best friends over for dinner. She kindly agreed to come round, despite the fact I had to tweet along with the show for work purposes (yes sometimes I have to do this - it's not the worst job in the world). "This is not a talent show, Karen," she said to me with a disappointed look in her eye. "Where's the talent? There is NO talent."
I've seen a lot less of her in the last six weeks. In fact, while she's probably loving having Saturday nights with her boyfriend and seeing friends and family, I've mentally cancelled all weekend night plans from now until Christmas. And to be honest, I wouldn't have it any other way. (Sorry Jo.)
Another friend Nicola told me that she thought the whole show was so contrived and that's why she refuses to watch it. "People think the best person will win," she explained. "But the voting makes no difference. Simon Cowell controls it all."
If that last bit was in a national newspaper, it would be a serious case of defamation against Cowell and co', but the truth is, it's quite a popular opinion. This show has practically divided the nation in its ethics and entertainment value (Ceri Rees' audition being a prime example of both).
But in reality, we don't have any reason to suspect it's all a *whispers* fix AND also... why does there have to be such a hoo ha around loving the show? Why is it that people actively love The X Factor or they hate it? No one was this bothered about Blankety Blank.
Yes okay, there have been some cloudy decisions on who featured during the auditions and yes, the choices of finalists have been a bit dodgy (if this was a pure talent show, Goldie would not have got through stage one. FACT.) But the point some people seem to miss is, this is a TV show - it's made for the entertainment of millions of people. The true talent is just a side-product. A bonus! And that's not even touching on the whole 'what makes an artist a star' issue. Talent doesn't always go hand in hand with a great stage presence.
The fact is The X Factor and the shows similar to it (Strictly Come Dancing, Britain's Got Talent etc) simply mark a huge shift in how viewers want their television presented to them. Gone are the days when we all just wanted to sit back and mindlessly watch hour after hour of fantasy, comedy or drama of a night. Just over a decade ago, our TV watching was determined by what schedulers threw at us. The most interaction you got with a TV show was being able to phone-in to Live & Kicking on a Saturday morning - or if you were really lucky, Noel's House Party team would end up in your house with a hidden camera. Actually, I'd imagine the best thing that could have happened in the 80s was having your letter read out on Points Of View on a Sunday afternoon.
But now, not only do we actually get to watch TV, we also get to have a real opinion - even better, we can give our opinion. Yes we can call in to vote and yes not everyone wants to spend their hard-earned cash doing that. But what's even more fun is that we can go to work and hours discussing it with colleagues (well, that's what happens in my job anyway). And then we can go to the pub and discuss all over again with friends. Our mum's talking about it. Our boyfriend's talking about it. Even people you've never met in Australia are talking about. People in the US on my Twitter are even streaming it and tweeting about it!
Yes it's silly, yes some of the auditions are ridiculous and yes sometimes talent doesn't even get a look in (Frankie Cocozza, you're a lucky chap) but just think how many times you've laughed about it. So what if Simon Cowell decided which auditionees he wanted to focus on in post-production, we're being entertained aren't we? And that's what we turned in for. And let's face it, there is a part of us that wants to see Barlow's handsome face. We might even grow to like some of the singers - some of them you'll be shocked to know CAN SING.
The fact is, no one ever said this was going to be a talent show in its truest sense. If it was, we'd be so bored. Imagine sitting through a talent show resembling something like a Year 10 school production. You wouldn't be watching then, would you? And ITV1 and SYCO know that - it's their business to know that.
So let's just all calm down and tone down the controversy shall we? After all, it is just a TV show. And besides, the live finals start tomorrow which means there'll be more Gary Barlow on TV than there ever has been before. Surely no one can argue against that?
So, er, I'll see you on Twitter tomorrow to discuss the show as it happens, yeah?