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X Factor Just Ain't Got It

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One of the great things about X Factor (and by great I mean terrible) is that even if you don't watch it, you'll always know what's going on. You can't switch on a TV, open a website, walk into a newsagents or past a hairdressers without hearing about it. And every time you do, it seems like there's always some kind of drama going on: an internecine judge feud, backstage diva strops, some untalented pisstake artists getting through to the next round at the expense of a slightly more talented, serious-minded artist, all sorts. It's almost as if the format itself is so dull it needs to be given artificial shots of controversy to survive.

Even though it's a show with such wide appeal that its winners generally boast higher vote tallies than most elected officials, X Factor has always struck me cold, like a piece of frozen haddock to the face. Neither the first stage that resembles the bill of a night at a Roman amphitheatre but with less regard for people's welfare, nor the second stage - full of song assassination and pregnant pauses - excite me in any way. The middle bit where they do stuff in a holiday home doesn't do much for me either.

In so many ways, X Factor acts as an allegory of the world economy: the whole thing is fuelled by the masses going hyper for acts whose value is wildly over-inflated. But, instead of sub-prime mortgages, we have Cher Lloyd and Leon Jackson. That's why everyone associated with the show goes full tilt to do anything to get publicity to maintain the illusion of importance and stop the bubble from being pricked, like Wile E Coyote painting roads onto rockfaces or not looking down when he runs off a cliff. And the more ridiculous the headlines they grab, the closer they are to a crash.

Therefore, this last series makes me wonder what sort of panic is going on in Simon Cowell's Ivory Tower full of pieces of the Red Or Black? set. So far, there have been feuds putting Gary Barlow against Olly Murs, Tulisa Constavalos against Kelly Rowland, Kelly against Louis Walsh, Tulisa against Gary, Gary against Louis, Louis against the French, the French against Tulisa and the Prussians, and the lizard people against Asian Tina Turner.

In fact, the only people who seem to be above the perpetual scraps of the Saturday night deathpit are Dermot O'Leary, the only man with enough credibility and general boss-like qualities to present a show like X Factor while also doing a win-laden proper music show on Radio 2 on the same day, and voiceover artist Peter Dickson, who will never stop being awesome.

Beyond those two, the edifice looks rickety. Apart from the usual histrionics that happen an awful lot for a slick production such as this, there have also been tell-alls and complaints from disgruntled competitors, and a worrying degree of contact from disability and mental health organisations. And then to top it off, Kelly Rowland was in absentia this weekend. A severe sore throat kept her away for the last two episodes, but irreconcilable differences may keep her away for good.

There's always a fine line when it comes to provocative drama and controversy, and the difference between compelling and pathetic is usually about a couple of inches. Currently, X Factor is miles away from the Katharine Hepburn end of things and firmly in the drunk guy at a party end, the kind who thinks it's a great idea to pour washing up liquid on the floor with a view to getting a foam party going. With the BBC sizing up yet another punter-gets-shot-at-bigtime hit with The Voice, X Factor needs to sober up pretty quickly.

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