By Jack Peat, Editor of The London Economic
The troubling thing about Jennifer Phillips’ performance on Sunday night’s X Factor is that irrespective of her profound talent, she can never hope to win the competition.
I have a number of gripes with X Factor, most of which are axiomatic and probably not worth stating here. But asides from it being a blatant set-up and presided over by a talentless bunch of judges, and the fact that it’s a soap opera rather than a talent show, and that it offers delusions of grandeur to young hopefuls, and that it cheapens music, and that it strangles eventual winners of the competition (woops), the thing that worries me the most is that it is inherently sectarian.
Last night marked the end of the live auditions where all contests bar one or two are given a ‘seat’ and then heartlessly booted off again just when they thought they were home and hosed. Last night, as part of a long-running agreement with my girlfriend (I’d earlier watched Newcastle thump Norwich, Argentina thump Ireland and Scotland narrowly, and perhaps unfairly, lose out on a semi-final spot against Australia), I watched the over 25s perilously negotiate the grumpy Simon Cowell and what I assume is his brainchild, the Six Chair Challenge.
Talent amongst the over 25s was hardly absent, but it was certainly threadbare. Holly Johnson made me very sad with her flat and lifeless version of ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams, “half dead” Max Stone did a half decent job of a Bob Marley track, Vicky Ann Nash sung well but she was clearly shitting bricks, Joseph McCaul covered Duffy (no comment) and Mr Nice Guy Zen Blythe got the sympathy vote with a Lenny Kravitz number.
It’s all very “prey for the future of music” stuff, until the phenomenally talented Jennifer Phillips takes the stage and confirms after several powerful auditions that she is patently a favourite for this year’s accolade. Singing ‘Up To The Mountain’ whilst strutting around the stage in leopard print boots, peach lipstick and glowing white hair she captured the audience and was the deserved recipient of the only standing ovation from the judges. But here’s the stickler. Jennifer Phillips will never win the X Factor.
Take a look at previous winners and there’s a notable mould. Young, well-dressed, thin, good-looking and, preferably, white, for the past X series the X Factor has been crowning the same person champion over and over again. What’s the difference between Shayne Ward, Leon Jackson, Joe McElderry and Matt Cardle? Not very much. Or Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke; one cast in the mould of the other.
Not that the X Factor is entirely culpable. The public vote ultimately decides who wins the competition, but the public has become so consumed by ‘popular’ music that we have forgot to reward those who step out of the cast. And whose fault is that?
Simon Cowell once said “Everyone who turns up on X Factor does it because a door has been closed to them at sometime in their lives, and this is the only shot they’ve got.” I would suggest that the X Factor closes more doors than it opens. Simon Cowell has a frightening stranglehold of the British charts, and it is he who shapes hopeful youngsters by shoving cover songs down their throats until they act as he pleases.
X isn’t for talent. X is for stardom, and to be a star in Cowell’s eyes, you have to fit the mould.