Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Time for a change for X factor UK

I was asked what changes might usefully be made to enhance the X Factor UK next year. They may have been expecting something like Bring Back Simon Cowell or Fire All The Judges but, much as though these may have some appeal, that's not really what's gone wrong.

Here's what I said:

There seems to be a disparity between the aims of the show (other than the obvious requirement to be profitable, that is) and the desires of those who actually vote. The initial concept is sound and works well, with various experienced 'judges' and others, well-informed and with good intentions, generally selecting the best 24 or so out of the applicants and recognising talent or potential for development. It is usually obvious at early stages who the 'judges' believe stand a good chance of succeeding in the current music and entertainment market too.

Things start to go wrong at Judges' Houses when individuals appear to be allocated bundles of acts that they may not have chosen themselves and have to select 3 or 4 to go to the Live Shows. This should really be something that they are all involved with. I accept that there may be a need for a mentor for each Category and maybe he or she could have a final say or choose two acts and have the other two selected by 'judges' as a whole (and not necessarily just the four). This might ensure that, at least, those that reach the Live Shows do have general support across the board.

At the Live Shows, the judges have the dual role of mentor and judge which is almost impossible to do as they will always be inclined to 'judge' acts they mentor more positively on air in order not to adversely affect the votes. I feel that the competition between the judges should be considerably diminished - a sort of conversation point but not a highlight - and that they should be much more free to be totally honest about how acts are doing.

It has become quite evident that the voters have a quite different distribution to those who buy tracks. Looking back it has been acts who came 2nd, 3rd and even 4th who have gone on to do really well when the winner has become almost unheard of after the Christmas hit and maybe a follow-up. This shows that X Factor does indeed find people who have that 'X factor' but some device is needed either to minimise the impact of voters who have no real clue about talent and just vote out of sympathy, the contestants' location, his or her looks or some other reason disassociated with what would make someone a longish-term act that is to represent the best of new UK talent in this industry.

Many new acts do not even consider entering the competition as it seems to be 'not for them' which says a lot. So, if the system of keeping acts in the competition is changed there may well be a valuable corollary in that a better range of acts would apply in the first place too - as they would then feel that they would stand a chance of doing well.

'Doing well', as noted above, can be just as good for them, through the tv exposure and possible later support from industry personnel that can be as worthwhile as the winner's contract and title perhaps.

That change, I feel, is absolutely key to the show's continued relevance, if not actually to its prime purpose and, indeed, to lift its perception in the tabloids and chattering classes. It would be seen as genuinely worthwhile, finding good talent that succeeds at home and abroad - see how proud many people who never watch the show, let alone even think of voting on it, are of the likes of 1D, Leona, JLS and Olly. Even Cher wowed the USA audience recently.
So I recommend a much extended 'jury' to select who continues, with acts given longer to establish themselves on Live Shows so instead of 4 being kicked out after one short burst of a performance, just one goes or maybe none for the first few weeks. Double evictions later may be fairer (as in USA). I know that phone votes provide a proportion of the show's income but if more advertising, product placement, sponsoring by companies or even communities of acts (now there's an idea!) could replace that (or cut back the production costs if necessary) then a jury of people whose views we may not agree with but can at least respect (and see justified on the shows) would decide who stays. I firmly believe that would rebuild public confidence in the show which, in turn, would bring back the audience and hence advertising income too. Not competing with BBC major programmes would help a lot too! Huge audience lost because of that over the last year or two, as Strictly fans comprise a huge chunk of potentially much better informed X Factor fans.

Phone votes might still be invited but with far less direct influence. They could, perhaps, determine which of the bottom two jury's selection go - a reverse of the current system.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

And the winner is...


Well done, James Arthur.

This is his new single too.

Nice to see 1D back too.

Rihanna returns

and Kylie, of course.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

The Final Pt1

Yes! He's finally gone!

It's James v Jahmene in the Final tomorrow.

Kylie Minogue was good.

Full report tomorrow. Just celebrating the absence of Old Baloney now.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Semi final result

It seems pretty clear now that Old Baloney is getting huge votes and these have carried him through to the final, possibly to win the whole thing. This is regardless of the judges, including Gary Barlow, who, if the truth be told would probably much have preferred any one of his other acts in the Overs category, indeed in any category with the possible exception of Rylan, rejecting him after Bootcamp.

None of them really regarded him as having any X factor. He came across as an ugly bloke who was a nervous wreck with a good voice at his first audition. The bright red face, tears and dumb nature had some kind of tv appeal, though, and through he went. His history of cruise liner singing and nerve-free performances elsewhere were well hidden and some distinctly average and often quite dreadful performances of old songs of a certain type must have won over an awful lot of viewers week after week after week. Who could be voting in such numbers? These people have not just voted for Old Baloney but have made a decision that they prefer him to James Arthur, UnionJ and Jahmene Douglas.

There could be some clear distinction between the UnionJ audience and James Arthur's, each maybe not appealing to the older, more staid, less chart-minded viewers. It would have been Jahmene, though, not Baloney, that I would have expected to have the support of the old people and even some younger ones who like the gospel link. So I am at a loss to know how Baloney has topped the poll and has made it through. The bookies have consistently had him at short odds to go and if he had once finished in the bottom two that would have been him gone, Gary being the only one who would vote for him. Seriously, think about that: the judges would have had him out whoever he had been up against from week one. But some massive group of voters ensured that never happened. The fact that there exists such a group means the death of a good programme. I have been a big fan, totally addicted to X Factor and all its previous incarnations like Pop Idol and Fame Academy. They have been highly criticised as being cheesey and, yes, they have been but they have brought us acts who have gone on to chart success and, in a few cases, in America too. 

Yes, each year has annoying or incompetent acts or both. But they don't win these days. Steve Brookstein won, Andy Abrahams nearly won, Leon Jackson did but the last few years have had no-one like Baloney survive and look like winning. My guess is that other programmes have taken away a significant chunk of the 'modern-thinking', music-savvy viewers and, in particular, the teen viewers who were avid voters too. That has left the Coronation Street crowd, the grannies, cruise ship and Labour Club people who must now be in the majority by a big margin. I used to write for people who loved today's music, knew something about performing or were crazy fans of groups or boys or girls on the stage. I fear that I am now writing for Daily Express and Mirror readers who prefer a bloke from Liverpool who can stand up and sing a bit just because he's a bloke from Liverpool who can stand up and sing a bit and who says 'You know' a lot and talks about 'me nan' incessantly. They like underdogs that that we want to get rid of purely because we want to get rid of them.

On that basis, I have to conclude that Old Baloney will win. The only hope left is that the gospel supporters get behind Jahmene big time and split the dreary balladeers. That might allow James through to take the crown that has been rightfully either his or Ella's since day one.

Jahmene is a decent chap and almost too innocent for this business. I am not that impressed, though, with his singing which seems limited to one style of high wailing and wobbling around notes. I can so imagine him in the church choir, belting out the God songs. Maybe someone will write him some good tracks and he'll make a few top tens next year but he's not going to be around in the big time for long. You won't see him on the X Factor USA stage which even Cher Lloyd reached recently. He'll have a nice Christmas album this year and next too but that will be that.

James Arthur is the only remaining artist that we'd be proud to see representing X Factor UK. He writes his own stuff and will be open to collaborative efforts with plenty of others who will be keen to work with him. People will genuinely want to play and listen to his albums and, whilst even he will not be a massive act after his first year, he will be around for a while and will benefit from winning.

UnionJ were good but not that good. With support from Louis, I can see them getting a good contract, bags of promotion and they'll be the act that we see popping up everywhere over the year. If they're lucky and get some good writers too, then they may break through big time and get the teens screaming at a concert or two as well. They should have been in the final but not enough people who think that either watch the show now or bothered to vote.

If the working class grannies remain this show's driving audience next year then I shall not be writing about it. Hopefully, Simon will make some significant changes and, in particular, get ITV to schedule it better. BBC have well and truly stuffed them in the ratings this year. And many decent acts in the process.

Thank heavens for X Factor USA which is looking really good - in a totally different class, both as a programme, in its currency, its judges (well most of them) and in its contestants, any of the Top 8 likely to match whoever wins the UK show in terms of longevity and likely impact on the market and charts.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Semi final review Pt 1

Peter Dickson and Dermot were more entertaining than the contestants, apart from James Arthur, I suppose, although even he brings on suicidal tendencies in clowns.

This was a drab, sad and generally totally missable show. And I'm a huge fan. In contrast Olly and Caroline were so much more fun and we learned far more about the contestants - and a live, off the cuff track from James too on XtraFactor afterwards.

There is really very little to say about it. Jahmene brought back a couple of good wailies, At Last being the one he started auditions with and the one track that might keep him in. He's the bookies favourite to get to the final by a long way but I have my doubts. That personality can only get so many symapthy votes.

Old Baloney did a reasonable job of whatever he sang first but totally wrecked a Michael Buble number in a pathetic attempt to sound 'modern'. Useless, but with what has been reported pretty reliably as the top vote throughout the whole series, I can't see how he can fail now. Dreadful, but that's the way things look like going.

UnionJ are at the opposite end of the bookie's list, being clear favourites, 6-5 on at the time if writing, to go. They performed some tired old Westlife numbers and, although one guy tried hard to rescue things, it was pretty average and none of their previous excitement and appeal came through. In fact, during the first part of the second track, one of them was looking at the others as if something had gone completely wrong but they did manage to cover whatever it was well.

James had all his usual angst but did, at least, sound like a current artist and his second performance was a genuine 'moment', something there have been precious few of this series.

That, folks, was it. Really depressing and tiresome stuff tonight mostly. The judges were dull and, knowing there was nothing they could do now to make much difference, most comments were pretty mundane and not worth repeating. They were all, even Gary, agreed that James was the one with the X Factor and my guess is that he's the one they have all predicted will win. Baloney was talked about a fair bit but no-one gave him much by way of a compliment other than polite agreement that he'd worked hard and done a good job with the first track. They all panned the second.

I don't know what will happen tomorrow. It ought to be Baloney going home but we've been thinking that since the start. That Buble mess-up might just have upset a few fans, enough to dent his No 1 polling position, but whether it's enough to drop below two other acts I don't know. Jahmene may even top the poll this week, although he is my tip to go. That'll be a shock. UnionJ might just get in by massing all the teen votes, if teens are still watching, that is. James has to be in the final. So if UnionJ get in, who doesn't?

Between Baloney and Jahmene it should be Baloney but it could be Jahmene. So maybe there will be a bit of excitement tomorrow after all.