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.