Friday, 22 August 2008
Simon adopts the default position after
advisors suggest he lowers mobile phone
voting fees for this year's X Factor
I envy Simon Cowell. The majority of Britain and America realise he is a power-crazed evil genius who truly only gives a shit about himself, and yet he still manages to front TV shows that pull in millions of viewers from both sides of the Atlantic on a regular basis. He is the totalitarian dictator of the phone-vote show format, responsible for millions of eyebrow raising telephone bills and despite his programmes being implicated (and eventually acquitted) in the fiasco that was the ITV phone-in scandal, his reputation has escaped relatively unscathed.
Cue the new series of X Factor then, and strap yourself in for a predictable and totally choreographed few months. We all remember last year’s winner, well, um, we all remember the winner from two years ago, one Leona Lewis. In her, Cowell finally found a contestant worthy of exploiting on the other side of the pond, rather than just dumping in it, and so we will probably not see Ms Lewis again for some time until she returns from America an emotional wreck with a cocaine habit. By which time, there will be a new one.
The first episode was the usual affair; the inevitable sob story of a woman who ‘wants this more than anything’, aiming to overcome the adversity of her terribly unfair upbringing in which she chose to have seventeen children. You could almost see the Pound signs in Simon’s eyes as this, lets face it, crack whore was given the opportunity to show how singing a few lines on TV is seen as an acceptable alternative to education and hard work when aiming to succeed in life in 2008. Then, there was the unbridled hilarity of two Welsh half-wits who stumbled their way through a Peter Andre song in the most excruciating way since Peter Andre. Like I said, the usual drivel.
The lucrative presenting role has been reprised by Dermot O’Leary, who, whilst being immeasurably more bearable and far less irritating than Kate Thornton, has some way to go before he masters the false sympathy for contestants and obsequiousness towards the judges that is required for the role. Annoyingly, he also insists on wobbling his head around like he is being controlled by Jim Henson. The other big change sees Cheryl Cole replacing Sharon Osbourne, to which I have no objection. You will not hear complaint from Ashley Cole either, who must presumably be overjoyed that he will not have to book a hotel room to conduct his affairs now the wife is out filming.
Over on the other side, the BBC’s latest attempt seems to be in full swing. If ‘Last Choir Standing’ were not the fourth of fifth incarnation of the Beeb’s ‘perform-vote-perform-for- survival’ reality format then it would surely be laughed off the airwaves. I was not a regular viewer of any of the other shows, and so I cannot fairly compare or contrast this one, but it works a hell of a lot better than it sounds.
Of the two presenters, Nick Knowles looks he longs to be back on a show about knocking down walls, whilst the ever smiling Myleene Klass has evidently just graduated from presenting school. The slightly odd pairing presides over a show in which a series of amateur choirs from around the country battle it out to become, you guessed it, ‘Last Choir Standing’. The name suggests that the disqualified are put to death in a gladiatorial manner, but my suggestion to the BBC that this may be a worthwhile addition to the post watershed results segment in subsequent reality shows has been sadly ignored.
This week, singing for survival were Bath Male Voice Choir and Revelation, a gospel choir from a paradoxically joyous and soulful part of East London. Their choice for the showdown was the gospel classic, ‘Love The One You’re With’; although I’ve leafed through my Bible and I can’t find the books of Crosby, Stills, Nash or Young anywhere. Despite this, it was enough to see off the boys from Bath in the judges’ opinion, although I do believe Russell Watson and the other two adjudicators were acting under duress following the projected costs of keeping the eventual losers in the competition. Not even the BBC can run to dressing 32 ageing tradesmen in new suits time after time, not to mention footing the hotel bills having ferried them up and down the M4 every week.
The BBC’s entertainment programming ideas may vary from the sublime to the ridiculous, but credit must go to their ability to think even a little bit innovatively. I thought the days of reality phone-in shows must have been nearing an end after last year’s tired X Factor format but, like an untreated genital wart, it has come back bigger and bolder than ever. As much as I hate to admit it, this is testament to Cowell’s canny ability to assess when a duck becomes a dead one. He proved this by axing Pop Idol and replacing it at just the right time with X Factor, and will doubtlessly do the same again once he has squeezed every last penny from the show, and when he judges his reputation to be waning. Channel 4 could use his vision, with Big Brother currently limping pathetically home in the ratings race. In fact, if it were a Greyhound, it would have long since been shot and tossed in the Thames.
There may be many (myself included) who are screaming out for a fresh approach to entertainment television, but for now it seems we must resign ourselves to at least another year’s onslaught from Cowell & Co, happily duping millions of overweight women into pausing from their takeaways long enough to pour their money down the telephone lines in voting for the biggest thing since the last big thing. What was last year’s winner called, anyway?