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X Factor: Where did it all go wrong for the TV Giant?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since Facebook introduced it’s “On this day…” feature, it’s that once upon a time I was an X Factor super-fan. Now, I can barely tolerate it.

Back in 2009 and 2010, missing X Factor was a big deal, and you’d find yourself constantly convening around a television at house parties so you didn’t lose track completely. Cheryl and Danni’s choice of outfits would generate more conversation on social media than the entire show does now, and you never really had to ask your classmates or colleagues “did you watch X Factor last night?”; chances are, they did. Everybody did.

For the fifth consecutive year, the X Factor is considered to be in the midst of it’s worse ever series. That means for almost half of X Factor’s lifespan it has been on a steep downward spiral, and the general consensus about the show these days is not a positive one.

Once upon a time, it peaked at an audience of 19 million, averaged on the better side of 14 million, and the BBC did everything they could to avoid pitting their most beloved shows against ITVs Goliath. Basically, once upon a time, the X Factor was bigger than Bake Off, and by no small amount. So why is it that now, only a few years later, a one time X Factor super-fan like me would rather watch the adverts than the show itself, and why is it struggling for ratings (With regular thrashings from Strictly Come Dancing and even Countryfile) to such an extent that its thrown doubt on the show’s future? For the past few weeks, and at various times through the series, I’ve forced myself to watch the X Factor, to see if I can offer any explanation as to why the star of ITV’s Autumn schedule has dimmed so much in the past few years.


The Format

Where other programs might take an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it mentality”, the X Factor has seemed to adopt an “Omg quick fix it or it might, at some point, break” approach, that has warped the show within an inch of its life. X Factor was doing incredible in 2010, but they where so scared people would tire of the format eventually, that they messed it up before people had the chance. Elements like the Six Chair Challenge, The Flash Vote, Live Judges Houses and countless other twists and turns were poor attempts to rejuvenate a show that, in many cases, didn’t even need rejuvenating yet. The X Factor has, in the past 5 years, had continuous and extensive format overhauls that means the show is a bit more unfamiliar every year. 5 new judging panels in 5 years, 12 judges since 2010…Strictly Come Dancing has made only three changes to the panel in its entire life…do X Factor really wonder why none of them have had much of an impact on the audience? They haven’t been given the time to!


The Judges

Love ’em or hate ’em, the fact that Rita Ora and Nick Grimshaw have not had the impact the X Factor expected is an undeniable fact. Sure, they might have a lot of fans who go crazy for them, and there’ll be a lot of people who love this panel, but generally speaking they judges have had, at best, a “meh” reaction. Grimmy is, for reasons unsupported by his history on radio and BBC3, seen as a pied-piper of the youth audience; where he goes, the producers seem to expect youth to follow in their masses. The simple fact is, they haven’t, and the burden of bringing in the ratings should never have fallen on his shoulders anyway. Rita, too, was hired purely for youth appeal; with only having one album under her belt, her appeal doesn’t seem to have transcended to an older audience, and considering she’s still seen as an up-and-coming artist, this could severely reduce how seriously people take her as a panellist. You’ve either got to be a legend, or dominating currently; she’s by no means old news, but she’s not exactly “slaying” now like she was a few years ago when How We Do and Hot Right Now where some of the best songs of the year . Besides that, she was poached off The Voice, which aired just months before the first X Factor auditions took place. If a choice is to be so uninspired and unoriginal, it has to be a decision so sought after, and so celebrated, to justify that. Rita’s appointment as a judge did not have that effect.

It’d be very easy to place all the blame with the new additions, but we should actually consider Simon’s place on the panel, too. After 11 years on this kind of show, we now see Simon more as a TV character than a Music mogul. We once saw a hard hitting no nonsense record executive where now we see a character we’ve become far too familiar with. We remember all of his idiosyncrasies and expressions to the extent they become predictable and almost parody, and we don’t remember more than half of the people from his shows whom he has guaranteed would be Superstars once the show was over. When a music professionals biggest source of success is a TV show, it’s harder to take them seriously outside of that.

With all these reasons why people might find this panel uninspiring, boring and not worth watching (The Jury is out on Cheryl, though I think this year she’s better than ever), it doesn’t help that actually switching on and giving them a chance doesn’t change your view on them. I, personally, didn’t find any of them particularly charismatic, funny or worth paying too much attention too, and the general consensus seems to agree.


They don’t listen to their audience

The X Factor has the benefit of an extensive rumour mill; we’ve been hearing about it since April. For months and months before the panel is confirmed speculation is ripe regarding who will be on it, and the show’s inability to keep a secret is the perfect opportunity to test the waters before diving right in. Grimmy was speculated as replacing Louis Walsh for 2 and a half months before his hiring; the audience did not respond well. Polls on Digital Spy and MailOnline showed over 80% of respondents would not like to see him on the panel. On Twitter, they were bombarded with opinionated people telling them the same, the specially dedicated forums to the show had similar responses, and even from those whispers it wasn’t hard to see that the fans weren’t responding well to this rumour. Nick was hired regardless, and Rita followed not long after, despite a similar reaction and despite calls for another year with Mel B on the panel. Once it was formally announced, the negative response was overwhelming, but the producers would not backtrack.

The audience have expressed their dislike of the 6 Chair Challenge for 2 years, but it was rumoured to return; the audience rebelled, but the X Factor persisted. Rumours of a live judges houses began over a month beforehand, and once more rife audience criticisms were ignored. With the benefit of hindsight, Simon has already admitted to a few bad decisions; the problem is that even with foresight, the producers had the arrogance to assume they were right.  Take Danni Minogue, for example; 3 months after winning a widespread public vote that saw her awarded the title of Best TV Show judge by a long shot, the show basically outed her from her position by changing the schedule to one she could not commit to. Why? To accommodate Gary Barlow, a judge who was deemed lacklustre, though fairly warmly received. It was obvious to the audience who should have been priority in that situation, but alas, the Producers disagreed.


Disparity between the judges opinion and the audiences

One thing we are seeing increasingly on the X Factor is the judges and the audience being at odds; you can’t please everybody, that much is true, but the number of people the X Factor judges are pleasing is in sharp decline. Instances in the past few years stand out, such as the repeated eliminations of Lola Saunders; she was ousted at judges houses in favour of Stephanie Nala, a decision that prompted fury and confusion on Twitter (and evidenced by the people of Gogglebox, who just couldn’t believe it!). After she was given the wild-card, she was kicked out again in favour of Stereo Kicks, once more to almost unanimous confusion and anger on Social Media (and, again, on Gogglebox!). Sure, they had their fans supporting them vocally, but the vast majority disagreed, and it is to the vast majority the X Factor caters to.

In more recent examples, acts like Mason Noise, Alien Uncovered, Max Stone, Kiera Weathers, and even to an extent Sean Miley Moore, were all given glowing feedback from the panel, but were met with disinterest from the audience. All of the above left the competition promptly, some undeservedly, some a long time coming…but the point is, all were praised by the judges but not so much by the audience. Every weekend on the spin off show there is at least one decision that has the judges saying “I don’t know what the audience were thinking!”, or something to that effect.  There lies the problem. The Judges are attempting to bring the audience what they want, but they don’t seem to agree with the audience on what that actually is! I found when watching it that the public reaction exhibited on Social Media was very, very different than the reaction in the studio!

Claims of “It’s a fix” and X Factor conspiracies! 

I remember studying X Factor and its tactics quite in depth during my studies, and I remember reading about a marketing strategy deemed by a reporter as a producers attempts to pre-select the winners based on who Simon Cowell wanted on his record label, to stop the trend of winners who would go on to sell little records. You can’t prove any of this, of course, but the reporter was fairly high up and renowned, from a perfectly respectable paper, and was invited in to the X Factor fold each weekend by judge Louis Walsh.  This reporter once implied that rumours and stories about the contestants were purposefully released to the press by the producers in hopes of having a certain reaction from the audience. If they wanted you to have a good chance of winning, you’d be blessed with positivity, but if people seemed to like you and the producers didn’t want you to win, you’d find discrepancies from your past dragged out of the closet, and rumours of bad attitude and bullying that were mostly unfounded spread on the front page (Mostly of The Sun, a paper known for its close knit connections with Simon Cowell and the X Factor).

Once again, since its not something that can actually be proved even if it does all add up, I won’t hasten to be more specific, but that very same journalist said that one campaign sought to see a certain act win through positive publicity and attaching them to things guaranteed to generate interest and, hopefully, positivity; if that strategy existed, it worked, and it saw that act reach the final, though I won’t say where they placed. People tire of this, and are a lot more aware to it than we think; whether it’s true that it actually happens or not, it certainly seems that each year they have their favourites, and they are pushed on us and overly praised, even if they’re not fan-favourites. The sceptics and the pessimists would tell you that the judges don’t even make the decisions during sing offs, anymore, and with events like the producers whispering in Louis Walsh’s ear moments before he shockingly sent home Carolynne Poole a few years ago, it means that they’d be able to convince quite a few people around to their way of thinking, too, whether it’s true or not.

The whole style of the show has become more constructed-reality, circa Made in Chelsea and The Only Way Is Essex; it all feels a lot less authentic and more constructed than it once was, and whenever someone comes on with the kind of sob story that in the Golden days of X Factor would have had people voting in their masses, we now find it annoying and an attempt in poor-taste to win votes. People have long shouted “fix!” and touted claims of conspiracies when the decision is one that they don’t like, and they always will, but when people start to believe them, they stop tuning in. Whether they’re true, or not, people seem faster to believe them in relations to X Factor these days.

And Finally…there’s no proof in the pudding

One Direction have been, without a shadow of a doubt, The X Factor’s biggest success story. Following them, the most influential and well known X Factor alumni are Olly Murs and JLS. What do all of these have in common? They didn’t win…

It’s become a well known thing that we all mention at least once in the X Factor finals that you’re better off not winning at all. Really, only Little Mix and Leona Lewis are worth remembering now; the others have faded from the A List to the Z list, or faded in to irrelevancy all together, whilst the people who lost out to the title have flourished. When more number ones have been had by the contestants who lost than the ones who won, and when the most successful, renowned and well-loved of all the alumni are the people who came in second or third whilst we barely remember the name of who came in first, the show loses a certain credibility. Winning X Factor seems like an empty title, a pointless award, and even if you take in to account all of the contestants no matter where they placed, the show has still produced much fewer super-stars than the judges have proclaimed and promised. Simon promises the next One Direction/Leona Lewis every bloody series, and Louis Walsh harped on about “you’re the next big boyband/girlband/superstar” at least 2 times a week…how many of the people adorned with such high praise have made a career once the credits came rolling? You can’t run forever on empty promises.

Despite all this, though… I think there’s a chance that the X Factor could still be saved. Last year was considered a marked improvement for many, just not an improvement enough, hence the changes. The problem lies not in the X Factor’s ability to realise they have a problem, but in their attempts to identify where it lay. They always seem to get rid of the wrong judge, change the wrong element of the format, and things like that. With a good judging panel, one that is somehow both familiar but original too, a mixture between classic and current, with a format that returns to simplicity and with the trust that the show can be great without each and every moment being manufactured backstage, the show could return to a steady, stable viewership that once again made it a strong competitor in the ratings war with Strictly Come Dancing.

Will it ever reach the dizzy highs of an audience of almost 20 million as it did in the year One Direction were born? No, I very much doubt it…but with ITV acquiring The Voice a few weeks ago, with the X Factor’s ITV contract ending next series, and with both its reception and audience at an all time low, the question is will X Factor even have a chance to fix itself and return to greatness? I hope so. I’d very much like to be an X Factor super-fan once again, thank you very much.

Are you a fan of this series? What do you think can be done to save the show? Let us know what you think on Twitter @CelebMix, or in the comments below!

Written by CelebMix