Looks like the writ­ing is on the flash­ing LED screens for X Fac­tor

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - OPINION -

What is it with The X Fac­tor and Im­pos­si­ble? This is the third time they’ve tried to get the song away. Pre­vi­ously turned down by Leona Lewis and Cher Lloyd, Im­pos­si­ble is now this year’s win­ner’s song.

The song may be per­form­ing well for James Arthur in the down­load charts this week, but by re­leas­ing it so early the pro­gramme has more or less given up on its usual full-on at­tack on the Christ­mas No 1 slot – es­pe­cially af­ter Lit­tle Mix got el­bowed out by The Mil­i­tary Wives last year.

Last week­end’s fi­nal saw the low­est view­ing fig­ures in the show’s six years. With ad rev­enues down, the one-time Satur­day night TV sta­ple is now be­ing reg­u­larly trounced in the rat­ings by Strictly Come Danc­ing.

Once a cash cow that did get the full at­ten­tion of the pop mu­sic world, The X Fac­tor is now like a bad trib­ute act to it­self. View­ers have be­come ha­bit­u­ated to the sub-Dick­en­sian sob sto­ries of the con­tes­tants – suf­fer­ing a fam­ily tragedy is al­most a pre­req­ui­site to get through the heats. Mu­si­cally, they’ve lost the plot en­tirely. The last big name win­ner they pro­duced was Leona Lewis – and she was never really that great in the first place.

The show badly misses the pres­ence of Simon Cow­ell. He was the per­fect pan­tomime pan­el­list, and the pro­gramme reg­u­larly pulled in more than 15 mil­lion view­ers when he was in situ. Since his de­par­ture the fig­ures have plum­meted to around the 10 mil­lion mark.

The real prob­lem, though, is the com­pe­ti­tion it­self. If view­ers are be­ing asked to se­lect the best act each year, how come the most suc­cess­ful act ever on the show – One Di­rec­tion – only man­aged to limp in to third place the year they com­peted? View­ers lose con­fi­dence when they re­alise that once the mu­sic in­dus­try takes over, third place can be­come first and first place can mean noth­ing (just ask Shayne Ward or Leon Jack­son).

With “cri­sis talks” ap­par­ently tak­ing place this week, it looks like the show will un­dergo a num­ber of changes if it is to re­turn next year. Usu­ally at this time of year the book­ies are busy slash­ing the odds on The X Fac­tor win­ner’s song to be the Christ­mas No 1, but this year the bet­ting seems to be all about whether the X Fac­tor will be can­celled.

James Arthur’s Im­pos­si­ble will be whacked in the charts by the Hills­bor­ough char­ity sin­gle, with all money raised through sales of the song go­ing to cover the le­gal costs of the fam­i­lies of Liver­pool sup­port­ers killed in 1989. This will be the third suc­ces­sive year that The X Fac­tor has failed to cap­ture the sym­bolic Christ­mas No 1 slot.

This chart stran­gle­hold once de­fined the show but now that it’s lost its mu­si­cal mus­cle the writ­ing is flash­ing on the big LED screens: the show is over and the bargain bin awaits.

And, just as it’s a changed mu­sic world, tele­vi­sion has also changed. The word is Simon Cow­ell’s next TV ven­ture is a re­al­ity cook­ery show. bboyd@irish­times.com

Cow­ell: the per­fect panto pan­el­list

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