PA­TRICK FREYNE

Si­mon Cow­ell, Leni Riefen­stahl and ‘Lo­gan’s Run’ – what more would you want from ‘X Fac­tor’?

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - NEWS -

Si­mon Cow­ell is back on X Fac­tor. He had been away. I as­sumed he had sim­ply re­turned to his trans­di­men­sional lair to slum­ber and feed, but ap­par­ently he has been across the wa­ter sam­pling the tangy taste of shat­tered Amer­i­can dreams.

He comes with the usual en­tourage of re­place­able flesh pup­pets, his horse­folk of the mu­sic-apoc­a­lypse, if you will.

There’s sad-eyed Ch­eryl from popular mu­sic combo Bucks Fizz. It is said she was once mor­tal and pines for her lost hu­man­ity. Mel B was cho­sen from an assem­bly line of Mels A through Z. She some­times mal­func­tions loudly.

Louis Walsh, one of the “old ones”, is just happy to have sur­vived pre­vi­ous culls. They say he bathes in the tears of Steve Brook­stein which is why he seems to get younger ev­ery day.

Each episode be­gins with a montage of con­tes­tants look­ing pen­sive or cling­ing to their chil­dren for warmth. The pro­duc­ers have di­alled down the Leni Riefen­stahl spot­lights and will-to-power in­ci­den­tal mu­sic in favour of fly-on-the-wall shots of par­tic­i­pants and au­di­ence mem­bers of­fer­ing a Greek cho­rus of the bleedin’ ob­vi­ous. “He de­serves a chance,” cries one woman, when some­one de­serves a chance.

If some­one is too any­thing (pretty, ugly, con­ven­tional, un­con­ven­tional), the milling crowd jeer and boo. Through­out hunks and hun­kettes lift their palms up and down an imag­i­nary scale, war­bling like hu­man theremins and dressed like sexy clown folk.

Many con­tes­tants have been “wait­ing their whole life” for this op­por­tu­nity and ex­pect some sort of emo­tional epiphany, although no psy­chother­a­pist has ever, to my knowl­edge, said: “You know what? You should seek the love of four judg­men­tal mil­lion­aires and a bay­ing mob.” What gar­ners this love?

X Fac­tor afi­ciona­dos ap­pre­ci­ate singing not as art but as an ath­letic ac­tiv­ity filled with trills and tremo­los and vein-burst­ing or­na­men­ta­tion. If th­ese mu­si­cal per­for­mances were an­i­mals, they would be freak­ish chimera with bat wings and uni­corn horns and ser­pent eyes and ves­ti­gial gills.

The judges re­spond to th­ese hideous mu­si­cal grotesques with phys­i­o­log­i­cal signs of de­light. Ch­eryl’s pupils di­late, Mel B ru­mi­nates to the mu­sic and Louis Walsh’s jaw dis­lo­cates in an­tic­i­pa­tion of food. When Si­mon Cow­ell is pleased, he re­clines, his neck puffs up, his eyes and nos­trils nar­row and his mouth curves slightly at the cor­ners. This is what nat­u­ral­ists call “the smuggen­ing” and it’s what hap­pens when he thinks about his bank bal­ance. The smuggen­ing is of­ten fol­lowed by stock con­ver­sa­tions.

“This is my last chance Si­mon,” a tear­ful con­tes­tant might say, by which he/she means the work­ing peo­ple have been be­trayed and there is no hope in Bri­tain beyond pipe-dreams and tal­ent con­tests.

“I like you,” Si­mon Cow­ell might re­spond, by which he means he wishes to de­vour their soul and suckle on their tears.

There are more tears shed dur­ing one episode of X Fac­tor than dur­ing the whole of the Blitz (God help them if there’s another war). Back­stage, Der­mot O’Leary over­sees the place of weep­ing and slow-mo hug­ging.

He never dwells on how the stage is built on bro­ken dreams and some con­tes­tants are re­turn­ing for a sec­ond “once-in-

“It’s like you swal­lowed some­one else and they’re singing inside you,” says Si­mon with de­light. He prob­a­bly thinks this is how the hu­man voice ac­tu­ally works

a- lifetime op­por­tu­nity”. Some al­ready have record con­tracts, like Raign, a “diva” who couldn’t de­cide if her stage name should evoke roy­alty or pre­cip­i­ta­tion.

The death­less judges are also fas­ci­nated by the age­ing process. He­len from Cardiff re­minds them why they ac­cept older singers, they say, as though the nat­u­ral or­der in­volves eu­thanis­ing them like in Lo­gan’s Run.

“It’s like you swal­lowed some­one else and they’re singing inside you,” says Si­mon to He­len with de­light. He prob­a­bly thinks this is how the hu­man voice ac­tu­ally works. Any­way, this week­end it’s Boot Camp. But Si­mon is back. X Fac­tor will never end. Oh, what the world must look like through those wily lit­tle eyes.

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