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