When I was a teenager, the Christmas season was fully intertwined with The X Factor.
As the Christmas lights went up in the city centre and gift-wrapped Lynx Africa sets were stockpiled in every mam’s wardrobe, there was simultaneously a comfort and an excitement in watching as the best of whatever series of X Factor were whittled down to the cream of the crop.
It was genuinely thrilling, unmissable stuff. I remember being furious when family members organised birthday parties on Saturday nights, or later, delaying nights out to watch the whole show. Seeing whether Leona Lewis or Ray Quinn would win had me on the edge of my seat. Watching as Alexandra Burke performed with actual Beyonce was trascendent. Anything Sharon Osbourne said was guaranteed watercooler material. Seeing the birth of One Direction was magical.
But then, it all changed. As The X Factor dragged on throughout the ’10s, much like a Panettone left out on the table, it became stale. The auditions didn’t feel as sincere, the stakes not as high, the sob stories even more staged. Acts emerging from the show are barely making a dent in the charts, never mind getting the Christmas number one.
The last series of X Factor I actually cared about was 2014, when Ben Haenow won and we were introduced to Fleur East – the last real potential star that the show has produced. I didn’t even watch the 2018 series. And it seems that I’m not the only one with fatigue, as the 2018 final had an average 4.8 million viewers – a drop in the ocean compared to the 19.7 million UK viewers who tuned in in 2009.
But when it was announced that there would be an all-stars series of X Factor, my interest was piqued. The best stars of the show, from when it was good, brought back for one Avengers style mash-up? Count me in.
Those of us who watched X Factor: Battle of the Stars – a show in 2008 that saw Paul Daniels, Debbie McGee, Gillian McKeith and Rebecca Loos flex their vocal chops – knew the format was TV gold. It was bound to get people tuning in – it’s basically the television equivalent of ‘you’ll never guess what so-and-so looks like now!’ clickbait. And it was the dose of nostalgia we needed to remind us that The X Factor was good, and worth saving. It was the show that produced Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke, Harry Styles, Diana freakin’ Vickers.
But this week, my dream of watching and liking The X Factor was cruelly snatched away, as Simon Cowell announced a new project that is seemingly replacing All-Stars.
Simon is launching X Factor: The Band instead, a show that will search for the hottest new group in the hopes of emulating the success of K-pop groups like BTS and BLACKPINK. It’s a suspiciously similar format to Little Mix: The Search, the previously announced BBC series which sees the girlband (who split from Cowell’s label Syco last year) look for a new girl group.
Cowell insists he thought of the idea first, telling The Sun: ‘I was approached to co-produce that show last year by Little Mix’s management. I told them the problem was we have a conflict of interest because we are launching X Factor The Band in 2020. We were told their show was going to launch in 2021.
‘Then we had the fallout and find out Little Mix were bringing their show forward. Was that intentional because we are doing our show? I have no idea.
‘But regardless, it was too much fun not to do this year. I would rather it was us doing it first. It 100 per cent makes it more exciting there being a battle.’
Now, Syco has said that X Factor: All Stars hasn’t been axed for this project, simply put on pause while X Factor: The Band proceeds. But to me, it seems that pettiness is the reason for the one project that X Factor fans were looking forward to being ditched.
X Factor: The Band is essentially X Factor, with the solo acts removed – it’s not exactly novel. The show has formed bands during its normal process already, notably Little Mix and One Direction. This launch isn’t a fresh take, it’s a way of settling scores with a group that have bad blood with Simon, and it’s at the expense of real fans.
I really don’t care if Little Mix or Simon come out on top in this, or who thought of the idea first, if the shows aren’t good. The X Factor plan seems to be currently propelled by personal vendettas, rather than appealing to the fanbase that has kept it going for 15 years.
The fact that the next spin-off will be virtually identical to a BBC show proves to me that the X Factor is running out of ideas and steam, and it is not the fresh, exciting and chart-shaping franchise it once was. And rumours that the show was actually ditched because they were having trouble securing big name alumni suggest that I’m not the only one who thinks so.
All-Stars could have been the show to remind us of what X Factor used to be – but at this rate, maybe we’re all just better off forgetting.
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