In defense of ‘Xfactor’ (don’t worry – this is on topic. Really.)

In a recent interview on the BBC’s website, Seal said the following about the Xfactor:

“Superstars represent dreams and aspirations for young people. I think, in order to maintain that, there has to be this feeling of reaching.”

I think he’s missed the point. And here’s why.

Yes, I admit it – the Xfactor is a guilty pleasure. The acts and music represented aren’t really my ‘thing’ (the vinyl collection stops circa 1975, prog and folk rule), but it’s entertaining – as much for the car-crash talentless as for the truly talented who occasionally crop up.

And I do agree with Seal’s comments about homogenising the industry (however we’re already there – just look at the charts most weeks…).

But – and this is a big but – I disagree with his comments around ‘superstars’ needing some mystique or distance.

The world is social. And that’s not going to change.

Gone are the days of the elite few being kept in ivory towers. Not only is there a very healthy auto/biography industry, but we’ve got the myriad social networks transmitting every movement of the ‘stars’ to the world. Not to mention the tittle tattle rags (which seem to be increasing in number) delving deep into the life of the A-Z list celebrities (yawn).

If you’re that interested in someone, you can follow their every breath. And people want to know. That’s why ‘stars’ rack up millions of Twitter followers/facebook fans/get papped on the doorstep. They don’t want distance at all. They want connection to their paying fans because they appreciate that’s the way to build loyalty and increase their brand. Open a conversation, make it a dialogue; connect, convince, convert.

And ‘real people’ (I.e. people who aren’t selling stuff) want connection too. Now more than ever.

You can blame fragmentation of society, the sue-everything culture that makes people worried to reach out to another, the legacy of the 80’s money-money-money ethic, the various world wars, the recession, job losses.

It’s lonely out there and people need to reach out again, to build a community around them, to feel that they’re not alone in this scary, tumultuous world.

Gone are the days of social media being the sole domain of the back bedroom geeks. In are the times of the TweetUp, the global conversation on a local issue, the instant connection. A time when anyone with an opinion can air it in the greatest leveller of mankind since death.

People are crying out to get connected. But also to feel that there’s hope.

If a painter/decorator from Essex or a single mum with two kids from Liverpool can make it, then maybe the people who follow them can as well. Yes, you need some talent, but you no longer need the ELP/Pink Floyd/Janis Joplin/Jethro Tull/Nina Simone levels of stratospheric talent which, for most of us, is completely and utterly unreachable.

Just look at Cheryl Cole. The girl from the Council Estate made good. People lap up every detail of her life to feel like they know her, like she’s their best friend. It’s connection that these people are craving, pure and simple, to someone who came from nothing and ended up famous. (There is a whole separate argument here about confusing fame with worth. That’s for another day)

What the Xfactor does is provide realistic talent that ‘normal people’ can relate to. And this requires closeness between the ‘star’ and the audience – not some mystique or distance. The audience want to vote for a person as much as they do for singing ability.

So, sorry Seal, I think you’re wrong. The show will live on and, if it prompts just one person to believe that they can get out there, do better, be better, achieve something that they only dreamed of but never thought they could because they were too ‘ordinary’ – then long live the Xfactor…


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