American Idol lacks the X Factor

Published by Rick on Tagged Uncategorized


                      I’m admittedly a fan of, maybe somewhat addicted to, TV talent shows. I don’t get into the dancing shows, since I know little about what makes good dancing. I’m also a little less crazy about “Britain’s/America’s Got Talent” because there’s a bit too much of a smorgasbord there. I do have to say my favorite act ever on “Talent” were “The Bartenders,” finalists in the first year of “Britain’s” who did incredible, well-coordinated, sometimes acrobatic stunts to mix multiple cocktails in a span of 90 seconds. They lost to opera singer Paul Potts, fair enough, since his act would have been more appropriate to perform for Her Royal Highness. My favorite reject act on any show was also on BGT, when three old ladies displayed the joys of knitting! They were seriously knitting onstage while one of them narrated, and there’s a guilt to laughing at such a ludicrous act, but one of them got agitated when Piers Morgan buzzed them, so it’s almost fair to say they got what they deserved. 

                      Since it hits close to my heart, I get totally into the singing competitions, from the auditions clear through to the finals. And even though I live in UK, ITV2 runs American Idol one day after each episode airs in US, so I have something American to get into until baseball season starts. (Another story entirely!) A lot of people only watch the audition episodes of the talent shows, and it’s understandable given that quite often the finalists are less interesting than most of the loonies that show up for auditions. This year the highlight of American Idol has been 62-year-old Larry Platt auditioning his original song “Pants On The Ground,” a rant about hip-hop fashion. The song became an immediate internet hit, making the top 100 singles chart just from downloads, and inspiring a plaintive version offered up by Neil Young on the Jimmy Kimmel show.

                     Watching the male singers episode tonight, I saw of the 8 finalists only one, a large African-American named Mike, doing anything remotely fantastic. The judges unanimously agreed. Given the potpourri of only mediocre to good talent from this year’s American Idol finalists, (way too many of them armed with guitars!) maybe the show will get a shot of creativity after Simon Cowell debuts X Factor in America in the coming year. X Factor is a far superior show, and while the Pop Idol show originated in Britain and has since swept the world, UK junked it in favor of X Factor after only two years.

                     X Factor has two main aspects that make it more interesting: First is the separation into four categories, Boys, Girls, Over-25s, and Groups. The fact that vocal groups and older contestants are allowed to compete avoids a certain sameness factor; The second aspect is that each category is mentored by one of the four judges, and they not only must choose three finalists from what category they’re assigned, but then must assist weekly in song choice and one-on-one coaching. This causes additional friction and sniping between the judges each week, as their own impresario egos are put on the line, and a contestant’s failure to deliver goes as much on the shoulders of the mentor as those of the singer. It’s a lot more interesting than the casual disagreements the four Idol judges may have over a certain performance.

                          What’s most cloying to me about Idol, and I don’t know why they keep this year after year, but when a contestant has been voted off, what possible good does it do anyone to have the person sing one more time? Their dreams have just been shattered in front of millions of viewers, who voted them off because they gave a lousy performance or picked a lousy song. Why should they be forced to relive singing the song that in essence ended their career? Not surprising, more so with female contestants, that when they’re singing, they’re not exactly giving it their all; I saw a girl a couple years ago so devastated by being voted off that she just quit singing halfway through, and who could blame her? Haven’t these kids been humiliated enough for a lifetime?

                         X Factor just says goodbye to its losers and that’s that. One thing they also do, (and I don’t know how they pull this off, but maybe a lot more is staged than we’re let on to) is on the final episode, they gather together the most outrageous of the rejects onto the stage, pick a universally popular song, and have each of them sing a line in the tone-deaf style the viewers remember them by. Somehow, they can pull that off, and have a sense of humor about it. Makes you think they’re in on the joke from the get-go, and furthers the notion that the truly outrageous, completely bereft of talent nutcases never make it before a camera. Whatever, it makes good TV, and if Idol doesn’t start showing a sense of irony or humor, X Factor’s going to obliterate it. Win-win situation for Simon Cowell, which a lot of people may not be happy about! 

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