Sunday, December 18, 2005

Somewhere, Over The X Factor

When 'serious' newspapers cover popular culture it usually ends in tears. So when Mark Lawson in The Guardian writes about The X Factor and says that Louis Walsh is the 'acerbic one' of the judges, you wonder if he's ever watched it for more than five minutes.
Then the same paper's TV previewer says that Journey South are the 'noughties' version of Bros'. Now you could compare the soporific Journey South to any one of hundreds of pub duos but you'd have to be very pissed indeed to compare them to Bros. (Actually, Bros, for their first two or three records, were very good and almost gave dross a good name so I suppose it's a compliment).

Most people agree that this year's X Factor was the best of this genre of talent show so far. I thought there was a slight hiatus between the auditions and the live finals when it almost became the Z Factor and the judges' shenanigans got a bit out of hand but the overall standard was very high.
My own preference kept changing but by the final few weeks I'd decided that Shane, the winner, had a unique and extraordinary talent that could well eclipse the success of the splendid Will Young.
His final song last night was 'Over the Rainbow', a song I've always detested.
No, really. My mother said that as a small child, if it came on the radio, I would put my fingers in my ears and scream. So you can stick all that 'friends of Dorothy' bollocks up your Yellow Brick Road. But last night, for the first time and thanks to Shane Ward, I enjoyed it.
It doesn't get any more high risk than re-interpreting a classic song in a talent show final on live television in front of millions of people. To have failed would have been the ultimate in car crash television. To have succeeded so spectacularly deserves some kind of medal in addition to that recording contract. Shane seemed to squeeze all the saccharine out of that wretched song and replace it with genuine emotion. The beginning was under-stated but built to some vocal pyrotechnics that, spookily, caused my power to flicker and the cable box to switch itself off. Happily, I was able to get my TV picture back before he finished.

I don't know about the tabloids because I don't read them but the programme itself kept Shane's married status very quiet until last night, presumably for fear of alienating both teenage girls and gay men, thought to be significant elements of his fan base. Heterosexuality - the love that dare not speak its name.
I'd love to see a breakdown of the viewing demographic of X Factor. It has always seemed to me that a lot of teenagers would be in the early stages of binge-drinking at that time on a Saturday and a lot of acts must make it to the final rounds on the strength of the Granny vote. And the odious Chico was apparently very popular with children which may have helped him survive for so long.

X Factor is one of the few shows on television where viewers can see the autocue. Because it's positioned in the middle of the audience, the type has to be enormous so that Kate Thornton can read it without the help of binoculars. Sometimes it was possible to read the words before she actually spoke them and observe how the scriptwriters aim for a conversational style that sounds improvised. A rather pointless labour when your words are displayed to ten million people in letters a foot high.


Confusing Casting, No 67:

Within the space of a week, John Woodvine will have appeared as the father of both Doc Martin and PC Tony Stamp in The Bill. From Cornwall to Sun Hill.......he certainly puts it about a bit, that John Woodvine.


At 7:59 PM, Blogger Urban Chick said...

favourite line from last night's show was uttered by our kate:

(to andy on hearing he had lost and said in all sincerity) "well, andy, you may be a dustman but you're certainly not rubbish"

who writes that stuff?

At 8:23 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

Exactly! I noticed that, and thought it to be rather patronising.

BTW, Willie: interesting blog. Came across it via a Technorati search for "X Factor", and was pleased to find a coherently written piece amongst all the "OMGZ! I cant beleeve shane wun. LOLZ!" ;-)

At 10:08 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

Kate stole that line from The Xtra Factor on ITV2 where someone presented Andy with a bin bag with that line printed on it.

Jonathan: so people actually do use Technorati! Nice to hear from you.

Actually, my original post read: oh my god!! shane's wun X Factor! Is he fit or wot?! but then I went back and changed it into something more acceptable to my ABC1 readership.

At 6:52 PM, Blogger cello said...

Shane was not my choice for winner but I think he is the most marketable choice and a genuinely talented singer.

However, I do think the judges were utter rubbish, and I'm afraid I would have to include Simon Cowell in that, though he was the least worst. All they said was bland clich├ęd stuff like 'you're a star', 'you've got a great future', or 'you always give 100%', which tells the audience precisely nothing about why they think that. Compare it to the judging on Strictly Come Dancing where each judge made detailed, discriminating and technical comments which gave you great faith in them as judges and also helped you learn about dancing.

Can we start a petition please to have Sharon O removed from the next one?

At 8:14 AM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

cello: I'd certainly sign your petition.
The judges seem to be emulating the American version of these shows where to criticise someone's singing is to violate the American Dream.
They are also using a silly euphemism from the American shows: instead of saying someone was off key they say 'You were having tuning problems'.

At 11:06 AM, Anonymous robin said...

Bit late on this one...

Nice piece. Yes, enjoyed the show - best yet - some proper talent (not Journey S, agree about pub duos) - yes about 'tuning problems'.

Really just to say that you needn't dislike SOTRainbow for sweetness, because that is one of the saddest songs ever written. The sadness is persistently missed. The original is desperate in tone - 'why oh why can't I (have a decent life)?'

The song, in my opinion, is not about the lovely world over the rainbow - which may or may not exist, it's only been dreamed of - it's about the despair of the current life, in Dorothy's case a monochrome, flat, harsh drudgery. Singers/arrangers miss that. It's actually about dreaming, escaping, helplessness... "That's where you'll find me...' is not here and now. JG's version is still the best. She, I venture, understood, both then and later.

Think of it as a left wing sort of song and it might help. After all it's got a better tune than any yet discovered by Billy Bragg.

Apologies. Just a little hobby horse of mine.

At 4:07 AM, Blogger ebruce said...

Robin, ran across your comment while searching the web to find a particular later Judy Garland recording of Over the Rainbow. Unsurprisingly, the despair of the song didn't escape her notice, particularly in this later recording that I'm trying to find. If you know what recording I might be thinking of, please drop me a line.


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