The X Factor

The X FactorFor those of you who missed it or want more information about this singing competition, here’s a little history: 

First, what is the “X factor?”  Simon Cowell, the program’s founder, says it’s the undefinable "something" that makes for star quality.  The show began in September 2004 in the UK and is contested by aspiring singers drawn from public auditions (it was reported that The X Factor had broken the auditions record in Los Angeles, on March 27.). A selection of the auditions in front of the judges – usually the best, the worst and the most bizarre (described as the "the good, the bad and the ugly") are broadcast over the first few weeks of the show. The prize is usually a recording contract, in addition to the publicity that appearance in the later stages of the show itself generates, not only for the winner but also for other highly ranked contestants.

The original X Factor was devised as a replacement for the highly successful Pop Idol, which was put on indefinite hiatus after its second series, largely because Cowell, who was a judge on Pop Idol, wished to launch a show to which he owned the television rights.  Unlike Pop Idol, where contestants are solely judged by the judges, on The X Factor each judge mentors the finalists in a particular category, aiding them with song selection and styling, while also participating together in judging the contestants of the other categories.

The show is primarily concerned with identifying singing talent, though appearance, personality, stage presence and dance routines are also an important element of many performances.

The auditionees sing on a stage in front of the judges and a live audience. Successful auditionees go to "bootcamp" and then to "judges' houses,” where the judges narrow down the acts in their category to three or four acts to mentor for the live shows, where the public votes for their favourite acts following weekly live performances by the contestants.   The competition is open to both solo artists and groups and has no upper age limit. Each judge is assigned one of four categories—either girls between 12 and 30, boys between 12 and 30, individuals over 30, or groups (some of which may be formed from rejected soloists after the audition process). Through the live shows, the judges act as mentors to their category, helping to decide song choices, styling and staging, while judging contestants from the other categories; they also compete to ensure that their act wins the competition, thus making them the winning judge. The winner stands to receive a $5 million recording contract with Epic Records and will also star in their own Pepsi commercial, which will air at Super Bowl XLVI on NBC.

For American viewers, the big question is whether “The X Factor” will prove to be as popular and influential as “American Idol” (the two shows air at different times of the year and will not compete directly with each other.  Fox TV, which owns both shows, wanted a musical show for the autumn since it was weak at that time).  Since its debut in 2002, “American Idol” has dominated TV ratings most of the time and is known by TV executives as “"the most impactful show in the history of television" as it has produced a lot of bona fide stars both in the pop world and musical theatre (Kelly Clarkson, Jennifer Hudson, etc.).  It is also the most profitable show on American TV.  In short, “The X Factor” has to prove it has the “x factor” to compete successfully with “American Idol,” but with the never boring, always controversial, Simon Cowell at its helm, it surely has a fair chance of beating the most successful program in the United States.

One criticism of “The X Factor” and “American Idol” is that a true artist has to spend years working in small clubs before achieving stardom.  Do you agree?

Debbie Gambrill