The Treatment of Talent – The X Factor

Daniel Wren

So The X Factor starts again soon, and while I owe the majority of my followers on Twitter to crap jokes I make during it, I’ve come to see X Factor in a different light recently. We’ve always known X Factor was a bit shit, haven’t we really, since all the winners seem to get dropped by Syco a year or two after being signed. However, X Factor has always been entertaining – and more recently, this has been for the wrong reasons.

The viewer should always have felt guilty about enjoying the X Factor auditions, really. Countless poor vocalists with dreams of superstardom grace the stage and make complete tits out of themselves – and we enjoy it. We become real life trolls. I for one know I comment a little derogatorily about the less vocally talented (and often Jeremy Kyle-esque) auditionees. What we don’t tend to think about is what we’re doing when we make fun of these acts – we’re essentially pointing and laughing at someone who’s trying their hardest to make their dream come true because they might not be good enough. When did it become ok to point and laugh at someone rather than trying to encourage them to do better, or to work harder?

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At its basis, the way to cultivate talent is not through pitting vocalists against one another on a big flashy stage. Talent shouldn’t be a battle – talent should be encouraged and supported. Poor vocalists in The X Factor’s case often just get laughed in the face by Simon Cowell/Gary Barlow/inserthere – I find there’s rarely any actual encouragement or good advice. Often it’s just “you’re not good enough – give up and find another dream”. The X Factor is a dream crusher, and the worst part is that we, as an audience, enjoy it. It brings out the malicious side in all of us. It’s a little bit like what Lord of the Flies was on about – when we see someone weak, or someone failing, there’s a human instinct to take advantage, and essentially, be cruel.

Another problem I have with the show is the false promise of a ‘£1m record deal’. There’s a ring to the big one-mill. The record labels are essentially saying that they’re prepared to back the act in terms of arrangers/producers/musicians/studio time to the value of £1m. The million pounds seems like a shiny object. The carrot dangled in front of the donkey. And it’s a bit misleading, too. The winner gets a cash advance for the first album that must be paid back. This is usually £150,000 (and the rest of the £1m went on recording and marketing costs.) That’s not to say that big men come to the door and demand the cash amount back, but that the act only makes a profit on their advance if their single/album sales exceed the initial amount of their advance in the first place. If the act doesn’t make a profit overall, then what happens? The record label loses money, and you go the way of old Matt Cardle. Or Joe McElderry. Or Leon Jackson. Or Steve Brookstein. The acts are disposable. The only chance the act has of making an actual million from the music is if they get their contract renewed for four years (minimum), where the advance may get extended each time.

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There is an upside – The X Factor is a great vessel for showcasing talent. Music snobs will disagree and claim that all X Factor acts are talentless. This is unarguably untrue. I’d say every single winner has displayed pretty incredible vocal talent at one point or another – and while the majority may not write their own music, they are still talented vocalists. Some X Factor contestants actually do contribute to their own music and/or lyrics. Diana Vickers had a writing credit on the majority of songs on her first album, as did Matt Cardle, so not all X Factor acts sit back and let the work be done for them. Anyone who watches Ruth Lorenzo sing Purple Rain or sees Alexandra Burke duet with Beyoncé will recognise that there have been some seriously amazing vocalists on the show. The main problem with the finalists is not that there is a lack of talent, but the way they are treated by the show, the media and the potential record label is unfair. Contestants can be freely victimised in the tabloids and online, and on the flipside, get no say in their potential sob-story VTs – and this all affects their potential sales and their future in the industry altogether.

I’m not going to stop watching The X Factor. I like television I can discuss with others too much. But when we watch X Factor this year, maybe we should care less about the failures, focus on encouragement, and hope that another talent isn’t just thrown to the dogs by the record label. The contestants are only human, remember (possibly excluding Jedward), and their futures might even be less stable than ours.

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About Daniel Wren

Vada Magazine staff writer. Interested in travel, news, politics and dating.