“You are the X Factor”. ”You are a star”. The emphatic statements of X Factor reality show judges Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh to twenty-one-year old Shayne Ward, in Saturdays final, after his last song showdown with fellow finalist, forty-one-year old Andy Abraham. At that moment, Cowell and Walsh collaboratively sealed the fate of both finalists: Shayne the winner and Andy runner up.
Yes, the public were given the power to decide this year’s winner. Over 10 million people voted for the acts. But the X Factor is about clever manipulation. Playing the role of music pundits like the real life positions of Cowell and Walsh, voters were encouraged to think like them and make Shayne the victor, in the hope that the shop assistant from Manchester can replicate the commercial success of Pop Idol champion Will Young. Ward has the necessary criteria: a young white male who could occupy the mainstream position in the British pop market, attracting a lucrative teenage fan base of both girls and boys. Andy, older, black and equally, if not more talented, did not.
The X Factor show sets it self up as a vehicle for discovering talented singers with exceptional appeal and propelling them to long term stardom. It has been a phenomenal hit with viewers. An estimated 9.3 million of them watched the finale. However, the programmes credibility is in doubt with the failure of last year’s winner, Steve Brookstein, to make an impact as a recording artist. Cowell and his team have shortened the ladder of opportunity for some contestants in a desperate bid to turn out a reproduction of a ‘chart star’. This year’s competition had less of the X Factor about it and more of the Will Young Factor. Next years model may be new ‘pop princess’ Charlotte Church. 2006 competitors beware.