A difficult truth for would-be superstars

HAVING thoroughly enjoyed the opening episode of The X-Factor, I’m nevertheless reminded of the same reservations I’ve had during each of the previous seasons.

Every week of the auditions, almost every candidate tells the cameras that he/she wants nothing more in their lives than to be famous; they want to be more famous than Mariah Carey or Madonna; they want to sell more albums than Robbie Williams. The level of self-belief is startling, particularly given the limits (of most) of their singing talent.

Prince Charles got a lot of stick a few years ago because he said that young people should have more realistic ambitions. He was criticised by, among others, the then education secretary Charles Clarke, who interpreted Charles’s remarks as a “know your place” put-down from the upper classes.

It was nothing of the sort. I remember thinking at the time that HRH was spot on. A frighteningly high proportion of young people want only to be celebrities. More importantly, it seems to me that they want to be famous more than they want to be famous for doing something; celebrity is everything.

Telling those young people that their dream will come true if they really believe it will, and if they want it enough, is bordering on cruelty. It’s certainly irresponsible, because the fact is they’re not going to be singing stars.

One woman on tonight’s programme is a case in point. A mother since a very young age, with a history of drug abuse, she said she wanted to give her children a new life, and she was clearly sincere. But she also said that she didn’t want to do anything except sing. Now, as it happens, she gave an outstanding audition and I wouldn’t be surprised if she got down to the last two or three. But what if she doesn’t realise her dream? What of the hundreds of thousands of young people who, if not actively encouraged, aren’t exactly discouraged from focussing every ounce of their energy to attain an unattainable dream?

A couple of weeks ago, Michael Gove criticised the publishers of magazines like Zoo and Nuts for peddling an unrealistic view of women. More damaging, surely, to young people’s self-esteem are those magazines which treat celebrities as objects of worship and respect, even where the reasons for achieving celebrity status is either unclear or disreputable. “You, too, can have all this,” these publications seem to be saying. “All you need to do is win a reality TV show.”

Which is why I’m such a fan of Simon Cowell’s. His role as the hard man of the judge’s panel on The X-Factor is, I’m sure, largely a media construct. But when he tells auditioning hopefuls that they should give up their dreams of becoming singers, that they don’t have the talent to make it, he’s offering them advice that their families and friends should have given them a long time ago.

There’s nothing wrong in having dreams, or even in having a go at realising that dream. But when reality bites, it’s time to use your talent for something more achievable.

So that’s that off my chest. Now I can get on with the traditional run-up to Christmas in the Harris household: tuning into The X-Factor every Saturday between now and December.



Filed under Family life, Hinterland, Media, Michael Gove, Society, TV

6 responses to “A difficult truth for would-be superstars

  1. Have you read Ben Elton’s ‘Chart Throb’? Not his best, but it has HRH competing in an X Factor-style contest. Honestly.

  2. Stu

    spot on, Tom. I used to get irritated with those people who used to tell me I ‘could do whatever I put my mind to, for I clearly have not been born with the physique of an Olympian nor the creativity of an artist. We should concentrate on what we know to be our strengths and build upon them, not be fooled into imagining we’re capable of anything. Good conservative principles, there!

    On X Factor the worst ones are the people whose parents have paid for them to go to stage school. Evidentally the school has not wanted to kick them out for being rubbish since they’d lose income. Instead they just inflate the egos until these people just have no concept of how awful they are to listen to. Simon Cowell is the best thing that could possibly happen to them.

    I also saw the woman with the amazing voice and the long sob story. She was really good.

    I hate X Factor with a passion, though. You can tell, can’t you

  3. Johnny Norfolk

    Never seen it dont want to see it Junk TV. I find shows like that toe curling. It does not suprise me you are a fan.

  4. David T

    You are absolutely right. I think the point HRH was, rightly, trying to make was that you don’t have to be famous or a celebrity or an Under-Secretary of State, to be successful and lead a fulfilling life.

    The lack of self-awareness is frankly staggering. I have begun to wonder if they are told to put it on and play up to the cameras.

    I am sure our family weren’t the only ones who roared with laughter during last night’s show when the new judge announced, without a hint of irony or doubt, that what the industry was really lacking was a boy band.

    Not only did it seem (to us) as a ridiculous thing to say, it was also highly irresponsible – how many teenagers are sitting at home now convincing themselves that they are that gap in the market?

  5. What concerns me most about the X Factor, and the other spin offs of the same genre is the way that some people, who are clearly vulnerable, have their ‘auditions’ broadcast on national TV for what seems to me to be no other reason than providing ‘entertainment’ for people.

    It is one thing for an aspiring singer to go onto X Factor and give it their best shot, but it’s another thing entirely to make a fool of people who are clearly vulnerable. This is then made worse by follow up programmes showing the ‘best and the worst’ auditions.

    If were programme schedulers are going to continue to take up airtime with glorified karaoke contests, then there clearly needs to be far more discretion when it comes to deciding which auditions are broadcast, and how they are edited.

  6. What a final though.

    A great show and a well deserved winner.

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