AFTER watching The X-Factor last night, I’m struck by the same thought I’ve had after every episode of every series: in the run-up to their auditions, do the contestants think, “The key is to convince the panel that, however good or bad a singer I am, I really, really want to be a mega-rich superstar more than anything else in the world. It’s how much I want this that counts, not how good a singer I am…”?
What’s even more intriguing is that so many of the contestants don’t seem to be familiar with the programme at all. How else to explain their indignation when Simon Cowell tells them their performance was “woeful” or “bizarre”? That’s what he does. That’s what he’s done in every single series so far. Half of the auditions are only televised because they’re so bad, they’re good. Why haven’t they worked this out yet?
In 2002, shortly after the first season of Pop Idol won by Will Young, I was meeting my oldest son at Heathrow – he was visiting me in London for the weekend and was travelling down as an “unaccompanied minor”. As we were leaving the terminal building, we saw Simon Cowell and his entourage in the waiting area. Knowing my son to have been a fan of the series, I asked him if he wanted Simon’s autograph, to which he responded enthusiastically.
But I was nervous; what if Cowell’s persona in real life was as “nasty” as it appeared on TV? I didn’t want my son to be snubbed, or for me to be humiliated by a celebrity in front of him. I needn’t have worried – he was extremely friendly and charming, and chatted away to my son before giving him his autograph, even teasing him about why he didn’t apply to be a contestant on Pop Idol.
But he’s a pro. And everyone who applies to audition in front of him and the rest of the panel does so in the full knowledge that he’s going to tell them the truth. And as we all know, the truth hurts. More importantly, it’s top entertainment.