Monday, December 13, 2010

An Open Letter To Simon Cowell

Dear Simon,

(Is it ok to call you “Simon” and not “Mr Cowell”...? Hopefully you don’t mind, you seem like a first-name-terms kinda guy. Or at least, you don’t seem to have that same desperation Lord Sugar has to be addressed by his title, anyway. Mind you, we’ll see what kind of name you go by once you’ve got a knighthood attached to it – now that’s a bit of authority you’d be pretty damn chuffed with, eh? But we digress.)

So how are you keeping? Hope you’re well. Must be pretty knackered after that final, huh? And what a result. Perhaps not the result you were quite expecting, if your expression last night was anything to go by, but it seems Britain made the right choice.

Now, let’s get to the heart of the matter: your squillion-dollar cash cow, The X Factor, is looking like it’s about to develop a nasty bout of financial foot-and-mouth. Bad news, right? Well, not that bad – let’s face it, your back is pretty well-covered. But while the ratings climb, the general public opinion of the show is worsening by the day, and just as Big Brother taught us, that’s hard to claw back from.

You’re a businessman, first and foremost. You know what you’re doing. Well, for the most part – we’ll assume Girl Thing was part of a learning curve, shall we? You’re about to head off to the States to launch The X Factor over thataway, which no doubt will rewrite the very concept of lucrative. You have a head for commerce, an eye for trends, and an ear that can detect cash registers a-ringa-dinga-dingin’ from 10km away.

But while you may be a businessman yourself, your industry is an art. Pop music and television are, and this may cause a gallon of venom to drip from the blinkered, bourgeoisie fangs of Middle England, an artform. So while the response to it may be subjective, there’s no denying that quality is fundamental, and in the process of chasing those dollar signs, the quality is taking a backseat. And it’s not going unnoticed.

The audience are not morons. Perhaps that undignified human cesspit of an audience that sit behind you – y’know, the ones that boo when they don’t understand, or shriek over Dannii when she’s trying to give feedback, or think it’s appropriate to yell “LOVE YOU ZAYN!” when Dermot’s consoling a broken-hearted eliminee – have got you thinking all X Factor viewers are of that ilk. Wrong.

For several series now, if not throughout The X Factor’s entire lifespan, the blogosphere has been painfully aware of the hypocrisies and the goalpost-moving. The more media-savvy viewer has also picked up on such patterns and quirks. But by now, you should now be conscious that the audience at large are not only aware of, but sick of the inconsistencies and the double standards and the colossal circus aspects that wholly overshadow the basic premise of a talent search.

Let’s look at Musical Heroes week. Any layman with at least three of his five senses functioning will know Belle Amie would never, ever have cited The Kinks as their musical hero, just as Kandy Rain would never have cited Robert Palmer in the same theme week last year. Similarly, let’s take a moment to consider the lunacy of former rock band frontman, Pearl Jam enthusiast and Dave Matthews obsessive Matt Cardle ‘selecting’ R&B fledgling Bruno Mars as his hero. Really, Simon? Really?

People get why Wagner and Jedward were put through to the live shows. It’s blindingly obvious. Entertainment is crucial – but when it’s at the expense of genuine talent, you can understand the furore. And even the most minor details are riling up the masses – the constant re-use of songs year on year; condemning Husstle for putting a lead singer front and centre, yet praising One Direction for doing the exact same thing in the next breath; borrowing an arrangement from an American Idol performance and then paying homage to the creativity of the X Factor contestant regurgitating it; having a theme week then creating loopholes to include songs a million miles away from the theme; and the reliance on publicity and buzz above hard work and raw talent.

All the hype over One Direction made their chances of winning almost a certainty. But it takes more than spin when you’ve got a band that can’t dance, can’t harmonise and only have two of their mics switched on. For a brief masterclass in how groups should be done – and bear in mind JLS have already provided the foundation course – let’s refer to Mahogany on X Factor Australia. Now why haven’t we seen THAT on these shores? Something to aim for next year, maybe?

So on the subject of future series, you’re in luck, as Matt Cardle’s win has injected a bit of credibility back into the show. As Joe McElderry’s latest single crashes and burns a good 28 places outside of the Top 40 on its week of release, it’s worth reminding you of the occasion back in December 2006 where Gary Barlow laid into you – albeit graciously – about how Leona Lewis deserves the right attention, the right material and the right marketing. You listened, and sure enough, four years on you’re still reaping the benefits of her global superstardom.

In Matt, you’ve been gifted a talented, diverse and inventive musician, and just as Gary Barlow advised you to do with Leona Lewis, you need to nurture him in a similar manner – namely, sidestep the immediate revenue streams you tend to favour and think about the long-term possibilities he can bring you. Because aside from it being what Matt deserves, it could well increase the show’s shelf life, perhaps considerably.

The X Factor, for all the criticism and cynicism and disdain it now attracts, isn’t dead in the water just yet. Matt’s win has given next year’s series a lifeline, and you need to change your thinking if you want to utilise that. Changes do need to be made – not a drastic overhaul, but changes nonetheless. Need a hand in doing so? Then feel free to get one of your Talkback Thames/Syco colleagues to give us a shout, as I’m fully-loaded with fresh, inventive ways in which to develop the format. It goes without saying that these ideas won’t be shared on here lest they be unceremoniously teefed, but if you want to talk business, then let’s go. My rates are very competitive and I work my bollocks off. Of course, the likelihood of being hired as a consultant or development producer to assist you is perhaps just a tad pie-in-the-sky, so I’ll generously give you this piece of advice on the house: please, please, please stop insulting your audience.

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