Mary Poppins described herself as “practically perfect in every way.”
Well she wouldn’t have been quite such a smug cow if the X Factor had been around in 1964.
Mind you she (Julie Andrews) might well have won it.
(No such luck for Dick Van Dyke. He would have been mentored by Louis Walsh, and voted through the first few live rounds Jedward-style by a public with a perverse sense of humour, before deservedly crashing out when things got serious.)
Anyway, I contend that The X Factor is perfect in every way.
There are not one, not two, but three powerful dynamics working in harmony to give X Factor its extraordinary cross-generational appeal.
Firstly it’s a contemporary pantomime.
Pantomime ˈ(pæntəˌmaɪm) – n – a kind of play performed at Christmas time characterized by farce, music, lavish sets, stock roles, and topical jokes
“Farce, music, lavish sets, stock roles (think Simon vs. Louis)” sounds like a pretty good description of a show that also reaches its climax Christmas to me.
Secondly it has all the rags-to-riches, faint-heart-never-won-fair-lady drama you could possibly want from a modern day fairy tale.
Fairy tale – n – narrative centered on magical tests, quests, and transformations
“Magical tests, quests and transformations” – another pretty good high concept description of the X Factor.
And thirdly it is a finely tuned example of the Reality TV genre.
Reality TV – n – television programs that present real people in live, though often deliberately manufactured, situations and monitor their emotions and behavior
“Real people, live, emotions and behaviour” – these are the ingredients that add the human interest and emotional engagement to the narrative and the drama.
As argued by the Venn diagram above, other highly popular shows successfully combine two of these genres but only The X Factor is holding a full house.
For instance, whilst there are obvious similarities between the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent, the crucial difference between the two shows is the potential for a much greater level of emotional engagement with the X Factor protagonists.
This is mainly a function of the programme format – a BGT contestant who survives the initial filtering process has the opportunity to perform live on two shows maximum – their semi-final and the final if they get through. Compare that with, say, ten or more live performances, plus all the individual back story content that goes with each one, for an X Factor “contender”. Like Big Brother, the X Factor format affords greater opportunity to “monitor emotions and behaviour” in true reality TV style.
What can we learn from the X Factor?
Firstly that “big” ideas these days are rich, multi-dimensional ideas that work on several levels. Traditional advertising is an exercise in reduction, simplification and single-mindedness. And at its high concept level the X Factor is what Steven Spielberg would call an idea “that you can hold in your hand“. But it is also a complex, layered idea that rewards extended interaction. “Digital” frees us from the constraints of 30″ timelengths and two dimensional A4 spaces. Ideas that are simple to explain but complex to experience should be what sets the industry apart from “trad-ad”.
Secondly the X Factor is perfect in concept AND execution.
Only yesterday (15th September 2101) Dave Trott quoted John Hegarty as saying that “A great ad is 80% idea and 80% execution.” Meaning that excellent execution can elevate a good idea to greatness, and that poor execution can undermine a great idea.
The X Factor is perfectly executed. Ambitious in scale. Extremely high production values. Produced by what is obviously a tightly knit, crack team of people. Delivered by people who understand the idea and their roles within it – the choice of Dermot O’Leary as front man for instance is inspired. Not to mention all the added-value content spin-offs like the Xtra Factor, YouTube channel etc. The quality control that is applied to every aspect of production is every bit as ruthless as that which Simon Cowell applies to the contestants.
It’s easy to look down your nose at mainstream, populist success stories like this.
In the same way that it’s easy to dismiss as lowbrow the awesome storytelling abilities of authors like Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Jackie Collins et al.
Not me. I love it. And Saturday night on the sofa with the kids and a London Pride in hand is one of the highlights of the week.
My name is Phil Adams and I love The X Factor!