Whilst the original format had become stale, TV Critic Kelsey Baxter-Sibley commends the star-studded new series of The X Factor: Celebrity
If you’re under 25, you probably remember a time in your childhood when all the playground gossip, weekend evenings and Christmas charts were dominated by one thing – The X Factor. Since its inception in 2004, The X Factor has become deeply ingrained into British culture, not only for its success stories – think One Direction and Little Mix – but also for its unquestionable failures and seriously dodgy auditions. However, fifteen series have more than dulled the show’s popularity – since its peak in 2009, when 19.7 million people watched Joe McElderry win, the show has faded into obscurity or, as The Guardian put it, becoming ‘the talent show that wouldn’t die’.
However, the tables turned for The X Factor a couple of months ago, when a celebrity version of the show was announced. Suddenly, it went from being a show that literally nobody you knew watched to returning as the hot topic of conversation – or at least for my housemates and I. As the generation that grew up with the show, and are still avid watchers of reality TV (Love Island, Strictly Come Dancing, The Circle, etc.), I know several of my friends had pencilled in the launch show as must-see TV. But is this new format enough to put the show back on the Saturday night TV map? Or is it just another stage in its slow slide into oblivion? I watched the first episode to see which direction the series seemed to be going in.
Firstly, the show is open about knowing that it’s no longer the cultural talking point that it used to be – Simon Cowell openly says in the show that it’s time to try something different. This is not just through slight format tweaks that they’ve been trying for the last few years, something radically different was needed.
From the very beginning of the episode, it’s clear this is a new version of The X Factor. There are new, 21st Century Fox-style opening credits, and a return to a (relatively) original judging lineup of Louis Walsh, Nicole Scherzinger and Simon Cowell. The auditions take place in front of an audience, but it’s not the general public in a nondescript British theatre. Instead, it’s a bunch of industry professionals sat in Simon Cowell’s very luxurious Malibu garden. It’s clear that the show has taken note of features of other reality shows that are doing well at the moment. For instance, the contestants meet each other while sat around a Love Island-style pool, sipping champagne.
It is also clear from the start that the contestants have been carefully selected to appeal to different audiences and therefore attract as many combined viewers as possible – you’ve got Love Island alumni for the teenagers, Max & Harvey for the tweens, Martin Bashir for the intellectuals and Ricki Lake for the older viewers, among others.
The format of the show is otherwise fairly similar to the traditional form of The X Factor – the contestants sing, the judges – and in this case also some of the industry professionals – give some feedback, the contestants have a chat with Dermot O’Leary and then they’re onto the next one. It does feel like the celebrity version has given the show a new lease of life. However, it all feels a bit more relaxed, possibly because the celebrities are already more confident than a normal contestant, and the alcohol that appears to be free-flowing around the audience and judges, as well as the more informal garden setting. The celebrities are an entertaining mix of utterly awful, passably average, and surprisingly impressive. Dermot is, as always, an engaging host, equally supporting and poking fun at the contestants.
Overall, although it isn’t a hugely radical departure from what we’ve come to expect from The X Factor, it is entertaining and I – and many of my friends – will definitely be tuning in for the next episode. Whether it stalls a little when the comically bad contestants are filtered off for the live shows remains to be seen, but it’s fair to say that The X Factor’s return hasn’t gone unnoticed, unlike the past few years.