The X Factor UK: no need to mourn Simon Cowell

Apr 21, 2011
Johnny Dee

The show will better without the high- trousered Priest of Pop

The boss of ITV, Peter Fincham, confirmed this week that Simon Cowell will not be returning as a weekly judge for the next series of The X Factor. This is great news. Not only does the show not need him, but it will be better without him.

The "weekly judge" element of Fincham's statement is important and indicates that Cowell will remain a part of the series in some shape or form - maybe making the occasional cameo appearance to tell everybody they're rubbish or hover over proceedings like a ghost, or a God, or a gas. Or maybe there could be a phone on the judges' desk like the one in Deal or No Deal, which Cowell could call occasionally from his Hollywood lair, to tell Louis Walsh he has picked the wrong song.

Cowell will, say ITV, continue to be "an enormous presence backstage". How about a giant bronze statue then?

Cowell's commitment to the US version of his show is the reason for his absence from our screens. The debut season in America is due to air in September while the UK version traditionally begins in August and fills the tabloid press with tales of mentally unstable contestants, miming scandals and 17-year-olds who have dreamed "all their life" of becoming pop stars.

ITV says it is "completely comfortable" with Cowell's absence, but many think that the high-trousered Priest of Pop's departure is the final sign that the series has run its course and that the well of talent it draws from has run bone dry. This might be true - if there was any talent in that well in the first place.

I'll stick my neck out here and say that no one of any merit - no one to compare to David Bowie, Elton John, Morrissey or even Laura Marling, Robyn or Patrick Wolf - will ever in a million years emerge from a TV talent show. Why? Because no one of any worth, with any sense of cool or individuality, would want someone like Simon Cowell controlling their career. Nor would they want the humiliation of being discovered on TV.
This week, the winner of The X Factor 2007, Shayne Ward, was dropped by Cowell's record label Syco, joining previous champs Steve Brookstein, Joe McElderry and Leon Jackson on the pop scrapheap. It's not hard to imagine last year's winner - I'll give you 10 seconds to name him - ending in the same position in a year or so.

The quality of The X Factor winners has never been great. Even the most technically gifted, Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke, have struggled to maintain a career.

Perhaps Cowell's decision to quit the UK version of the show he created (in a masterful tweak of the Idol format) is a business decision based on the fact that he stands a better chance of unearthing a major talent in America? Even if that's true, I think the show will not only survive without him but it will flourish.

It is the format, not the cast of judges, that makes The X Factor so irresistible. Each year you may begin watching, cynical about the contestants and the producers machinations, but within weeks you will be hooked - rooting for your favourites. Anyone who doesn't get hooked is, frankly, a liar.

The X Factor is a pantomime. Like all pantomimes it doesn't matter who plays the baddie and who gets to play the hero, just so long as they exist. Cowell is the weakest link of the pantomime - his ticks (the thumbs aloft for the plucky boy, the wink for the plucky girl), the scripted squabbles with Walsh and the tantrums became tiresome.

And as for the quality of the contestants - does it really matter? As judge Cheryl Cole herself has proved, you don't need a great voice to become a pop star.

Regardless of your opinion of Matt Cardle - ah, yes that was his name - One Direction, Cher Lloyd and the rest of the class of 2010, one brilliant achievement of The X Factor and Cowell's attempt to control the music industry is that it has created an Us and Them situation for artists and music fans outside the SyCo bubble.

It has pitched people who believe in "real" music against what they consider to be the "fake" music of The X Factor. That's a great thing - music needs enemies to kick against and for too long pop had been coalescing into an amorphous gloop where everybody liked the same thing. It may be an old-fashioned notion, but your mum and dad are not supposed to like the same music as you.

As long as the format remains, as long as Dermot O'Leary remains as presenter, and as long as they keep choosing dreadful singers who've managed to delude themselves that they are amazing singers, then The X Factor will continue to be one of the most watchable programmes of all-time. Only a floating hologram of Simon Cowell can kill it.

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