I wrote this a while back as a companion piece to my piece on Australian Idol. With Oz Idol coming round again, and Big Brother drawing to a close (these shows are best towards the end), here is the piece.
If the format of the Australian Idol franchise is slickness itself, ‘The X-Factor’ is slickness supercharged. It seems to have begun with all the presentational tricks in Australian Idol a seemingly perfect hybrid of a talent quest and reality TV, and then added at least as many more tricks and presentational gimmicks again. Its also a much broader talent show. It contains three sub-divisions one aiming at the ‘Idol’ demographic, one chasing older viewers, and one allowing for groups. The three judges are now assigned to one of the three divisions and so, after a certain stage, the judges are also coaches and advocates for those in their groups. So the reality TV competition is now between the contestants and there’s a sub-theme of competition between the judges. This also gives a little more scope for exploring the way in which the contestants ‘grow’ in their performances by being coached by some expert judge and advocate.
When I first saw it I thought it was the natural progression from Australian Idol and was replacing it, but no it was just a spin-off franchise. Silly me! Sadly ‘The X-Factor’ has rated much worse than Idol I gather because it appeals to a much wider audience and as a result is less gripping for Idol’s core demographic. So it falls between two stools (well three!). The quality of entrants was very high and the competition between the judges seemed to give additional impact both dramatic and ‘real life’ impact to the ‘growing’ process through which the finalists invariably go.
There were three outstanding entrants. Two were groups, ‘Kaya’ a group of women in their twenties and (perhaps) early thirties by the looks of them, ‘Random’ a group of guys in their late teens or twenties, and Vince. They were all terrifically talented. Kaya sang a lot of their own material, most of it of a very high quality. They had a multifarious style that mixed a variety of genres (I think the technical term is ‘crossover’). Their songs were catchy with clever angles. One song was called ‘Don’t send me home’. It was annoying to hear both of the judges who were not coaching them say that they were struggling for an identity. But their comments were of course fair enough in the genre. I liked them keeping their identity as protean as they did, but perhaps they could have done a tad better with more defined self presentation. But it was always a big ask to get past the gender barrier of the three male contestants who beat them. Kaya were the most challenging to listen to of all the contestants but still got through to fourth which was a great effort. I hope they make it onto the club circuit where they’re sure to be appreciated and with some luck they’ll succeed doing recordings also.
Vince came third and he was a very talented pop idol type. He looked good, had a good voice and could also dance really well. A very accomplished package. Random won the event and were favourites all the way, singing very commercial disco-cum-soft-rap stuff. (This is not a technical term and someone familiar with the scene could do a better job of labeling it perhaps someone will in the comments section). They looked distinctive (and good), they sang their own and others’ songs. And like Vince they were multi-talented, being able to sing, dance and play their instruments. It was great that they won. Their judge/advocate Mark Holden (much in demand as a singer by teenyboppers in the early 1980s) was (I am guessing) a great coach for them, helping them to have courage and faith in their own abilities.
And there was a really big bonus. For some reason that completely escapes me, there was a preponderance of South Sea Islanders some from New Zealand as contestants. Vince and the five or so guys in Random were all in this category as were several other finalists. Vince and Random had obviously been rap dancing since not long after they could stand. Random did some fabulous dance moves in the final that I had never seen anything much like before. In short, they could dance like there was no tomorrow. They were chunky, muscley guys (hardly surprising South Sea Islanders are so well represented in Rugby) with a fabulous sense of rhythm and fun with the courage to do their own stuff, when doing others’ stuff seems the surest way to win these kinds of competitions. They were all lovely guys and a pleasure to watch and be with. Their similar ethnicity, body shape and sensibility gave the show something unique and exciting. I’ve never really had much of a sense of South Sea Islanders as an ethnicity before, (not being a Rugby supporter!) so I lapped it up.
And on the final show, a Maori father son pair were brought back from earlier elimination to do their stuff one more time. The little mini-documentary on them which had appeared in an earlier episode showed a father’s deep love for his son and was lovely to behold. They were terrific for their comeback which ended, without any self consciousness with a Maori tongue poke at the audience. Another string to our multi-cultural bow. What a triumph.