X-Factor Returns - Can Strictly be far behind?

18/09/2013  -  9.52

Dorothy Hobson, Senior Lecturer and Course Leader in Contemporary Media

X-Factor Returns – Can Strictly be far behind?

Saturday 31st August 8.00pm, and 10 million viewers saw the return of ITV1’s ratings topping talent programme The X Factor, back for its 10th series.

The programme, described as Reality TV, is in direct succession to the talent shows which have previously been part of television’s output. The X Factor attracts much criticism but it must be seen as one of the programmes which are responsible for the financial and audience success of the ITV network. While critics attack the programme, it is popular with audiences and the genre is an important part of contemporary television both in the UK and the US.

The judges are usually the stars of the show, and with The X Factor viewers wait with anticipation for the comments and inter-play between Gary Barlow, Louis Walsh, Nicole Scherzinger and the long awaited returning Sharon Osbourne.

In order to keep it fresh, however, the production makes slight changes to the format each year. This year they have re-introduced the two phase auditions. First the contestants appear ‘in the room’ in front of the judges and then ‘in the Arena’ (Wembley) in front of 4000 fans. Daunting, but if the contestant has talent, the audience encourages them in their performance.

Well used phrases abound and there are a number of gems which are part of the DNA of the show - ‘I feel your pain’; ‘I’m just blown away by you’; ‘I am crazy about you – Fabulous!’; ‘You have a gift, a talent. You have a talent beyond belief – You are a star!’ etc etc.

Inevitably the programme can resemble a Theatre of Cruelty, as some of the contestants are relieved of their beliefs that they have “the X Factor”. There is no doubt that as much as audiences enjoy the stress, tears, timidity or arrogance of some contestants, they appreciate and widely applaud anyone where they recognize the talent of the performer.

As with soap operas, the huge talent shows are a genre which needs regular viewing. It is not a good idea to dip in for the odd show, because you will never appreciate the momentum that has built up as part of the narrative of the show. Social media comment also accompanies the series and it is part of the “Event television” which continues to command huge audiences.

When The X Factor appears at the end of the summer as part of the autumn schedules, the audience knows that Strictly Come Dancing cannot be far behind. The two major entertainment channels on British TV, BBC1 and ITV1, go head to head for audiences. Sometimes they avoid direct clashing scheduling but their aim is always to beat the other.

While The X Factor takes ordinary contestants and tries to make them into stars, Strictly Come Dancing is a mirror image programme which takes celebrities and makes them into ordinary people learning how to dance and compete for a crown in an area outside their known expertise. Both programmes involve choices by the experts, but ultimately it is the audience participation and ability to get rid of contestants and chose the winner that holds the audience appeal for both these series.   

There is little evidence that The X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing are losing their appeal. Certainly The X Factor is one of the key elements in the successful performance of ITV.