Like a watery-eyed geriatric cat on a one-way trip to the vet, The X Factor has finally been put to rest after 17 years. ITV have confirmed that there are “no current plans” for another series, and that Simon Cowell is focusing his energies on a new TV talent show called Walk The Line (sadly, I learn, not a competition between Johnny Cash tribute acts).
It had a good innings, but it was the kindest thing to do; facing shrinking audiences, it wasn’t right to make it suffer for any longer. And we’ll always have the memories, right? (Some of them, at least – I couldn’t name you a single X Factor winner from the last ten years.) Of course, it’s easy to be churlish about The X Factor and its soullessly efficient annual churn through the hopes and dreams of wannabe stars, but, at its height, the show was as powerful as Zeus.
Initially it took while to hit its stride (sorry Steve Brookstein), but it had unrivalled star-making power by the time it reached its glory years in the late Noughties. The X Factor gave us One Direction, who didn’t even win, and Little Mix, who recently became the first girl group ever to win a Brit Award. Global icons queued up to be on the show – who could forget when Alexandra Burke duetted with Beyonce and somehow managed to sing Listen from Dreamgirls whilst crying every tear in her body?
But in the age of social media and streaming, The X Factor has increasingly looked like a tired relic. It’s no longer cutting edge to give the public the power to choose the next pop star. These days, the public WILL tell you what they think, whether you’ve asked them to or not. Plus, there are endless platforms, from TikTok to YouTube, that allow people to showcase their talent. More broadly, it feels symbolic of a period of reality TV when people were disposable, plucked from obscurity and turned into tabloid fodder, and then ruthlessly back again, over and over.
So long then, X Factor. You gave us Harry Styles, interminably long reality TV show pauses, and the idea that being over 25 = death. But you’re not going through to the next round.