Yes, yes, Libya’s in turmoil, Gaddafi’s gaddafied, there remains much riot fall-out in London, the global economy still looks less healthy than the contents of a festival longdrop, but when it comes to my pulse, nothing else has set it racing of late quite like the prospect of The X Factor 2011. Of course it is beneath me. Of course it perpetuates almost everything that’s wrong with society: the desperate craving for celebrity, money and adoration; the idea that working nine to five in a normal job is for losers; Dermot O’Leary. But, like squeezing a medium sized spot less than two hours before a vital social occasion, even though it is obviously not in my own best interests, I cannot resist.
And so the new series began on Saturday, and I watched it on Sunday afternoon, and there were the three new judges, all of whom seemed OK, none of whom made up for the loss of Cowell. And the first contestant was a teenager with messy hair so contrived it made Lady Gaga look laissez-faire, and Dermot O’Loveshimself asked him why he was there, and Hairboy said it was because he wanted to be famous, and wanted to get lots of girls, and then it just happened to emerge (because he volunteered the anecdote without any prompting whatsoever, on stage, during his audtion, in front of the judges and 8000 people at the O2 arena, and now the nation) that he’d been on holiday and had the name of seven girls tattooed on his bum, and before you know it, his jeans and boxers are down and he’s showing the judges his frankly odd buttocks, in that there doesn't seem to be much of a cleft and there are definitely too many spots for a national TV airing, but I'm not meant to be noticing that, I'm meant to be looking at the ill-advised black font depicting, yes, the names of seven girls, and no one asks him about the significance of the names, whether these are conquests or fantasies or just maybe moniker ideas for his first daughter. And then he sings and it’s average, y’know, it’s just fine, but of course he gets through to the next round because he’s a cheeky teenager who reminds Louis of ‘a young Robbie’. And I’m sighing and huffing and rolling my eyes and losing faith with the world, and I haven't enjoyed myself so much in ages.
And everything else continues pretty unremarkably (with the brief exception of a certifiable Asian lady with a stomach bug, who stands retching near Dermot for a tantalisingly long time before going on stage, disappointingly never actually covering him with the vomit he so deserves), until we get near the end of the hour, and a doll-like girl walks on stage - she’s Janet, she’s sixteen and from Northern Ireland, and tells everyone who’ll listen that she’s from a really quiet place and there’s not much to do there, as if that fact alone will get her through to boot camp, although it’s clearly the production team trying to pull on our heartstrings, but I am a grown woman from London and it will take a lot more than THAT to manipulate me. And she's impossibly marketable as she bites her lower lip winningly, looks coquettishly up through her eyelashes and tucks her hair behind her ear, and then she tells us she's going to sing Your Song "by Elton John." And I make a gutteral noise indicating utter frustration, and flail about on the sofa with rage at what is about to happen, and then she begins her effort and it sounds like this:
If you were able to stop the bile rising at the ridiculous twee-ness of her performance, which should clearly only be played over footage of a miniature pink unicorn eating vanilla cupcakes at the end of a rainbow, you might be forgiven for thinking that she has an iota of innate talent. Unless, however, you had the misfortune of seeing a John Lewis ad at the end of 2010, which had this as its soundtrack:
Anything familiar here? Something "A LITTLE BIT FUNNY"? Let's all stroke our chins rhythmically while saying, "Hmmmm...", because what Janet has done is to replicate another version precisely, to perform a cover of a cover, changing absolutely nothing except the vowel sound of ‘song’ to something approximating 'sawrng', hamming up her Northern Irish roots so that the TV producers can put the deposit down for a second home in Mauritius. OK, she’s only sixteen and she can clearly sing (if you like that kind of breathy, whimsical, I-believe-in-fairies schmaltz) but they’re meant to be looking for a superstar and I don’t know about you, but in my book, being a superstar is about originality. So throughout her two minute performance, I naively, weakly hope that the judges will mention this, make even a tiny hint that she isn’t quite a musical wunderkind, that they don’t need to call off the search just yet, but no, the song ends and they’re all on their feet, gushing, visibly shocked at her brilliance, and I forgive Kelly Rowland because it’s possible that she doesn't know the Ellie Goulding version, but Gary Barlow surely spends his entire shopping life in John Lewis and listening to Radio 2: the chances of him not knowing that Janet’s just played the CD to death and imitated what she’d heard are zero.
And Janet bites her lip again and looks all emotional as she’s told she’s through to the next round, and all over the UK, grannies wipe a tear away and thousands of reality show hopefuls get the message that originality is dangerous, that imitation is what’s needed, and I switch off the TV in despair and book a return flight to Australia, where I plan to go to the jungle, capture a lyre bird, play it whatever shit ballad is currently sweeping the nation, enter it into next year’s X Factor, and win. Interview that, Dermot.