X Factor 2011 Live Tour, Wembley Arena, London

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The Independent Culture

It's a testament to the X Factor brand that on a rainy Saturday night in March, on a day when half of Wembley's train stations are inaccessible, Wembley Arena is packed to the rafters. Overnight celebrities, who were anonymous less than a year ago, are now playing to more than 10,000 fans whose enthusiasm borders on hyperactivity.

Flanked by skilled dancers, each act wanders across the stage singing already popular songs and waving to those especially rabid fans. The effect, whether it's Cher Lloyd, Katie Waissel or Paije Richardson, remains largely the same. The supersonic reception which greets tween-baiting boy band One Direction is deafening, but they, too, simply strut horizontally, albeit to a louder audience accompaniment. Wagner, the hirsute Brazilian, is the highlight: his performance is absolutely tuneless but wildly entertaining, a blend of circus act and karaoke night which fits the "so bad it's good" category perfectly.

When winner Matt Cardle emerges for his performance, the crowd are rapt. Cardle, as wholesome and family-friendly as a bowl of Weetabix, is the most assured on stage, but you sense that this is an audition for continual relevance: he's vying to avoid the supersession that 2009 winner Joe McElderry seems to have already suffered.

The musical quality remains negligible throughout, veering from decent to ghastly, but such is the volume of bells and whistles – fireworks, videos, hydraulic stages – that the music seems secondary.

What shines through is the unerring cynicism of this premise. The 25-minute interval shows sponsor promo videos and adverts for the merchandise on the stalls outside. But looking out into the crowd, an ocean of cameraphones and teenage hormones, what becomes apparent is that the conveyor-belt approach to music still works, and shows no sign of losing its appeal.

Touring to 10 April (xfactor.itv.com)