Should we switch off The X Factor?

A pop Svengali and TV talent show veteran argues that the programme is just a 'freak and geek show', while an Independent writer says that it's the highlight of her weekend
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The Independent Culture

Pete Waterman: YES!

I never watch The X Factor. I don't need to make Simon Cowell any richer than he is, plus, a) Simon's one of my closest friends and he doesn't need to have me telling him what I think of his show, and b) I sit on the train on a Monday morning and everyone tells me what they've seen on television on a Saturday and Sunday, so by the time I get to Euston I know all about it anyway.

I don't watch it because I was on the original Pop Idol show and I walked off the second series on principle. The first Pop Idol was about music, but the shows have got worse. It is not about talent, it's about television and spectacle. I'd rather make a programme about railways. It's ironic that what we – myself and Peter Kay – predicted in the programme Britain's Got the Pop Factor is exactly what has happened on The X Factor. What Simon's got is the greatest television show in the world – but that's not talent. Simon Cowell started musically, but now The X Factor has become simply about television.

The problem for me is that kids believe that this is a talent show. It's not. It's a freak and geek show. It's about ratings. It's got the best ratings since Pop Idol. Every week they create a new drama. The credit in the first Pop Idol goes to the people who trawled through and edited the performances, picking a balance between fun and talent. But that all went out of the window on Pop Idol 2. You had to have someone who cried, someone who died, someone with one leg.

I think it kids young people who want to get into the music industry, which is why I've written The Fame Factor. When I hear that this year's going to be the best year for singles for many years, I think, 'hang on a minute, you're including those three singles just taken from an album and you're ignoring the fact that album sales are down'. Even I'm being cynical now. I look at The X Factor in a completely different way. My criteria is, if the show were doing what it purports to do, they should be selling five or six million singles, especially with the download revolution.

It's great television, but it isn't selling records. Many people pay the 30p to vote for it, but when the single is available as a download 20 minutes after the show, they are not buying it. That Cheryl Cole has sold more downloads as the judge than the winner of The X Factor proves that it's a bigger promotion for the judges than it is the contestants on the show. This is a singles show which should be driving singles sales, and I don't see that in any shape or form.

I'd advise young people that every piece of exposure you can get, you can use, but don't believe it will do for you what you want it to do. You have to work out when you will get the next exposure. In a ladder of many rungs, The X Factor is just the first rung. I get so many people writing to me saying, 'I've been on The X Factor, will you listen to my songs?' No! The show has produced people that others want to talk about; but if they're as great as everyone says, they'd be selling 20 million albums.

Pete Waterman was talking to Elisa Bray. The DVD 'Peter Kay's Britain's Got the Pop Factor' and Pete Waterman's book 'The Fame Factor' are out now

Alice-Azania Jarvis: NO!

My love of The X Factor has very little to do with music. If anything, it exists in spite of the music. I could quite happily get by without ever again hearing another saccharine ballad being churned out by some mediocre no-hoper whose idea of "living the dream" is getting the chance to turn on the Christmas lights at Bluewater. What I (and, I suspect, most viewers) enjoy is the spectacle. And the ritual. And the drama. I like watching as each act comes onstage to Nineties-style light shows, bolstered by armies of dancers and choirs of backing singers who do little more than reinforce the mediocrity of the amateur's abilities. I like watching the exchanges between Louis and Simon, choreographed and Laurel and Hardy-ish though they may be, and seeing Dannii become more animated each week. Most of all, I like watching Cheryl. She's delightful, a real-life version of those rotating dolls that pop out of little girls' jewellery boxes, cooing away in that Geordie accent. She pops up every weekend, with a brand new outfit full of little intricacies to pore over. "Ooh she's wearing knee-high boots," I think to myself. "Could I wear those?"

Of course, it's all utterly vacuous. But what's so wrong with that? It's aired on a Saturday night. A fix of glossy escapism is just what I want at that time of the week. It's fun. And – one thing you can't say of many pursuits these days – it's unifying. During the break, I can dial just about anyone in my phone book and know that we'll be able to chat about what we've just watched: whether that's my mother, my best friend, my little cousin or a virtual stranger. It's a less gender-specific version of complimenting someone on their dress. It makes for easy conversation.

In fact, the only thing I haven't liked about the new series was the decision – in the early weeks – to audition contestants in front of an audience. I think it's cruel, all that gladiatorial booing, braying and wolf-whistling. Still, we're past that stage now, in the happy realms of the finals. From here on, it can only get better.

And for the record, I'm not backing anyone. There is one person I'd like out though: Jamie Archer, he of the dreary MOR rock anthems. Come on, man: it's a pop show, not Glastonbury. Embrace it.