Grace Dent on Television... The X Factor, ITV 1

X Factor is the hinterland between watching pub karaoke and knitting beside a guillotine

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The Independent Culture

As dark nights, dampness and broken-boiler season kicks in, so we turn, helplessly, to the pull of The X Factor.

The televisual hinterland between "watching pub karaoke" and "knitting beside a guillotine". We say we won't. We're bigger people. Approximately 16lb more rotund by next spring, when we leave our sofas again. In winter we live on a cold, drab island which goes dark at 4pm, which made Christmas and celebrating the little baby Jesus (with booze) a massive hit for a couple of centuries. But then we got sick of all that Jesus malarkey and got our winter bang, sparkle and pizzaz from slutty Hallowe'en costumes, the Boots "Here Come the Girls" Christmas advert, clothes shops being suddenly full of awful diamante office party shrugs, and ironically watching X Factor, then non-ironically watching X Factor.

I remember in September when I was very hard-line about how utterly bobbins X Factor was set to be this year. I would not be watching and instead would devote the time to my own sofa-bound Michael Winterbottom retrospective (no, not just 24 Hour Party People and A Cock and Bull Story, even 9 Songs).

I recall being quite het up about X Factor auditionee Rylan Clark in September. Not only had Rylan recently had a main role in Sky One's Signed by Katie Price, the man was a sheer unmitigated trumpet of an individual. A skinny, shrieking crying boy with dyed black hair, eyebrows, Zorro beard and Kenneth Williams-style "Ooh stop it, what am I like?" schtick, Rylan is Annie Lennox dragged up for "Who's That Girl?". Rylan's natural hair colour is ginger, meaning this effect looks as natural as a hapless under-eight styling him with Fuzzy Felt. Rylan is what he is, he is his own special creation.

My dislike for Rylan dissolved to be replaced by worry as he fell out of another showbiz party with Price, stopping to show the paparazzi matching duck pouts. Idly wondering about the mental hardiness of people you've no responsibility for, whom you've only ever really seen honking through a bewildering cover of "On A Night Like This", is all part of the X Factor process.

Presently X Factor is at that stage where the Saturday live show and spin-off shows, and Sunday results show go on for so long it can feel like another job. The Xtra Factor over on ITV2 is presented by Olly Murs, a previous contestant who is a bit like a Labrador puppy who wasn't good enough to do sight-dog training and so we ended up fostering him. Last year one of the X Factor prizes was to win some time in a VIP pool cabana in Vegas with Olly. Even the mere thought of this makes me near hysterical. Xtra Factor now has a Skype-style face to face questions from viewers at home. I wait with breathless excitement for a Going Live/Five Star "why are you all so crap?" moment.

Sunday's results show is essentially a product-placement slot for whoever is schlepping a new single or album around the music industry. Sometimes it's someone amazing, and sometimes, like last Sunday, it's that Emeli Sandé, the woman who moaned right through two Olympic ceremonies and sings songs like "Oh boo hoo me why have you left me/ It's such a perplexing mystery", and a nation heaves its bosom westwards and says, "I think it's 'cos you're a bit of a whinge, love".

Judges will often be asked to give their idea on who goes home. "I can't do this, I just can't. I can't give a name!" Tulisa Contostavlos will snivel. Judging X Factor is a very hard thing to do. Very hard. Like on a Comic Relief film when a doctor has two babies to save and only one malaria pill. It's hard like that.

At least Nicole Scherzinger just judges people, as she's paid to do. Pop-culture part-timers reading this may not be able to differentiate Nicole Scherzinger from Kim Kardashian, as they could share a waxwork and feasibly send said waxwork out on public appearances to smile and interact, in order not to leave their public feeling short-changed.

I'm enjoying Gary Barlow this season finally beginning to realise he can't come out of this show with serious "music production" credibility as the show relies on everyone watching someone very, very useless and pronouncing them "a future global recording star!". When Gary stormed off stage, God bless him, it was with all the conviction of a sulky child leaving home and making a big fuss of packing his jam sandwiches. Meanwhile Louis Walsh, who is always very much the spare wheel on the X Factor panel, but a man who knows precisely how to play the game so is always asked back, has taken to wearing a combo of polo neck and thick corduroy jacket. I can only imagine he's trying to sweat down to ride in next year's Grand National.

The quest for this year's Christmas No 1 continues.