The Vex Factor: Why Simon Cowell's fleeting cameo proves the once great X Factor has lost its way

Gary Barlow might be resigning. Louis Walsh has insulted Adele. And the king of the show only pops in occasionally. This fan says she's had enough

Click to follow
The Independent Online

There was a time when Simon Cowell could do no wrong. King of reality TV, he did what he wanted, said what he wanted and wore what he wanted. Christ, he even got away with those high-waisted trousers to the adoring, if not slightly mocking sighs of his loving public.

Any controversy linked to his empire in any way like, for example, the rumoured resignation of a certain Gary Barlow and a blasting from Louis Walsh towards Adele for daring to take a whole month off after giving birth, may no longer be shrugged off as it once might have done.

Now before you start pitying the media mogul, don’t. He is still far richer and far more successful than you and I will ever be (unless, Justin Bieber, you are reading this).

But somehow, he just doesn’t command the same level of autonomy over us as he once did.


Take the X-Factor; arguably the show that made him the household name he is today. Now in its ninth series here in the UK, and with international versions all over the world, it just no longer cuts it like it used to.

I feel qualified in making the judgments I am about to make because this is the first year I have actively decided not to watch it. And so, being removed from the imprisoning structure of the show that selfishly demands you give both your Saturday and Sunday night’s to the ‘singing’ competition, instead looking on as an un-biased bystander having removed the rose-tinted, Syco-branded glasses, I can see clearly now, like a young Johnny Nash.

Yes, I can see clearly now that the X-Factor, quite frankly, takes the mick, surviving mainly on a style-over-substance format. Ad-breaks after every single performer, who on a good day won’t sing a complete song and on a bad one can’t; judges who are remembered more for commenting on each other’s breath than the acts they’re supposed to make memorable, and can you believe that One Direction (sigh, swoon, shamazing) were pre-recorded yet introduced as live when they performed a couple weeks back?

You may well be wondering how, for someone who claims to be over the X-Factor, I know so much about the shenanigans going on this year. It’s quite simple, really. For despite the falling ratings which seem to be dropping further each week, it still commands an over-bearing presence in the media. It’s as if viewing figures don’t really give an indication of how (un) interested most of us are in the fabricated show anymore. We don’t want to watch it but please, let us read about it. I think not. The irony of this article is not, I can assure you, lost on me.


But Simon Cowell, puppeteer extraordinaire, is largely behind it all. Constantly bemoaning the embarrassing ratings and making desperate promises for surprises in the finale (One Direction are really going to perform live this time – phew), it seems that we cannot escape the show that is, quite frankly past its sell by date, even if we wanted to. Even I, by writing this article, am paradoxically adding to the media circus I am desperately trying to downplay.

We may have been malleable whilst we were still naïve enough to know any better, Simon, but if we’re no longer interested in a brand that is a little too in love with itself, what makes you think ramming it down our throats further is going to have any positive outcomes? You are, I’m afraid, perpetuating the failing ratings by mimicking the very worst aspects of the show – too much talk and not enough action.

If you really want to put your money where your mouth is Simon, give the inaugural show that made you who you are today a little more respect than a fleeting cameo. I’m willing to bet that your return to the judging panel of where it all began would send the ratings back in the One Direction you used to take for granted.