Amy Jenkins: Raised hopes, destroyed souls – must be X Factor time again

Share
Related Topics

It's The X Factor season again. October comes, the Santa chocolates appear in the shops, and The X Factor moves from auditions to live shows.

Now starts the countdown to the big day of celebration that gets us through the winter darkness; a symbolic day when an age-old story is recounted once again to give us faith. But – as I'm sure you've guessed – it's no longer Christmas Day and the birth of Jesus that we await. No. It's the X Factor final and the arrival of someone once in rags to dazzling, celebrity riches.

It's a story that's hard to resist. "Shall we watch it this year?" I always say at this point to my partner. I am half hoping he will demur and save me. Sadly, his love for Cheryl Cole has a habit of outweighing the fact that he's an interesting and serious person. He nods guiltily and I breathe a sigh of relief as we settle down to yet another soul-destroying autumn on the sofa.

A friend of mine has likened watching The X Factor to eating a Big Mac. It's easy, it's cheap, it's addictive, but it's ultimately unsatisfying and afterwards you're left with a bad taste in the mouth. Even Simon Cowell is visibly bored with it this year. His reptilian demeanour has an air of contrivance these days and his forked-tongued criticisms seem phoned in. He must be delighted, then, that an unexpected controversy has suddenly enlivened proceedings.

Cheryl Cole is in charge of "the girls" this year, and last Sunday night she had to choose three to go through to the live shows from a group of winnowed-down hopefuls. Instead of choosing a lively young black woman who could sing up a treat and carry herself with confidence, Cheryl chose a fragile, stick-thin, deeply vulnerable 17-year-old called Cher Lloyd who sobbed all through her final audition and seemed the least likely to be able to withstand the pressures of the X Factor circus.

As for the lively young black woman – that was Gamu Nhengu. She's sweet, she's adorable, she's a good singer and people actually hit the streets in protest at her rejection. Angry fans went to her unprepossessing Scottish housing estate and waved placards. The plot thickened when it was discovered that Gamu has visa problems and may have to return to her native Zimbabwe. Gamu's mother has been studying nursing in Scotland for the past eight years on a Fresh Talent scheme. Gamu has been in the country as a dependant but now the family's right to remain has expired. It was then reported that Gamu's problems with the immigration authorities affected Cheryl's decision. Apparently, Cheryl had doubts about including Gamu among her outright winners but, if it hadn't been for the visa problems, Gamu might have gone through to the live shows on a wild card.

Whatever you might think of The X Factor you have to admit it has an uncanny ability to fire the political imagination. Last year, a Facebook campaign meant that downloads of an obscure single by a 20-year-old rap metal band called Rage Against the Machine beat the X Factor winner to the Christmas No 1 spot. This year, Gamu's possible expulsion from the country will do far more to highlight the pitfalls of an immigration policy that takes no account of talent than a sack full of letters to The Times from Nobel prize-winning scientists ever could.

The thing is, The X Factor may be frivolous; it may be shallow and it may be entertainment-lite – but its con is a profound one. Every year this show serves up the dream of rags to riches as if it were a cornerstone of 21st-century British life. "Don't stop believing!" sang the winner last year, with all his heart. The real truth is that social mobility has been decreasing in recent years. In this country, if you are born into poverty, you are very unlikely to get out of it. The X Factor doesn't get you a visa, whatever you believe.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Yvette Cooper campaigning in London at the launch of Labour’s women’s manifesto  

I want the Labour Party to lead a revolution in family support

Yvette Cooper
Liz Kendall  

Labour leadership contest: 'Moderniser' is just a vague and overused label

Steve Richards
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine