After eight series of largely uninterrupted success, plans are reportedly afoot to revamp The X Factor and allow contestants to sing their own songs on the show.
A source is quoted in The Sun as saying: “The idea might be to allow for more original music throughout the competition. Whether this means they will be writing their own songs isn’t confirmed, but it’s looking like it’s going that way.”
So while this doesn’t necessarily mean that The X Factor is set to ditch its familiar pop covers wholesale, such a move would still be a radical shake-up to its format, and one that could possibly prove a distraction from the skill that’s ostensibly under scrutiny – the performer’s singing voice.
After all, if you’ve heard, for example, Take That’s Shine, you can quickly decide if someone’s making either a good or a bad job of singing it, but if you’ve never heard a song before, that judgement isn’t so easy to make.
Equally, if two singers are of the same vocal ability, but one is also a great songwriter – would that count in their favour with judges charged with the task of looking for the next big recording artist? If it did, is The X Factor still just a singing contest, or are the lines beginning to blur?
It’s also probably fair to suggest that most people don’t switch on their television sets on Saturday evenings in search of challenging viewing. Instead, many want something relaxing, entertaining and amusing, but nothing controversial or too far outside their comfort zones. Madonna, not the Mahavishnu Orchestra, is the order of the evening for many ITV1 viewers on Saturday night. And in this respect, The X Factor is absolutely ideal.
Written down, the show’s selection of songs would look like the playlist of a pub jukebox, and that’s part of the reason it works. Familiarity, after all, aids musical appreciation, and the songs performed on The X Factor are those that you’d hear in everyday life – in the pub, on holiday, at weddings and on the radio.
On the other hand, does the world need to hear yet another version of Hallelujah? Would we be any the poorer for listening to a singer try out something new instead of enduring another anaemic rendition of Unchained Melody?
Sky1 had limited success with Must Be the Music in 2010, a show that allowed for original songwriting – perhaps it’s time that such a project is attempted on a big terrestrial channel?
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