The X Factor 2012: should contestants be allowed to sing their own songs?

Original compositions have muddied the waters even further - just what are we meant to be voting for this series, asks Tim Glanfield

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The X Factor 2012: should contestants be allowed to sing their own songs?
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Tim Glanfield

Who is better, Beethoven or The Beatles, Tchaikovsky or TuPac, Charlie Parker or Cheryl Cole, Chet Baker or Cheryl Baker? You decide! What, you can't, why not? Surely the public can objectively choose which of these wildly different musical artists is “the best”?

Although we are unlikely to see anyone as gifted as Beethoven or Chet Baker on The X Factor, it seems that the choices the viewing public are now being asked to make in the ninth series of Simon Cowell's talent show behemoth are becoming bewildering, if not impossible.

The X Factor has always been in the shadow of one looming question: what, exactly are we meant to be voting for when assessing which contestant should win? Is it “the voice”, is it “the look”, is it “the entertainment value” or is it “the whole package”?

Although at times the judges have tried to clarify this point when the likes of Jedward and Wagner have continued to romp along in the live finals (it's a singing competition, apparently), the fact that “big characters” are deliberately selected for the studio stages (especially in the overs and groups categories) suggests that the singing is not all the producers are interested in.

Of course they're not – this is an entertainment show. If it's just about middle-of-the-road singers, it quickly becomes The Voice, and we all know what happened there once they got rid of the spinning chairs and the boxing ring.

But The X Factor 2012 has just too many variables. On top of the usual song choice, stage show and visual appearance of the artist to discount (because they shouldn't really influence our opinions in a singing contest), there is a new factor in the current show: songwriting ability.

Lucy Spraggan performed her own composition on Saturday – the song was OK, and the performance was fairly good. But the song was not as well composed as John Lennon's Imagine, which her competitor Jahmene Douglas chose to sing. Who is the better singer? Er, maybe Jahmene... but does writing your own song make your performance more vote-worthy? OK, maybe I should save Lucy?

It's a minefield. What are we voting on now? Gary Barlow was quick to compliment Spraggan on her composition, but is that a variable we should be taking into account? If we do, it doesn't feel fair on the great singers who have never claimed to be composers, who entered a “singing competition” in good faith.

The X Factor introduced the ability for artists to sing their own songs in what seemed like a hurried attempt to make the show “more credible”, presumably when it looked like The Voice was going to be a massive success. But now, all it seems to have done is muddy the waters further as viewers try to work out what the show wants to achieve.

There's little question that Melanie Masson's cover of Joe Cocker's cover of With a Little Help from My Friends was one of the strongest vocal performances of the night – but can Melanie really compete with a bunch of One Direction-like teens who have inferior voices but the right look? And how do we judge her against a young singer-songwriter who plays the guitar and shuns covers?

At least when it was simply a glorified karaoke contest, some of these hurdles could be overcome. But this final complication of composition has made The X Factor too much to fathom.

Who will triumph in this series? While we ponder that, I'm off to finally decide what is objectively better, Châteauneuf-du-Pape or Vimto. It can't be any harder than picking the 2012 winner of The X Factor.

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