There are three types of X Factor contestant. First, there are good singers who reach the final or win, after which the public instantly rejects them. Then there are people who don’t win but do better in the charts than on telly (Misha Bryan or Craig Colton could fit here). Finally, there are pantomime figures we love to hate, who could never win but who everyone talks about.
Because of The X Factor’s insatiable thirst for publicity, the villains and idiots are more crucial to the series now than the first two categories put together. Their supposedly outrageous behaviour and/or incompetent performances give the show its narrative.
Frankie was this series’ lead character, coming on like a young Boris Karloff starring in a Tim Burton remake of Confessions of a Window Cleaner, and fulfilling the crucial criterion for a cartoon contestant of getting worse at singing as the competition wore on.
The X Factor is all about generating headlines that in turn, it’s hoped, boost ratings. Frankie brought the show more exposure than anyone this year, and not just when he got his bum out during the auditions.
His performances were theatre. Arguably it was tawdry, depressing theatre in which the nation’s taste and humanity could be heard gurgling into a stinking vortex. But Frankie was an essential part of the show, especially once Kitty Brucknell turned out to be more talented and less despicable than everyone had hoped. More importantly, he can’t be blamed entirely for his screen persona.
Make no mistake: on The X Factor, the contestants’ identities are almost as heavily manipulated as the conversations on The Only Way Is Essex. Remember when Frankie was on the front of The Sun for carousing until all hours with several strumpets? Were the producers of the show furious with him for bringing the show into disrepute? Not really: the following weekend it turned out they’d gone with him and filmed it.
Last Saturday we saw Gary Barlow having a stiff talk with the young rodent love god, telling him to cut down on partying and take this golden opportunity to capitalise on his singing talent. But everyone involved must have known Frankie’s singing in the live shows was at best anaemic and at worst asthmatic. He’d been chosen ahead of better singers, such as the unengaging Joe Cox. Frankie was there to party.
Sure enough, on Sunday night Dermot O’Leary – not Frankie – was making a point of telling us that Cocozza had just stayed up all night.
“Frankie is going to take some time out before continuing his career as a singer,” said the official X Factor statement yesterday. You could almost hear whoever wrote that suppressing a giggle. Matt Cardle and Joe McElderry were X Factor champions, but there’s barely any sign of a singing career developing for them, so there’s limited hope for Frankie.
The semi-serious point here is that Cocozza is barely even an adult, but has been allowed to become “the most hated man in Britain” by producers who could have stopped him making such a pudding of himself, and chose not to because it was good for ratings. His unpleasant attributes are unusually well developed for someone who’s not yet turned 20 – if he’s slept with 67 women already, that puts him approximately 66 and a half ahead of my score at that age – but they’ve been intensified by the show in ways he couldn’t be expected to predict.
Even using cocaine, if indeed that’s what Frankie has been booted off for, is indefensible and must lead to expulsion but isn’t tremendously unusual, especially for people involved in making television programmes.
Although we all enjoyed the excitement yesterday when Frankie was finally ejected, you’ve surely missed the point of The X Factor if you think the show will be better without him. And you’d be foolish not to realise that the screen Frankie was a monster created by the programme for its own benefit. The producers – and Gary Barlow, Frankie’s mentor – can’t throw their hands up now and feign shock. But if the publicity-at-all-costs policy has been pushed too far here, only one person will really have to face the consequences: poor misguided Frankie himself.