The X Factor 2011: This fix fixation must end

As HMV's Amelia Lily blunder re-ignites the conspiracy theories, we explore the substance behind the rumours

No matter where I go, no matter whom I talk to – if The X Factor is on the agenda, you can be pretty sure The Fix Factor isn’t far behind. So what do people mean when they say the show is fixed?

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From my understanding of speaking to people in pubs and hysterical journalists at press conferences, the basic fix theory goes something like this.

Simon Cowell/Syco/ITV/Sony/Talkback Thames (or whoever runs the show – usually the fix theorist has little or no idea) are using The X Factor as a launch pad for an artist(s) of their choice. It doesn’t matter what the public want: the contestant(s) the bosses have chosen will win.

The theory usually includes unverified “evidence” that the aforementioned “fixers” have been grooming the chosen one for months or maybe even years before they enter the competition.

The producers are laughing at us all and counting their cash while we good honest folk vote in their premium-rate phone polls without a hope in hell of really changing the outcome.

The latest outcry comes from HMV advertising Amelia Lily’s single far too early on their website – not all the finalists’, just hers. Therefore, HMV know that Lily is going to win – presumably because an evil producer told them.

Well, maybe. But perhaps HMV, like all of us, know that all three finalists have recorded a winner’s single, so they’ve prepared a page for each of them, and someone accidentally published Amelia’s.

If you want a more plausible conspiracy theory, how about this: HMV’s sales have been on the slide for quite some time, and this brilliant piece of PR has put them (and their website) back in the news. 

I digress. Let’s look at other recent fix cases.

Kitty Brucknell. She was definitely a ringer, right? She’d sung in public before – some tabs said she’s been on 33 television shows before The X Factor, although virtually no one had actually seen her. But if she was getting unfair fix treatment, where is she now? She’s gone. Bar the shouting on ITV2 talent-show retrospectives and the occasional student union turn, she’ll never be seen again.

How about the 2010 fix, Katie Waissel? People were up in arms when it became apparent that she’d made an online series about her musical aspirations in America. It was even sponsored by Sprite. And Waissel had released a few records under the names Katie Vogel and Lola Fontaine, and may have met a few record producers and former X Factor judges in her time. If you need more, she changed the colour of her hair before arriving on The X Factor! How’s that for conclusive evidence?

How did this all work out for Katie? Well she’s, erm, disappeared into relative obscurity. I’m sure Simon Cowell is rubbing his hands with glee after masterminding that lucrative career.

Indeed, the allegations around most of the acts make absolutely no sense. The X Factor is a popularity contest, chart music is a popularity contest – the two combined are perfect. If someone is willing to spend money week in week out voting for their favourite on the show – they’ll probably be prepared to buy the artist’s records down the line.

Of course this isn’t an exact science (Joe McElderry), but in most cases the risk/reward ratio for manipulating the public vote, coercing the judges or employing any other dark arts just doesn’t add up.

It would be naive to think that what you see is exactly what you get on The X Factor – it’s not, but that doesn’t make it a fix. It’s an entertainment format, and so certain things are of more interest to the producers than others. 

It’s no secret that one of the show’s biggest stars, Leona Lewis, had been knocking around the music industry for some time before she got her break. Did the show make a big deal of her semi-pro past? No, because it makes for a less interesting story than an innocent girl with a dream of stardom from the mean streets of Hackney.

If you hate The X Factor, hate it for the right reasons. Hate it because it’s boring or it showcases a very low standard of singing. Hate it because Louis Walsh is unbelievably annoying – even hate it because they never seem to have time for An Audience With… on ITV1 anymore.

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But don’t hate it because it’s fixed. Because it’s not.