When The X Factor draws to a close this weekend, there will be one question Simon Cowell will have on his mind.
“How can we revamp the show next year?”
He, along with the rest of the producers and behind-the-scenes team, will inevitably be scurrying off to lay plans for The X Factor 2018. They’ll be working on what bits to change, who could be brought in as a judge and how the format can be tweaked to ensure that series 15 will be the 'biggest', 'best', 'most talked-about' TV show of next autumn.
There’s just one problem. No matter what they do, that’s never going to happen.
Over the years, The X Factor has implemented - and then taken away - countless changes. They have had a total of nine different judging line-ups over the past 14 series, four different presenters and a revolving door of Xtra Factor hosts (we lost track around the Sarah-Jayne Crawford mark). We’ve had Deadlock, Prize Fights, Jukeboxes, Flash Votes and everything in between.
And yet every time they come up with some zany new element for the show, the ratings don’t improve. Instead, the opposite happens. The ratings dip further down, and the foundations of a format that once made The X Factor the biggest show in Britain is chipped away.
This series has seen arguably the biggest shake-ups to date. Although Bootcamp, the Six Chair Challenge and Judges’ Houses survived largely unscathed, the live shows weren’t so lucky. Frustratingly for viewers, this is the most crucial part of the whole programme.
The run of lives were condensed down to six weeks. The results show and the sing-off were scrapped. The judges lost their power to decide who stays and who goes. The act who received the lowest number of votes would automatically leave at the end of both Saturday and Sunday night’s show, meaning that two singers were lost each week.
A treat for the act who won the most votes over the weekend was also introduced - from a VIP meet-and-greet with Pink to... dinner with Louis Walsh (this was a genuine prize).
Not only was this all very confusing - not least for host Dermot O’Leary - it was also very dull. Viewers tuned in expecting one thing and got something completely different. More catastrophically, they were now having to work hard to work out just what was going on. Basically, the antithesis of what a show like this is meant to do.
It’s meant that viewers have fallen away, the show has languished in record low viewing figures and the tabloid coverage has dried up. Controversy is The X Factor’s oxygen, and without a talking point like Honey G or a controversial exit like Frankie Cocozza the series has starved. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, there is only one thing for The X Factor worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
When I’ve told people that The X Factor final is airing this weekend, the same response has come back over and over again.
“Oh, is it?”
Rewind a few years and this would have been almost unthinkable. But it’s not that reality TV as a concept has died - far from it. Britain’s Got Talent, Strictly Come Dancing and I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here! still consistently pull in huge audiences and become part of the national conversation.
The difference between these shows and The X Factor is that they have rigidly stuck to their respective winning formulae. The odd tweak (introducing the Golden Buzzer) or new judge (Shirley Ballas) aside, viewers know exactly what they’re going to get and who they’re going to see on screen when they tune in.
It’s a golden rule of TV that The X Factor has patently ignored, the 2015 series being the most stark example of this. Nick Grimshaw and Rita Ora joined as judges and Dermot was replaced by Caroline Flack and Olly Murs as hosts. The idea behind the overhaul was to make the show ‘relevant’ and bring in those key younger viewers. The result? Derision and many diehard X Factor viewers switching off for good.
The following year it was decided to bring back Louis Walsh, Sharon Osbourne and Dermot O’Leary and take the show back to its roots - to re-introduce the closed-room auditions, go back to basics and back to its best. And, Honey G aside, the show still didn’t make an impact.
The slash-and-burn approach producers have decided on for 2017 – to whizz through the live shows and get rid of as many as three or four acts over the course of a weekend – hasn’t worked either. Contestants haven’t been able to connect with those who are still watching, meaning that future careers after the show ends are even less likely than before.
The reason why Olly Murs, One Direction and most importantly Jedward were all able to have careers after The X Factor ended was because we had 12 whole weeks of live shows. They were household names by the time they were booted off the show and this meant they had a far better chance at longevity, which made the show itself relevant and credible in the long run.
ITV have contracted The X Factor until 2019, but the smartest decision Simon and co could make after this would be to give it a rest. Let the show lie for maybe three or four years, bring it back with the format that worked at its prime and maybe – just maybe – The X Factor will have a chance of being saved.
The X Factor finals air Saturday 2nd December and Sunday 3rd December on ITV