Let’s get one thing straight about The X Factor: nothing can ‘save’ it.
The show will never again pull in over 19 million viewers. It probably won’t ever create another global superstar. And, frankly, it’s unlikely it will suddenly become unmissable Saturday night TV once more. That era of blockbuster telly is gone.
The format and judges have been messed around with too much over the years, while the appetite for TV singing and reality shows has waned. The X Factor’s success (or lack of it) has little to do with who is, or isn’t, on the judging panel.
Unveiling Robbie Williams, Ayda Field, Louis Tomlinson and Simon Cowell as the new-look line-up, there were a few raised eyebrows. Simon is an X Factor staple, Louis is one fifth of One Direction, and Robbie’s had success both in Take That and as a soloist. But Robbie’s wife Ayda?
There were explanations as to why she deserves a seat, punchy talk about how she can “show the boys how it’s done”. But the big question now is as a foursome – and as arguably the most baffling line-up in the programme’s history – can this judging panel actually work?
A snap RadioTimes.com poll asking whether the panel was a hit or a miss saw 83% of people voting in the negative.
However, going by the press conference which the judges all attended, there’s actually a clear spark, chemistry and warmth between Simon, Robbie and Ayda. Throughout the half-hour panel discussion, they had an entertaining and established rapport.
“I got to know Robbie and Ayda as friends, and then as Ayda and Lauren [Silverman, Simon’s partner] became friends and I got to know Robbie better,” explained Simon about his choice of panel. “The guys came down to Got Talent and I looked down and thought, ‘This is just perfect’, and that night we went back to my house, had a little chat on the balcony and we did the deal.
“The whole idea this year was to make this an optimistic panel,” added Simon. “When we finally got the OK that this [line-up] was going to happen, I’ve never felt so excited.”
So, is Loose Women panellist and actress Ayda really the weak link? Her music experience might be questionable, but her quick wit, charisma and humour were there for all to see when answering questions. She was funny, self-deprecating and immensely likeable – and she could actually turn out to be great value.
Perhaps her lack of experience might not be a hindrance after all. She could be a refreshing alternative to the same merry-go-round of names that leave, return, leave and then return again to The X Factor year after year. She might not have glowing wisdom to spout, but it’s hardly as if Louis “you remind me of a little…” Walsh ever let that hold him back.
Robbie Williams, meanwhile, has been a regular on The X Factor rumour mill. “We have tried to get Robbie on every show we’ve ever made, I think, for 18 years,” Simon said at the judges’ reveal. And it’s not hard to see why.
Robbie has that elusive star appeal that has made him one of the most successful artists of all time, winning a record 18 Brit Awards and selling almost 20 million albums in the UK alone. He is something of a dream X Factor signing – even if it feels ten years too late. If his recent antics at the World Cup are anything to go by, he hasn’t lost his anarchic streak – even if, as he told press, “I am way more scared of Simon Cowell than I am of Fifa.”
From the small taster we’ve had of the judges so far, however, it seems as though The X Factor may have swapped out one useless Louis for another.
At the press conference, it would’ve been tricky for Louis Tomlinson to have seemed less interested in where he was or what he was doing. To the surprise of his fellow judges and the assembled press, he even got up half way through the Q&A and left the room to have a pee.
And yet, from Simon: “I’ve been trying to get Louis on these shows for years”. Glad it was worth the wait.
It’s obvious why he’s there. One Direction are the show’s biggest success story, and it was only a matter of time before one of them was recruited for the panel. At the moment, it’s hard to envisage Louis making any kind of entertaining or useful contribution to the show. But this is X Factor: stranger things have happened. Honey G finished fifth, after all.
Dig a little behind all the fluffy talk of being passionate about finding this country’s next big singing talent (which the new judges were all at pains to do, of course), and the real reason that Robbie and Louis have caved in now after years of pursuit by Cowell becomes clear.
“The exciting thing is Louis has new music coming out, Robbie’s got new music coming out,” Simon said at the conference. “I think the buzz for me when I see someone sitting on the panel having hit records is again, it’s an amazing part of this job.”
Ah. Propping up a table on prime time Saturday night TV won’t hurt Louis or Robbie’s chances of shifting some records come the autumn when they’re both squeezing out an album to flog for Christmas.
In all the years of X Factor, this has to be the oddest motley crew of a line-up. But some solace: Ayda and Robbie could well be a laugh. Hopefully Simon will be buoyed by the banter. And at the end of the day, it will most likely be a one-year incarnation; a panel looked back on in years to come that people can’t quite believe actually happened.
Normal service will no doubt be resumed for X Factor 2019. I can see it now: Simon triumphantly announcing how the show needs to get back to its roots, back to the glory days, before proudly unveiling his three exciting signings to the panel: Sharon Osbourne, Louis Walsh and Nicole Scherzinger.
The X Factor returns to ITV this autumn