Absent judges, technical problems and last-minute format changes: just what is going on with The X Factor?

This year's live shows have been plagued with issues. Why can’t the X Factor get its act together, asks Frances Taylor

Screen Shot 2018-11-03 at 23.05.23

The most excruciating thing about watching The X Factor live shows used to be Louis Walsh.

Advertisement

Yet this year, the Sunday night results in particular have been dogged by confusion over the format, sloppy production errors and weekly tweaks to the voting that have chipped away at what used to be one of the most slick and glossy shows on TV.

Saturday night’s ‘as-live’ show crumbled before viewers’ eyes when sound issues dominated around ten minutes of broadcast. Both Danny Tetley and Anthony Russell sounded “like Daleks”, and there was absolutely nothing host Dermot O’Leary could say or do about it because, for the first time in the show’s 15-year-history, the episode had – gasp! – been pre-recorded earlier that day, due to the absence of new judge Robbie Williams, off on tour for a few weeks, right in the heart of the competition.

Then, on Sunday night’s results show, there were more miscellaneous issues: Ayda Williams spotted making a dash from the judges’ table to the stage only to be wrangled by a producer and forcefully directed back to her seat; Giovanni Spano’s name still emblazoned on the screens at the top of the studio when Acacia & Aaliyah and Molly Scott were about to do the sing off; and a peeved Simon Cowell demanding a recount of the votes after Molly was sent home. He may have been joking, but grumpily mouthing “what?” and sulkily shrugging didn’t help.

Perhaps that could be blamed on the knock-on effect of Saturday night’s issues, which meant all 12 acts’ performances had to be squeezed in again, but even when this year’s X Factor hasn’t been beset by technical problems or errors, there have been decisions made by producers that seem to make little sense.

Rule no. 1 in the reality TV rulebook is to announce the contestants who are safe from going home one by one. It’s a tried and tested formula that’s used on Strictly, I’m a Celebrity and, until now, The X Factor. Yet for some reason, this year the decision has been made to have host Dermot O’Leary read out the names of the singers who have made it through in batches.

That’s daft enough, but even this has been messed around with across the three weeks of live shows. Some weeks, Dermot’s read out two acts who are safe simultaneously. Another time, he announced three acts in the same breath. And, arguably the most baffling, one Sunday Derms revealed whole categories who were safe from elimination, ie: “The Girls!”.

It led Simon Cowell to declare later in that episode: “I don’t even know what was happening earlier.” Seeing as this is the man who actually created the show, and is supposed to have a say in everything that goes on, you’ve got to wonder what hope there is for us viewers to keep up.

Dermot O'Leary - The X Factor 2018
Dermot O’Leary – The X Factor 2018 (ITV)

Not only does this method of multiple announcements do away with any sense of tension, it just fundamentally makes for crap viewing. When Dermot reads out several names at once, there’s such a short space between them that the studio audience is still loudly cheering for the first person by the time the second is read out.

This means, more often than not, that viewers at home can’t hear what’s going on. Instead, you’re fed the news of who’s through via a camera shot of a singer screaming and being beside themselves with excitement. “Oh,” you think, “that must mean they’re the next one through.”

More generally, it feels as though there’s a general lack of thought and planning going into The X Factor. Their ‘Fright Night’ was on 3rd November – a full three days after Halloween, and a whole week after Strictly Come Dancing had its spooky special. There was seemingly no reason why it couldn’t have been the previous week, but a source at the show says they “wanted to keep the spooky fun going a few more days”. Hmm.

And then, of course, there’s that Robbie problem. Tour dates in South America have dictated that he will miss the next two weeks of X Factor live shows, which means Robbie won’t be back on the panel until 24th November – just one week before The X Factor final.

TL, ITV
(ITV)

According to Robbie, The X Factor has been trying to get him on board for a while now, so perhaps producers decided that some Robbie would be better than none.

But in his absence Nile Rodgers is standing in, after having had “such a great time with Louis at the Judge’s House in Ibiza a couple of weeks ago that when the opportunity came to step in for Robbie I could not say ‘no’.

“From CHIC and Sister Sledge to Duran Duran and Daft Punk, I’ve had great experiences with Groups in my career,” says Nile. “So I look forward to giving them as much support as I can while Rob is away!”.

But seeing as Nile’s had “great experiences with Groups” in his career, why didn’t he help out Robbie in LA during Judges’ Houses in the first place?

Surely producers knew at the time of filming Judges’ Houses that Robbie was going to miss some of the lives dates, and so surely it would have made far more sense to substitute David Walliams (whose experience with music groups is..?) for Nile, so that when he stood in later down the line it would have had some continuity.

Oh, and former X Factor judge Sharon Osbourne was meant to be coming back for the live shows, but subsequently pulled out. She wrote on Facebook that she thought she wasn’t needed and that it “would honestly feel odd coming in at this point”. It would, but by signing her up in the first place, the producers obviously hadn’t thought so.

Like so many things on The X Factor this year, it just feels shoddy and poorly-planned. After 14 years, it seems as though the producers have forgotten how to get the details right. More than ever, this series of The X Factor really needs to get its act together.

Advertisement

The X Factor continues Saturday on ITV