A celebrity revamp won’t resurrect the X Factor – it’s been tried before

Simon Cowell's talent contest needs a good, long lie-down in a filing cabinet marked “tired TV formats”, says Frances Taylor

Simon Cowell - The X Factor 2018 (ITV)

“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible.” When author Mark Twain wrote these enduring words, he was surely talking about The X Factor.

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For here we are again. Another year, another thrilling – exciting – ratings-exploding revamp is reportedly on the cards. The headlines shout that ‘The X Factor is over as we know it’ and that Simon Cowell wants to put “new energy” into the show by casting celebrities – not plebs – to audition. ITV boss Kevin Lygo has said he wants to try and make The X Factor “leap again” – despite the fact The X Factor hasn’t leapt for nearly a decade.

With its endless panel changes, pointless gimmicks (The Jukebox, The Golden X, Honey G) The X Factor has become a Frankenstein of its former self and has lost the majority of its audience along the way. We’ve gone far beyond flogging a dead horse, and instead us viewers have been left with little more than a bag of hooves.

On the plus side, Cowell’s latest move deviates somewhat from his previous tried-and-tested revamp formula of “Bring back Louis Walsh again” with the programme instead potentially facing a celebrity makeover. Which might’ve been an interesting, innovative concept… if it hadn’t already been done in 2006.

Many moons ago, before the iPhone was invented and when Simon Cowell’s face still looked like Simon Cowell’s face, ITV1 aired The X Factor: Battle of the Stars. It was presented by Kate Thornton, and Simon, Louis and Sharon Osbourne were the judges as the likes of Gillian McKeith, Paul & Debbie McGee and Nikki Sanderson warbled their way through a week of live shows. Lucy Benjamin was crowned the winner and then, according to The Sun, Simon said shortly afterwards the whole thing had been “pointless” and added “we are never going to do it again.” Hard to believe about a programme that featured Rebecca Loos and James Hewitt duetting!

But it turns out 13 years can make a big difference. With The X Factor’s ratings still on the slide, their latest move appears to involve giving the regular show a rest (it could reportedly return as we know it in 2020) and instead creating “Strictly but with singers”, according to one source.

“Bradley Walsh was the biggest selling artist of 2016,” another ‘insider’ added. “They could find a similar type of celebrity not known for their musical skills – and make them even more of a star.” They could. Or, god forbid, they might just find another Jason Manford or Nick Knowles.

The obvious problem – apart from pegging a whole format to the popularity of Bradley Walsh when Bradley Walsh almost certainly has zero involvement – is that singing celebrities have been done to death. If it wasn’t The X Factor: Battle of the Stars, it was Comic Relief Does Fame Academy (Nick Knowles was a contestant in series two. He didn’t win. He didn’t even come second. Or third.) Then there was Popstar to Operastar, and as recently as Christmas 2018, BBC1 aired All Together Now, Celebrities.

It’s pointing out the obvious, but the last thing telly needs is another C-list vehicle – and the last thing The X Factor needs is another bloody revamp. Instead, what’s required is for the show to have a good, long lie-down in a filing cabinet marked “tired TV formats”.

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It needs to get off the telly for a few years before returning, riding a wave of nostalgia, and allowing viewers to remember with fondness those glory days of One Direction and Little Mix.