“It’s time for something different,” Simon Cowell tells viewers in the opening minutes of The X Factor: Celebrity – and he’s damn well right.
In recent years, The X Factor’s return to our screens has been accompanied by a jaw-cracking yawn. Gone are the days where you’d cancel your weekend plans to see Cowell and co tell a caterwauling singer they were crap; thanks to pointless format tweaks, a rotating panel of judges and general fatigue of a 15 year old format, The X Factor had become dull and lifeless.
I’ll admit, when I heard The X Factor bosses were going to can the civilian edition in favour of a brand new celebrity version (and an upcoming All Stars version) I was unconvinced. Initially I feared the new show may be a deeply unwanted throwback to the god-awful The X Factor: Battle of The Stars – a show so terrible even Cowell called it “a mistake”. Even the name The X Factor: Celebrity I found utterly exhausting (why not the far more logical Celebrity X Factor?).
However, I’m pleased to report that The X Factor: Celebrity is the show – at long last, may I add – finally back at its best.
The X Factor has finally faced the music and accepted it is no longer the dream factory it once was, and instead of upping up the ante like it has done in more recent years (a failure which ultimately made it a parody of itself in its ridiculousness), it has fully embraced the fun, playful side it had once lost.
The first part of the show almost has a Love Island feel to it – aided by the fact the first four celebs who came into Cowell’s Malibu Mansion were former Islanders. With Dermot O’Leary taking a rather voyeuristic view up in on the balcony, he puts an Iain Stirling-style spin on proceedings with wry and witty commentary.
The celebs themselves are also comedy gold; Samira Mighty running over to Kevin McHale shouting: “Mate, I had a Glee mug, you know!”, Martin Bashir walking into the mansion to the tune of Bad Boys for Life and admitting he sings “like a constipated donkey” and a rather uppity Max and Harvey telling Jeremy Edwards that his show is not the UK’s number one kids programme (“That’s actually Tracy Beaker”) are just a handful of laugh out loud moments from episode one.
The judges, too, are in a mellow mood – feedback on what are clearly shown as well-crafted and well-planned performances never really ventures into the outright mean. The cruellest comment is actually served by Louis Walsh to Cole and Edwards, saying they could be the next ‘Robson and Jerome.’ It’s a relief for the show to finally be more focused on the contestants themselves, as opposed to the judges’ feuds and putdowns.
Some of our hopefuls are genuinely not bad either – The Chase’s Jenny Ryan (or The Vixen, if you insist on calling her that) is a standout star in the making, while Bashir’s earnest attempt at a Nat King Cole song is rather heart-warming, especially after he reveals a hidden family tragedy.
And when it comes to the bitter Saturday night ratings war against BBC One, The X Factor: Celebrity no longer has to worry about how big a dent Strictly Come Dancing will make in its viewing figures – with a slightly later broadcast time, fans are far more likely to switch over to The X Factor than hang around for Danny Dyer shouting questions at a semi-sentient wall.
Live shows commence in just two weeks time, and if the show continues to be as fun, fresh and exciting as its opening episode, I may just start cancelling my Saturday night plans for The X Factor all over again.
The X Factor: Celebrity launches Saturdays at 8.35pm on ITV