In the summer of 2012, I attended a live taping of auditions for The X Factor, a televised singing competition. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the opportunity to sit high above the beautiful blonde head of the legendary Ms. Britney Spears and the uncomfortably eager chest hair of one Simon Cowell, but the following are the top 5 takeaways that can be learned from such an experience…
5. Britney Spears was being paid $15 million to sit in a chair and sometimes say yes/no: Don’t get me wrong. Like any ’90s kid old enough to remember the seminal classics “Hit Me Baby (One More Time)” and “Oops I Did It Again,” I’m Team Britney all the way. I had the CDs, I watched the music videos religiously, and on that fateful day when she shaved her head, I organized a prayer circle… (I’m joking. Or am I?) We all have those artists we pretend to hate so that we can discuss their every move — Britney was my first, and oh how smooth and seductive those moves were. But seriously. She was being paid $15 million to sit in a chair and sometimes say yes/no. Britney (bless her beautiful blonde head) barely spoke, and at times appeared bored. $15 million dollars. Couple that with the $5 million contract promised to the show’s winner (who likely will not return in profit what the record company is shelling out) and I’m surprised that this show hasn’t gone broke.
4. “Reality television” is full of smoke and mirrors: This fact is pretty obvious to anyone who has seen the spectacle that is reality television — or anyone who was witness to the rise and fall of Snooki & Co. — but to see the trickery before my very eyes made me feel dirty… and not even in the “I’m a Slave 4 U” good-dirty-kind-of-way, if you get what I mean. I understand the need to make your television show interesting; it’s how you draw in the viewers. But taping artificial reactions before the show even begins — or rather, me being part of falsifying television that some people might be naive enough to believe is real simply grossed me out. Why can’t we just use real reactions that actually happen during the performance? It would create a much more gratifying (not to mention, real) television experience.
3. Everyone and their dear old Mum is looking for their 15-minutes of fame: The judges took multiple breaks (so add that to the list of things Britney [who was looking smokin’, by the way] is being paid 15 million smackaroonies for) and during those breaks, the host would go throughout the crowd and hand the microphone to people to sing their hearts out. People were crawling over each other to try to get their hands on that microphone. It was insane. I felt like I was experiencing some sort of deranged version of the Hunger Games and this was the cornucopia…(Although mad props to the guy who sang one of my very favorite throwback jams, “U Got It Bad” by Usher, if only for breaking up the monotony of “Call Me Maybe” chorus after “Call Me Maybe” chorus). While we’re on the topic of insanity, let’s talk about how much satisfaction the crowd would get when the judges would wave to them. I was beginning to think that Demi Lovato was the patron saint of preteen/teenage girls. (Side note: How young is too young to become a crotchety old man?) Simple, general recognition from a celebrity and the crowd lost its collective mind. General craziness ran rampant: everywhere I looked, I found people dressed to the nines frantically waving their “MARRY ME SIMON” signs in the air while gulping down their oversized Pepsi and bucket’o’fries in the hopes of getting on camera. Yeesh. I would have vomited had I not been afraid it would have come out as glitter — that’s what happens to vomit at these sugary-sweet, saccharine-like pop culture events. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone who has been to a Ke$ha concert.
2. Television is a business, not just a show: High-up executives at television stations put pressure on their show’s creators and producers in order to rake in the ratings: this is how you make money. But this leaves little room for creativity, ingenuity, and particularly in the case of XFactor, the discovery of something fresh. It’s rather obvious that this show is orchestrated to appeal to a young audience, what with the addition of Demi Lovato and Britney Spears to the judging panel. So, naturally, the contestants that the judges send through to the next round should appeal to that audience as well. The moments that particularly highlighted this for me were when the outliers — a trio of 50 somethings, for example — were immediately turned away because there was “no place for them in the market” shouted out by Simon Cowell Chest Hair Number One and “it would never work!” as stated by Simon Cowell Chest Hair Number Two. Instead, teen singing prodigy after teen singing prodigy were sent through to the next round riding a wave of awe from the judges.
1. With all that being said, Simon Cowell is a upstanding gentleman: At the conclusion of the show, Simon Cowell stayed behind and shook many audience members’ hands and signed whatever they presented him with. Demi and Britney, on the other hand, appeared to be racing back to their dressing rooms in an attempt to see who could get their first. There are at least two ways that we can think about this. If we’re being sympathetic to the judging songstresses, it’s obvious that they probably have a warped perception of humanity: strangers are constantly taking their picture, screaming their name, begging them for attention, and analyzing their every move. If my life were like that, I would frantically run away from those people, too. But if we’re being sympathetic to the audience, it’s harder to look past this. These people have made your careers. They’ve bought the CD’s, the concert DVDs, the books, watched your TV shows, and have probably come to this event with the singular goal of seeing you. (Case in point, this direct quote from the girl who stood behind me in line: “I don’t care about sangin’ I don’t care about dis show, all I care about is seeing Britney” — and that was before this girl explained that this was the fourth taping she was attending…holy cannoli!). This is why I found Simon endearing. Despite being what I would wager as the second most famous judge on the panel, he showed humility and graciousness, stuck behind, and created a moment for those kids that they’ll probably remember forever…Which leads us right back to how crazy people are.