'The X Factor' Doesn't Have It

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Every morning we address the important topic of something big, significant, funny, weird, etc. that happened while we were lying on the couch in front of the TV last night. Today we think about why 'The X Factor' just doesn't work.

What is it about American Idol that keeps (some of) us watching after all these years? Has there been anyone particularly interesting or uniquely talented since, who, maybe Adam Lambert? Has Ryan Seacrest been inventing new and exciting ways of hosting a show? Have the songs started to sound less like warmed-ever easy listening that you'd hear at a theme park? Nope. None of that has happened. And yet the show, the long and brutal January to May slog of the thing, still reels us (yes, OK, some of us) in every year. So why, then, is The X Factor doing the complete opposite?

Again, for some of us! There do seem to be people who enjoy this latest British import, in which singers of all ages can compete and there are groups as well as individuals. The anticipation for the show, brought across the Atlantic in the belly of a dark steamer ship by none other than former Idol judge Simon Cowell, was pretty darn high at the beginning of this TV season, but mostly because people were curious about just what this show would look like. So people tuned in and the numbers were big for the premiere and then it sorta.. petered out. The show still gets 12 million or so viewers for every episode, which is certainly not too shabby these days, but those aren't Idol numbers, for sure. So what is it? Why hasn't this show caught on with that same level of Idolfire?

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Maybe it's because, as witnessed in last night's cheesy "pick a song to thank somebody" episode, there is something especially manufactured and gimmicky about The X Factor. Sure there have been some genuinely interesting, brutally human moments, like last week's Astro meltdown, but they've been few and far between and mostly overshadowed by all the mechanical excitement the show is so intent on insisting is organic. Didn't the whole lead-up to having the final singers seem so rushed, as if the show was cramming a pre-selected group down people's throats rather than letting the audience sorta decide for themselves? Don't force us to like people on a show whose main draw is that we get to choose who to like! 

The synthetic air about the contests is only heightened on faux emotional (fauxmotional? ugh, no) episodes like last night, in which the mysteriously adult childling robot Rachel Crow tried to stage some sort of gospel revival in the sing stadium. And while the 13-year-old's backstory about her abusive upbringing was certainly grim and real, there is so little else real about her. And, uh, she's 13! She doesn't sing all that well! (Very few of these people are singing well!, in fact) There's just something so off-putting about her, about Astro's brattiness, about Melanie Amaro singing to/about god, about the very existence of the phrase Lakoda Rayne. Nothing about the show feels accidental or messy the way a good Idol episode can be. Duh, The X Factor gets messy, but it's not charming and silly the way it can be on Idol. Not to make American Idol sound like some amazing, winning, genuine television program. It's not! Of course it's not! But The X Factor is all of Idol's bad parts turned up to 11. 

We watched this week, but not the week before. (Well, we watched the Astro clip.) And we're not going to watch next week. It's just too hard to get traction with the show, to find a grip on it. Everything just slides right off its dimly glowing plastic exterior. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.