Suspension of disbelief

The New Zealand version of The X Factor is both the most glorious and most ridiculous programme on the telly at the moment.

We’ve just sat through the initial judges’ auditions, mercifully condensed into only four extended episodes over two weeks. (Compare and contrast with New Zealand’s Got Talent, who stretched their audition shows out into a gruelling five-week stretch.)

The auditions were as entertaining as any other version of X Factor. The weird thing is how so many viewers seemed surprised that, well, the New Zealand version was following the actual X Factor format. That’s right, we don’t get some sort of special exemption that rules out featuring those few awful singers, thrown in purely for entertainment purposes. “That’s not fair! My cousin waited for three hours at the pre-audition only to be told she wasn’t what they were looking for,” wails Bewildered of Whanganui. “They should have given her a chance instead of that angry guy!” Actually, just imagine that. Imagine if the judges’ auditions were full of adequate singers doing acceptable but not exceptional versions of “Superstitious”. Crikey, that would be dull.

There was also surprise at the appearance of classic X Factor sob stories. The mousy looking woman who perfectly belts out a Celine Dion power ballad. The grieving widower who delivers an emotional country ballad. The timid girl who is delighted when her idol joins her to sing on stage. They’re probably going to all get cut at bootcamp.

Besides, the inclusion of those segments don’t make the series any less New Zealandic. This one is different because it’s ours.

The May issue of Metro magazine has a brilliant article on the X Factor audition process. Greg Bruce goes behind the scenes, casting a cynical but insightful eye on proceedings. He notes that winning the X Factor isn’t exactly a guarantee of success, that “If you want to launch a successful music career, you’re still way, way more likely to do it elsewhere than on a televised talent show. It sounds so mundane and obvious to say it out loud, but X Factor’s success depends on contestants and viewers suspending disbelief in that reality.”

The article also looks back at the old days of NZ Idol and notes that the Idol contestants didn’t exactly become huge pop stars. Idol is a different to X Factor (Simon Cowell made sure of that) in that the final 10 contestants were chosen by public vote, meaning that lots of pretty teens with wobbly voices got through. And back then Idol didn’t have such a good reputation. Since then the world has come to realise that such X Factor alumni as Leona Lewis and One Direction aren’t evil incarnate, people less likely to dismiss the X Factor as career-ruining piffle. The X Factor isn’t a guarantee of a successful pop career, but it’s a significant foot in the door.

So from all who have passed through the judges auditions round, it looks like we’ll have a decent final 12. I don’t think we’ll see any contestants as entertainingly brilliant as Rylan or Jedward from the X Factor UK, but on the other hand, I think we’ll also skip having a Christopher Maloney. The fun thing is the process of getting down to that final 12, the lame-arse bootcamp drama and the scenic lame-arse judges retreats’ drama.

And that’s why the X Factor is so much fun. Maybe the winner will only end up being world famous in New Zealand (like 2011 X Factor US contestant Chris Rene), but while that first series is screening, we can pretend that stakes are high, that this is the real deal.

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