I was mesmerised by the BBC documentary I Had The X Factor… 25 Years Ago. It looked at six people who were finalists in the 1986 grand final of the “New Faces” talent show – three singers, two comedians, and a violinist. They all enjoyed instant fame from the show, but with varying amounts of success. And that’s where it got interesting.
It seemed that most of them got work off the initial buzz from the show. But eventually that buzz faded away. Soul singer James Stone got work touring pubs and clubs, but his nice old lady manager kept his earnings from him. Comedian Vinny Cadman suddenly found himself unable to get the high-profile gigs he’d previously had. There are tales of divorce, alcoholism, childlessness, bankruptcy and sleeping in dumpsters.
It seems that for all of these contestants, once they had a taste of fame, of performing in front of an adoring audience, they were hooked, completely unable to go back to normal jobs, even when the showbiz gigs had completely dried up.
Has anything changed today? Are the contestants on The X Factor somehow immune to this fate?
Singer James Stone is also revealed to have been a semi-finalist on Britain’s Got Talent in 2008, his second shot at fame. He impressed the judges, but three years later he is revealed to be penniless but reasonably happy. He seemed like the sort of person who had a lot of personal problems that would always keep him from sustaining a career in showbiz.
I guess that’s what it comes down to. Talent is only one part of the equation. Showbiz is hard. It takes a certain type of personality to survive it, to negotiate the minefield of trends and competition. Maybe that’s the true X-factor.