Thursday, 5 March 2009

'American Idol' Vs. 'X Factor'

With America having warmed up with that little democratic vote way back in November, it’s now time for them to select their winner in the only vote that really matters… ‘American Idol’.

With our Trans-Atlantic cousins in the throes of crowning their next pop sensation, I thought it would be a good time to compare their granddaddy of the talent shows with our very own ‘X Factor’ and see who would come out on top in a bare-knuckle fight to the death (my moneys on Tweedy).

It’s ‘American Idol’ Vs. ‘X Factor’, U.S. Vs. U.K., Seacrest Vs. O’Leary, Talented Vs. Untalented, Cowell Vs. err, Cowell…

Alas, in spite of ‘X Factor’ (I’ve always hated that name) having the rather unfair advantage of Newcastle’s answer to Kimbo Slice sitting on their judging panel, they wouldn’t stand a chance in a death match against the mighty ‘American Idol’.

I only seriously watched ‘American Idol’ for the first time last year, I’d seen bits before but I actually tuned in each week for most of the finals last year, when the, if we’re honest, pretty fucking talented David Cook rightfully triumphed over that mono-tonal little munchkin David Archuleta.

I couldn’t believe how much better this show was than the hilariously trashy equivalent we get lumbered with over here, seriously people, it’s night and day; and I think that it says a lot about the difference between our cultures and for the most part, our intelligence. Simon Cowell obviously knows how to tailor the show to the country it broadcasts in and compared to ‘Idol’ ours is dumbed down to the nth degree.

Disagree? Well here are ten painstakingly carefully selected reasons why ‘American Idol’ owns ‘X Factor’s ass…

1. The Host – Before the introduction of Dermot O’Leary two seasons ago, this category would have been a lot clearer cut. I despised Kate Thornton’s hosting ability with a near murderous passion, watching her babble incoherently on a Saturday night was akin to having broken glass rubbed in your eyes.

Thankfully, Cowell eventually saw sense and unceremoniously dumped Thornton from the show and drafted in everyone’s favourite cheeky chappy host Dermot O’Leary - The man responsible for making ‘Big Brother’s companion show more compulsive viewing than the main show, surely he will breathe new life into the stagnant ‘X Factor’ formula, we all thought…

…How wrong we were. It’s pretty clear from his Radio 2 show that O’Leary isn’t the biggest advocate of manufactured, saccharine pop gash, yet here he is shouting over-excitedly about some fat faced overgrown alien foetus named Eoghan on a Saturday night, when one look in his eyes and you can tell he not only doesn’t want to be there, but wants to lunge across stage and strangle Eoghan with the microphone lead.

With Ryan Seacrest however, you can tell the man, for his sins, actually eats up the sort of music ‘Idol’ champions and from listening to his radio show in New York I can categorically tell you, that this man loves his pop.

When Ryan Seacrest banters with the judges on ‘Idol’, and in particular Simon Cowell, it feels natural, almost like that’s how they behave with each other off-screen. Yet when O’Leary does it, Cowell usually looks at him like he wants to Steven Seagal his ass. O’Leary’s attempts at banter are a sad indication of the shell of his former self that this man has become, the only fair way to describe Dermot O’Leary these days is; a poor man’s Ryan Seacrest.

And if that’s not the most devastating title to hear yourself given since ‘daughter of Fritzl’ then I don’t know what is.


2. ‘American Idol’ was the pioneer of the talentless talent show judge. Long before Dannii Minogue and Cheryl joined ‘X Factor’ or Amanda Holden stank up ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, there was Paula Abdul on ‘American Idol’.

I think Chris Rock said it best when he said: “Paula Abdul judging a singing contest is like Christopher Reeve judging a dance contest…”

Even now, with ‘X Factor’ seemingly having cornered the market in horrible choices to act as judges, by having someone on their judging panel who six years ago was a contestant on one of these shows, ‘Idol’ trumps them again by bringing in Kara DioGuardi – Who? I hear you ask. Exactly.

3. Contestants on ‘American Idol’ are actually talented. I mean sure, ‘X Factor’ has produced some amazing singers, but anyone with a musical talent beyond vocals is encouraged not to use it, and the majority of the time, those who play instruments suffer an early exit from the competition.

Not only do ‘American idol’ contestants who play instruments do well on the show, they even win! While ‘American Idol’ truly encompasses the ‘talent’ show moniker, ‘X Factor’ does nothing but perpetuate the stereotype that these shows are nothing more than glorified karaoke competitions.

4. The contestants are given names on ‘American Idol’. Even at the embarrassing audition stage, you get a graphic telling you their name, age and hometown. Sure, both shows treat the freaks at auditions like figures of ridicule but at least ‘Idol’ has the decency to give them their 15 minutes.

‘American Idol’ also takes the novel approach of referring to it’s finalists by their full names, something that ‘X Factor’ decided to finally try last season rather than giving their pieces of money-making meat one name like a ‘Star Trek’ ‘red shirt’ destined for death. Although, if they had always done this we’d have never got to hear voice-over man growling his now infamous: “RHYDIAN!”

5. ‘American Idol’s judging panel are there purely for guidance, not to feed their egos – hard to believe when Simon Cowell’s on the panel I know!

The ‘American Idol’ contestants are left to make their own song choices and face up to a tongue-lashing from the judges if they pick something stupid. The judges act as they should, which is to try and give the public some idea on who to vote for, but ultimately, it is up to the people at home.

The ‘X Factor’ mentoring system exists for no other reason than to feed the judge’s egos. When they give a recap of the show’s performances with the number to vote graphic on the bottom of the screen, there’s a picture of the contestants mentor – Why? What difference does it make who their mentor is if you like them?

The judges pick the songs for their pupils on ‘X Factor’, something I’m convinced they only do so they can then snipe at each other after the performance and turn the focus back on themselves rather than the contestants. Who’s going to have a better idea on what type of song they excel at singing: a person who’s been singing said songs their whole life or a so-called ‘professional’ who has known them a matter of months…?

And of course, who can forget the ridiculous voting system the judges are involved in on ‘X Factor’, which allows for them to tactically vote out their fellow judge’s strongest acts if the opportunity arises. America picks it’s ‘American Idol’. Simon Cowell picks the ‘X Factor’ winner.

6. The judges on ‘American Idol’ seem to be watching the same show as me. Nine times out of ten, the judge’s comments at the end of an ‘Idol’ performance will echo those I make during the performance.


On ‘X Factor’, I’m sometimes not even sure they were watching the same thing as me. Even the reliable Simon Cowell seems to take leave of his senses once he gets behind the X desk.

For instance, on ‘X Factor’ there will be someone who gives an awful, pneumatic drill to the cochlear performance (I’m looking at you Diana Vickers) and I’ll prepare myself for the verbal onslaught from Cowell and co. but they sing their praises instead, leaving me scratching my head until it bleeds.


7. Paula Abdul’s mental instability. Paula Abdul is either a cartoon cat short of a music video or she’s on some serious prescription medication. The woman never seems to know where she is, what’s going on or what she’s watching; anyone who saw her critiquing a contestant on a song he hadn’t even sung last season will know what I’m talking about.

Yet the unpredictability of what Abdul might do or say next brings a kind of excitement to ‘Idol’ that’s distinctly lacking on ‘X Factor’. At least when Sharon Osbourne was on the panel there was the possibility she might punch someone. ‘X Factor’ is in desperate need of a whackjob on the panel, where’s Winehouse when you need her?

8. The other male judge is anybody other than Louis Walsh. Perhaps ‘American Idol’s strongest selling point over ‘X Factor’ is that there’s no Louis Walsh in sight. It may just be a weasely little persona he’s carved out for TV, and if so, give that man a BAFTA, but Louis Walsh comes across as the pettiest man on the planet and completely unlikable. Even his acts seem false and disingenuous when they’re singing his praises in the VTs; I always imagine Walsh stood just off camera threatening to drown a kitten in a vat of battery acid if they don’t say nice things about him.

That said, maybe I’m doing Randy Jackson a disservice, his appeal doesn’t just lie in the fact that he’s not Louis Walsh, after all I do like his catchphrases, his hip-hop hand gestures and his rather nice collection of bling; and Randy Jackson does actually seems to know what he’s talking about as well, which immediately elevates him above trained Sea Lion Walsh.

And coming back to banter; the banter between Cowell and Jackson comes across friendly and playful, whereas the Cowell-Walsh banter comes across mean-spirited and spiteful.

If we’re all being honest though, Gary Glitter could replace Louis Walsh as a judge on ‘X Factor’ and the show would improve.

9. ‘American Idol’ doesn’t rely on sob stories. Sure they still like a good sob story on ‘American Idol’, but the show isn’t based on those foundations, unlike ‘X Factor’. Don’t believe me? You only need to look back to the end of the recent season of ‘X Factor’ when the judges revealed who they’d tipped to win before the finals began. Who had Simon Cowell picked? Crack-head Mum Rachel Hylton; that just goes to show what he thinks of the ‘X Factor’ voter’s intelligence.

On ‘X Factor’ a good sob story will get you the finals; just look at the wheelchair bound woman from a couple of years ago, the woman who claimed she found an application form for the show in her dead Dad’s house or more recently widower Daniel, who was so bad, he’d have been booed off at a working men’s club karaoke night.

‘American Idol’ may not be sob story free, already this year we’ve had dead wives, Katrina survivors, hell, there’s even a blind guy still in at the moment, but unless you’ve got the talent to back it up, you’re out of there, sight or no sight.

It’s a well-documented stereotype that Americans are competitive and have a win-at-all-costs mentality, but give me that any day of the week over our culture of celebrating losers.

10. ‘American Idol’ hasn’t ruined the tradition of Christmas Number One. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hold the Christmas Number One up on some sort of tinsel draped pedestal, just look at some of the dick cheese that has held the Christmas top spot over the years, but I did enjoy the build-up to see who would get there.

Since the reality TV boom of the new millennium though, talent show winners have been bogarting the Christmas number one spot, and something that has long been a campy institution has been well and truly Cowelled. Cowell may as well dress up in a Grinch costume and steal all the copies of any non-‘X Factor’ singles released the week before Christmas.

People tried to make out that someone could beat ‘X Factor’ this year, with all the faux Jeff Buckley fans jumping on the nearest bandwagon, but seriously, as long as they keep doing this, no one is going to beat the ‘X Factor’ winner to Christmas Number One, even if the winner’s song is exerts from Mein Kampf rapped over the Crazy Frog ringtone.

And that ladies and gentleman is why American Idol owns X Factor’s ass, so why not tune in and watch an actual ‘talent’ show and see if my tip for this year Danny Gokey can win the big one.

American Idol is currently airing on Thursdays at 8pm & 10pm and on Fridays as 9pm on ITV2.

It airs in the States on Fox on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8pm


Other Tele-Visual Musings This Week:

- Tony returned on ‘24’! Albeit briefly. Judging from next week’s double bill’s teasers and previews, I’m hoping that with Bill and Jack held captive in The White House by Juma that Tony may get to save the day.

- I discovered this week that I completely missed Season 5 of ‘Entourage’ when it aired late last year, way to go on the advertising ITV2.

- After hearing that skating hippo Colleen Nolan had been granted a further stay of execution on ‘Dancing on Ice’ and the outrage that followed. I was left wondering just how John Sergeant feels that, in spite of all his accomplishments and achievements, every time a reality contestant remains on a show through popularity rather than talent it’s now referred to as the John Sergeant factor. What a legacy.

- ITV announced record losses this week, blaming the recession for their plight. It shouldn’t really have come as a surprise; any network that is so desperate for advertising revenue that they’d cut away to ads in the last minute of extra time in a local derby FA Cup replay probably could do with a bit of extra cash.

Jobs have been lost, Shows cancelled (only ‘Wire In The Blood’, don’t worry) and they’re even trying to sell off old people’s social networking site Friends Reunited or as it should be renamed Affairs Reignited.

But if ITV needs some help clawing it’s way out of the dire financial straits it finds itself in, then I’ve compiled this handy list of cutback’s they could make to save money:

- Cancel ‘Loose Women’
- Cancel any show that features Holly Willo-boobies and/or Fearne Cotton.
- Book less Z-listers on ‘Ant N Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway’ – the show’s starting to look more z-list than Jordan and Peter Andre’s wedding.
- Cancel and kill Jeremy Kyle (the kill part won’t really save them money, but it would be fun)

and finally;

- Sack Kelly Brook from ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ after only a week in the job but still pay her full salary… Oh wait, they already did that… I can’t imagine how they have money problems…

Be sure to check in with TV or not TV next weekend for a Cheltenham Festival Special and share my highs and, no doubt numerous, lows of the week as I look back at the Festival’s TV coverage.


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