Everything seems different in America doesn’t it? The food’s bigger, the teeth are whiter, the customer service is usually annoyingly impeccable… and the reality shows are bonkers. Take the American version of the X Factor for instance; not just a vehicle for that sonic-haired Simon Cowell to make himself some more dough, but yet another chance to show the world that the US is filled with far more talent than we could ever hope to produce. Watching the American version is like seeing Celine Dion in Vegas, at times ours is more like Shane Ritchie in panto. But does the standard of contestant make it more entertaining?
You’ve got to give it to them – the talent is very impressive. With the age limit set at a controversial twelve years old, this year’s X Factor USA has seen the likes of thirteen year old Rachel Crow and fifteen year old Astro belting out hits people twice their age couldn’t manage. If you’ve been watching, you’ll know the phenomenal voice of finalist Melanie Armaro who gave even Beyonce herself a run for her money with a blinding version of ‘Listen’. In comparison, this year us lucky Brits have been graced with the high-pitched warbles of Johnny Robinson and Two Shoes… and let’s face it, Barlow wasn’t far off when he likened the latter to a karaoke night in Romford. Totes embarrassing…
Another difference seen across the pond is that there are no comedy acts to be found. Not one! Instead of the over-25’s being a chance for a judge to mastermind yet another cheese-on-toast one hit wonder (G4, ‘its Chico time’, JEDWARD… need I say more?!), it is in fact a legitimate category. Granted the likes of Leroy Bell and Stacey Francis didn’t make it to final shows over there, but their performances were no joke. Tesco Mary was a good singer, but she had no chance did she? After all, her mentor was Louis Walsh…
Speaking of that Irish charmer and her mentor, as well as the standard of contestants being higher across the pond, the same can almost certainly be said about the judges. LA Reid is one of the biggest players in the music industry having signed the likes of Rihanna, Mariah Carey and The Killers to name just a few. Paula Abdul and Nicole Scherzinger bring chart experience and diva-like glamour to proceedings, and Simon… well Simon IS The X Factor. They seem far more constructive when it comes to their comments, and actually have standards which would ensure our contestants could never make it past bootcamp. In the UK this year’s ‘new generation’ have spent more time criticising each other – coming in for accusations of in-fighting and shoddy mentoring – and rumours are rife that they’re ready to jump ship after just one series.
The question remains, does all the stateside razzmatazz make for a more enjoyable show? In my opinion, it doesn’t. The USA version undoubtedly has its drawbacks, and they happen to be just as big as some of the egos. Let’s take the dramatic break-down of Rachel Crow for example: as she got booted out the other week she fell to her feet in full-on tantrum mode and shouted ‘mommy, you promised me!’. Err… calm down darling, you’re thirteen, you can always spend the next ten years re-entering. These scenes – in all seriousness – sparked huge debate whether the age limit is in fact exploitative, and just goes to show that Cowell’s American dream isn’t always glamour and Hollywood hit-making. Perhaps the beauty of our show is that despite its sometimes silly and mediocre nature, it never lets people get too big for their boots. Misha B was shot down in flames for being a ‘bully’ due to thinking that she might have been a cut above the rest; I dread to think about the kind of competitive sniping going on beneath those pearly American smiles.
They may do a better version of Mariah, but our contestants sure do give it all they’ve got. We give the chance for the Johnny Robinson’s of this world to leave their bedsits behind and gratefully attempt to entertain the nation on a Saturday night. They don’t take themselves seriously, but nor do we, and maybe that’s where we win out. I think I’d much rather watch Johnny camp it up to a Kylie Minogue number than some precocious kid who’ll end up crying because someone dare tell them enough is enough.
Underdogs, self-deprecation, poor miming! That’s the stuff we want to see.
We mustn’t forget our success stories either… Leona Lewis, Will Young, JLS… there has been some genuine talent and chart hits uncovered along the way. Like their teeth they might not be perfect, but that would be boring wouldn’t it?