X Factor Celeb
X Factor Celeb

Cosmic Slop #133: Cringe Factor Celebrities

Shaun Ponsonby finds X Factor: Celebrities the most cringe programme since the Bros documentary, but maybe that is why it could finally improve the dead horse’s ratings.

By Shaun Ponsonby
Thu 17 October, 2019

So it’s come to this.

In 2006, back when actual woman Kate Thornton was allowed to lead one of the mainstays of the TV schedule, ITV broadcast the famously abysmal X Factor: Battle of the Stars charity series. Even by X Factor standards it was a farce, descending into a circus as Sharon Osbourne spent night after night slut shaming Rebecca Loos and somebody allowed Chris Moyles on TV.

It was such a disaster, that even Simon Cowell – a man who has flogged numerous dead equine in the name of power and attention – decided it was shit and should never be done again.

But desperate times call for desperate measures. Despite vowing never to return to the celebrity version of The X Factor, Cowell couldn’t help but notice that his franchise had gone from “kinda bad but weirdly enjoyable” to national laughing stock. Ratings have nosedived year upon year, whist the old rivals on Strictly Come Dancing constantly crush his former behemoth.

He came up with a winning plan; let’s get celebrities who aren’t known for singing to sing again. But instead of just doing it for charity, let’s do it for real.

There is probably a reason these people aren’t famous for singing, but fuck it, eh? At this point what’s another sign of weakening desperation to an already dubious legacy?

And so, to the groans of a divided nation, X Factor: Celebrity made its cringeworthy debut last Saturday (12th October).

The biggest laugh comes early on. Cowell looks directly into our eyes, and tells us with the kind of arrogant, pompous earnestness that only he can muster, that this has to work as his “reputation is on the line”. Oh no, honey. That ship sailed loooong ago. Red or Black?, Grease Is The World, Rock Rivals, that Great British Bake Off rip off and the Pudsey The Dog movie were all nails in that particular coffin.

We start with the celebrities meeting each other and, quite brilliantly, few seem to recognise the others. With the exception of the older participants looking baffled at the social media influencers (who will certainly bring in the young crowd that advertisers are desperate to please), the peak here was Hayley Hasselhoff. Insisting that she is here for her own merits and not because her dad was in Baywatch, she looked genuinely miffed when Cowell started talking about David.

The judges also seemed clueless at who was “auditioning” a lot of the time. Cowell – who increasingly resembles a used teabag – may have trouble moving his face these days on account of all the botox, but even he couldn’t hide that look we all have when someone you only know from Facebook tries to talk to you in real life.

When they did this before, it was for charity. It was a throwaway and nobody on stage seemed to have any delusions that they had potential as a pop star. Did anyone really think that Chris Moyles expected to have a massive hit with Tony Christie’s Avenues and Alleyways?

And yet here, we’re staring at four people from Love Island who are at least keeping up the pretence that this is serious and pretending they weren’t asked to get together by ITV and the producers of the show. There’s little doubt that absolutely none of these people have no long term potential as recording artists whatsoever. There is no Kylie in the bunch. There’s not even a Jimmy Nail. I’m hard pressed to find a Nick Knowles.

The thing is, they probably know it. They’re keeping up the pretence, but it is really no different from any other celebrity reality show. They’re here to boost their profiles and nothing more. Do we suspend disbelief long enough to believe that Martin Bashir is going to give up his highly decorated journalism career to pursue a his dream of being a full time reggae artist, and that reggae fans are going to react well to it? No we don’t, love.

It’s bad. Very bad. The ultimate in barrel scraping, for-the-love-of-God-give-it-up, career ending cringe.

But, as we’ve been told constantly since Brexit and the ascension of Trump, we are living in a post-truth age. Somehow, in the backwards world in which we currently reside, X Factor: Celebrity had the same effect on us that last year’s Bros documentary did.

Not entirely. There was a feeling with After The Screaming Stops that the producers at least knew what they were filming. It wasn’t so much about Bros as it was about the delusion that fame can bring you, especially from a young age.

The X Factor’s sense of self-importance wouldn’t allow them to go that far. But that cringe factor and marvelling at the delusion? That is here in a big way. And ironically, if word spreads about the earnestness of these people who can just about pull off a joke song in a panto, it might actually be able to pull X Factor out of its ratings slump, at least temporarily.