This week will be the final of the 12th series of X Factor. The final three of Reggie ‘n’ Bollie, Che Chesterman and Louisa Johnson will battle it out for the coveted winner’s single and expected Christmas number one. Reggie ‘n’ Bollie should take this, solely to get away from the monotonous trend of winners being completely bland over the last few years. Little Mix were the last genuinely interesting and memorable winners – and even then, it’s taken them four years to develop into actual pop stars.
It’s no secret that X Factor runner-ups do better than the winners. One Direction, JLS, Olly Murs and Stacey Solomon all went on to do bigger and better things than the competition’s winners for their respective years, and it looks like last year’s final two will go down the same path: the precocious Fleur East’s blinding new single Sax shot straight to number three in the charts (losing out only to mega-stars Adele and Bieber) whilst winner Ben Haenow’s Second Hand Heart didn’t even scratch the top 20!
Why was this? Haenow was the most popular on each of the show’s votes from week 3 onwards – the public obviously liked him. Why has he floundered whilst Fleur East has thrived?
The answer is that the competitive element of the X Factor simply does not matter. Cowell was originally an A&R man for Sony, and the show is simply his way of finding new stars without having to hang out in tiny venues in London or trawl the internet for days looking for the next big thing. He can simply find a decent singer, put them through the competition and then mould them into whatever image he desires, regardless of if they won or not.
Let’s look at Fleur East for example. In 2005, her girl group actually made it to the live show stage of the competition but were voted off within the first week, meaning she did already have a relationship with Cowell before appearing on last year’s incarnation. She was shown unrelenting favouritism throughout her run as a solo act – being given Uptown Funk 5 weeks before its release date, and before it was as widely known as it would eventually become.
Cowell knew how popular the song would be, so gave it to the artist he wanted to work with the most: Fleur. Her live performance went straight to number 1 on iTunes, and forced Mark Ronson to bring the release date of the song forward by over a month. It’s also no coincidence her new song Sax is essentially Uptown Funk version 2; Cowell knows what is selling well at the moment and sees Fleur as his way of cashing in on current musical trends.
Just look at Ben Haenow – his winner’s single was actually quite good and relatively different to the X Factor standard. Most expected his eponymous debut album to be mainly a light rock album, but instead he went much more pop. Why would he do this? Or, more importantly, why would Cowell do this?
Haenow’s appeal has been clear since the start: his faux rockstar style would have benefited him more than any number of Kelly Clarkson collabs outside the realms of X Factor. It seems Cowell knew Haenow had no place in the global music scene in 2015, so simply forgot about him. He’s done the exact same thing before with Matt Cardle, Sam Bailey and other ‘never-weres’ that have come out of the show.
X Factor has never been about finding the best singer, or even the best pop star. It’s been about finding the most potential. Cowell isn’t looking for a complete package – he’s looking for a blank slate. If they happen to have star quality already, that’s advantageous but ultimately irrelevant.
Cowell will mould and present them however he wants and sell them to the public. The X Factor was never about an actual X Factor – it’s simply an exercise in A&R from one of the world’s most successful A&R men.