Saturday, 5 December 2009

Caveat emptor

It's Saturday night, which can only mean one thing - another blog about the X-Factor. This time, I'd like to take a few moments to remember the original winner of the show, Steve Brookstein

When the X-Factor first arrived on the scene in 2004, no-one seemed too sure what to make of it. As the brainchild of Simon Cowell, it was created to fill the gap brought about by the end of Pop Idol. Although the Idol format had successfully shipped overseas (along with its most popular judge) it died a death here in the UK, following a showdown between two of the least likely finalists ever, Mark Rhodes and Michelle McManus. 

After Pop Idol, Mark went on to host undemanding children's TV shows, whilst Michelle (the second series' eventual winner) pooed in a plastic storage container for Gillian McKeith to poke at. Michelle also managed to squeeze out an album, during her short-lived time as victor, but audiences were decidedly underwhelmed. It didn't help that the songs sounded like the kind of material that even Jane McDonald would turn down. 

So Simon invented the X-Factor and the rest is TV history. Despite a stinging verbal attack by Elphaba Osbourne in the final, Steve Osbourne was bathed in silver sparkles as he crooned his winner's song - a cheesy cover of Phil Collins' already lactose-heavy Against All Odds. With his blue-eyed soul voice, and squint-eyed handsomeness, he looked a little like Top Cat's sidekick Benny, in a mid-priced suit. 

As Steve's mentor and producer, Simon was more concerned with winning the contest between the judges than he was with discovering an enduring music megastar. Steve's debut album was rush-released and crammed full of unimaginate covers. It shifted a few copies, but the lack of viable singles, and Steve's vague air of embarrassment at being involved in a TV talent contest, meant that his time in the spotlight was even shorter than Michelle's. Although we were at least spared the sight of him shitting into a food storage container. 

In the years that followed, the show's profile grew exponentially, introducing us to such luminaries as Shayne Ward (great voice but looked like Britain's hottest ASBO recipient), Leona Lewis, and Alexandra Burke. Leon Jackson was also there, but if winning the X-Factor gains you access to the music industry's most illustrious club, Leon will forever be handing out mints in the bathroom. 

Meanwhile, Steve kept plugging away, taking the independent route, and occasionally resurfacing to remind the world of Simon Cowell's Machiavellian machinations. He's now got a blog called 'Searching for Cheese - The ramblings of an insignificant man' - the title of which perfectly encapsulates his shoulder-shrugging indifference, which is why the audience at home never really connected with him. 

But in a classic case of 'protesting too much' Steve can't help but pick at the scabs which, five years on, really ought to be healing by now. He's smart enough to realise that he needs to "let go of the negative feelings", but can't resist talking about the "manipulation of the British people by the Godfather of Pop Schlop and propaganda". 

Whether he's recalling "how clever Simon is at getting what he wants", telling readers that they're being "force fed bullcrap", or decrying a "new world order via media manipulation", it's clear that there's a therapist somewhere who's going to be putting in some serious overtime sometime soon. 

Ultimately, it all feels a little like the obsessed ex who claims they're over you, and writes 15 status updates on Facebook to that effect every day. But what Steve doesn't seem able to acknowledge is the fact that his audience just weren't that interested. 

As Steve quite rightly infers, Simon's an entrepreneur who knows how to maximise his investment. But he also knows when he's bought a lorry-load of past-its-best fruit. That's usually the time when the smart businessman cuts his losses and makes a smoothie. Which is exactly what he tried to do with Steve the crooner. 

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