Wednesday, 25 August 2010

X marks the spot

Hmmmm. It's been raining for so long that pairs of animals are starting to congregate nervously awaiting the arrival of a big wooden boat, and the papers are filled with X-Factor 'exclusives'. So it must be August.

As Big Brother 11 limps past the finish line with barely enough public interest to warrant a write-up in the Hertfordshire Mercury, the press must be delighted to be able to switch their 'random scandal generator' back on. It's been a slow summer after all.

Thankfully, Simon Cowell's ratings juggernaut is here to save the day, and its press team is leaving no stone unturned in ensuring that every page of every paper is filled with more twists than the James Patterson shelf of Waterstones.

First was the shocking exclusive that the show's producers have been using 'Autotune' to enhance performers' live vocals. Eagle-eared viewers were quick to clog up the message boards, decrying the cynical show for manipulating their emotions and swaying their voting inclinations.

The Daily Mail even roared in its headline that "Bosses admit they have routinely used 'auto-tune' technology before as fans accuse them of deception." This, despite the fact that their own story admitted nothing of the sort. The producers did confirm that audio was edited to prepare footage for broadcast, but so far, the only person to 'confirm' the use of Autotune is an ex-employee of the show. And we all know what reliable witnesses they can be.

Next in line for a full-page story was Katie Waissel, the poodle-permed lovechild of mid-eighties Madonna and Gwen Stefani (assuming that the pair had a sperm donor and a turkey baster to hand). Although she won over the crowd with a half-decent rendition of 'At Last', it's since emerged that she has recorded a jazz album in the US which is currently being lined up for release.

Now producers are looking into whether Waissel actually has a management contract, which will mean her forfeiting her place on the show. Rather than wait for the matter to be settled professionally, the Mail preferred to label her a 'lying Madonna wannabe'.

But perhaps the most explosive story so far concerns Shirlena Johnson, who improvised a unique take on Duffy's Mercy - prompting Simon to comment that it was like listening to an exorcism. To be honest, his assessment was a little too kind.

Since Saturday's broadcast, it's emerged that Shirlena's 'mad-as-a-sackful-of-Janice-Dickinsons' persona was no act. In fact, Shirlena has well-documented mental health problems and is on medication for long-term stress.

Given the fall-out after Susan Boyle went postal following her rise to fame, Simon's clearly taking no risks this time around. Shirlena, who has apparently made it as far as the judges' houses stage, was released from the show on Monday. Although I'm not sure what that says about the mental acuity of the people who put her through this far.

Within 24 hours of this news being announced, Shirlena's family were on the phone to the Mirror accusing the show's producers of being cruel for building up her hopes and then dashing them. Producers were quick to respond that, although the medical forms had her GP's contact details on them, they only received the doctor's notes this week. I'm amazed they got them that quickly, but that's for another blog.

So poor old Simon is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. Susan Boyle's brother seems to be in the paper every other day complaining how his sister is being manipulated and exploited. And now when Cowell attempts to do the right thing (and is reportedly 'devastated' about it), he gets another kick in the veneers.

But who's he kidding? This isn't really about Simon Cowell. And it certainly isn't about the contestants. They're all just grist to the mill. The papers keep printing their speculative stories, and the viewing figures keep rising. Pats on the back all round then.

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