There’s something a bit off about this year, a bit odd. Haha, very good, I heard it too. No, I don’t mean the dreaded ‘rona, the coronavirus, COVID-19, the plague that’s a bit like the ‘flu only much worse that can kill you if you’re over a certain age and have an underlying health condition.

Thanks to COVID, 2020 might just have been the worst year in the history of mankind, and it’s still got two-and-a-half months left to go. God alone knows what torments are still in store for us.

But no, I was actually referring to something else, the lack of which this year only adds to the ever-growing misery. Normally, by this stage of the year, by mid-October, myself and my kids would be a good six or even seven weeks into watching a little televisual feast known to its millions of fans as The X Factor.

Our Saturday nights since the show’s inception in the early 2000s had all been blissful and without a shadow of a doubt the best night of every week, bar none. None, I tells ya. What wasn’t to love?

A takeaway in front of probably the most popular reality television show of all time, and all the good, bad and downright terrible singing you could ever ask for. Dermot O’Leary, for a long time the show’s polished presenter, even said it himself every time he came out on stage: ‘Your Saturday night starts here…!’ Dermot, it did indeed.

How would I describe the show to a space alien who’d never seen it? Well, thousands upon thousands of contestants queued up to audition for a place in Britain’s most high profile singing competition and reality television show, ‘reality’ meaning that it featured regular folks off the street, and not celebrities.

They’d come in their droves, the good, the bad, the bizarre, the weird, the wonderful, the sexy, the glamorous and the downright insane. Some of them could even sing. Some would come from halfway across the world, just for a chance at their five minutes (or more, but usually much less) of fame.

They’d gradually be whittled down to a few hundred who would then appear on the show as they went through auditions in front of the celebrity judges, then boot camp, which separated the men from the boys (we’re not allowed to say that any more as it’s politically incorrect, and quite rightly so. I mean, where are the women referenced?), and then Judges’ Houses and the live shows themselves, in front of a huge theatre audience.

I had such a huge crush on Simon Cowell, the show’s billionaire creator and head judge, back in the day. I loved everything about him, from his unnaturally white teeth, visibly hairy chest and perma-tanned skin to his high-waisted trousers and black, blocky, squared-off-at-the-top hairstyle.

What I probably loved most about him was the confidence and the sexy aura of power he exuded. I mean, he could decide to give a pretty girl a second chance even if she wasn’t a great singer and kept forgetting her words, or he could just put up his hand in the middle of someone’s audition and shake his head and say that the song was all wrong and could the person kindly sing something else?

In time, we grew to recognise the show’s ‘tropes,’ just like we’ve grown familiar with them in horror movies. When Simon did this, the contestant’s second song would be a big sad slow ballad and the audience would go wild for it. Then Simon would sit, looking smug, while the accolades poured in from all sides. It was magical.

A good sob story as your back-story served you just as well on the show, if not better than, your singing voice. If anyone belonging to you had recently passed away (grampy, your goldfish, bezzie mate), your chances of success sky-rocketed.

Sad music would accompany your relating of the back story, and the female judges might even be seen to carefully wipe away a smidgeon of a tear, which an unseen make-up artist would have placed there artistically with a plant spray a second earlier. It was top-notch fun, watching the show deliberately yanking on the viewers’ heartstrings like that.

Irish music mogul Louis Walsh was Simon’s sidekick for a long time. He became legendary for saying inane, generic things to the contestants like: ‘You look like a pop star, you sound like a pop star, you danced like a pop star, that was just great!’ and never giving any decent criticism that the acts could actually use.

Louis normally got to mentor ‘the groups,’ and if you got Louis as your mentor, you knew you were only going to ‘Oireland’ for your Judges’ Houses experience, and not to Simon’s beach house in the Bahamas or wherever. Getting Louis was a bit like drawing the short straw.

Simon often got ‘the girls,’ and didn’t he revel in it, lol. I loved when Cheryl Cole and Sharon Osbourne were judges. Sharon famously would have a little tipple before going on- or sometimes during!- the show, and she was gas craic.

Cheryl, who rose to fame with Girls Aloud on a reality television show called Popstars: The Rivals, was just so beautiful to look at. Her dresses and hairstyles gave us plenty to talk about week after week.

Of course, we always preferred watching the bad singers over the talented ones, especially the cocky ones who thought they were the new Elvis or David Bowie but in reality their croaking made the judges’ ears bleed.

We especially loved the ones who gave cheek or backtalk to the judges’ and queried the judges’ decisions. Sometimes their effrontery paid off, but more often than not, they’d be packed offstage with their tails between their legs.

We loved cringing at Jedward, cheering on Little Mix and One Direction and laughing at the hysterical antics of one Rylan Clark, when he was told by Nicole Sherzinger that he was going to be a ‘Sherzy Boy.’ Nicole was great to look at but a total fruit loop. Naturally, we put it down to her being American and larger-than-life, no offence to our transatlantic cousins, lol.

But then, of course, plummeting viewing figures caused Simon and the show’s bosses to mess with the X Factor’s golden format, with disastrous results. It was a terrible mistake to encourage contestants to sing their own material, for one thing.

We, the viewers, didn’t want to hear contestants’ own material, that we weren’t familiar with. We wanted to hear them murdering old favourites like Journey’s Don’t Stop Believing and anything from ABBA. The quality of the content kept dipping and dipping. The quality of the content kept dipping and dipping. It bears repeating because it’s so true.

2019’s X Factor was a travesty, with so-called ‘celebrities’ who had already, for the most part, carved out showbiz niches for themselves competing against each other. X Factor had always, up to then, been about the common man. Or woman. (Boy, did they have some common women on the show!) It bombed, big-time. Sunk like the Titanic, without a trace.

And now the show’s been scrapped and all we have are our memories. Unless the show makes a comeback, never again will we see Simon Cowell’s hairy hand go up majestically in the middle of a contestant’s bad first song choice, only for the nervous auditionee to hit the spot with a deliberately chosen better second song choice. Oh well. At least there’s still Strictly Come Dancing. Anton du Beke, prepare to be fantasised about…!


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books.