Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr made a good point. I wonder what the esteemed French critic and writer would have made of this weekend’s TV. Two of primetime’s biggest hits are back on our screens, both having had rather major makeovers.

So, have the new X Factor panel and Big Brother’s move to Channel Five changed these two national treasures beyond all recognition?

Starting with Big Brother – despite it eroding into a launch pad for vacuous glamour models and serial reality TV wannabees, I was sad when the final curtain fell on the programme last summer. So when its return was announced by Five (the channel, not the boyband) just a year after we dried our eyes at the show’s demise, can it live up to expectations?

Five have decided to kick off with a celebrity version, probably a good idea as it’s a shorter run and will allow them to have a bit of a dress rehearsal before the main feature begins in the autumn. I would have thought running a successful celeb version of Big Brother would be quite straightforward … get a bunch of celebs that we want to watch. Simples.

Mistake number one. There are ten people in the house (eleven actually but for some reason twins John and Edward are treated as one being). None of them are exactly jaw droppingly famous. Watching the Hoff’s ex wife talking to a male model makes you long for Rula Lenska and George Galloway (would you like me to be the cat?). Hollywood star Tara Reid is no Stephen Baldwin (particularly when we were all expecting Charlie Sheen). Hell, she’s not even Mini Me. Throw in serial reality junkie (no pun intended, oh alright, pun intended) Kerry Katona and a few other nonentities and it isn’t exactly a recipe for gripping viewing.

Davina has gone. In her replace we have the gurning awkwardness of BB2 winner Brian Dowling – a nice enough guy but not a natural presenter, particularly with a live crowd. There’s no live feed and the edited highlights are blatantly edited – including some bizarre musical montages to set up the various scenes. Maybe the one positive move is that viewers can now vote to save rather than evict. If we’d been able to do that on the real Big Brother (I bet I’m not alone in thinking the Five version isn’t real) then it would have been much more interesting in the final weeks which tended to be a bit of a love-in when the big personalities had been voted out by a short-sighted public with knee jerk reactions to their obnoxiousness.

I was sucked in for about five minutes but I’m over it already. The only thing worth tuning in for is to hope that Paddy from Big Fat Gypsy Weddings wins it – just to see the outraged reaction in the Daily Mail.

And what about the X Factor? It has seen an even bigger facelift – and one that was probably much more needed. Well, I say a big facelift. It’s actually just a change in the judges. Gone are the high-waisted trousers and perfect teeth of the Cowell, Cheryl’s big hair and vacuous platitudes and Dannii’s common sense. In comes Gary Barlow and his sense of humour that is drier than Robbie’s drinks cupboard, Kelly Rowland (the one in Destiny’s Child who isn’t Beyonce and who didn’t piss us all off on Strictly last year) and Tulisa off of N-Dubz. I will admit to being horrified at the appointment of the latter – I loathe N-Dubz, their chavvy image, their terrible music and their all too regular appearances on the Chris Moyles Show (a record that these days seems to be broken by Olly Murs, but more on him later). I don’t know much about Tulisa other than the fact that she talks with a street twang and is supposed to be “real”. She is also too young to be a judge, too niche to comment on mainstream music acts and, in her N-Dubz persona, absolutely the last person you want as a primetime role model for your kids. Allegedly Tulisa wasn’t actually dragged up on the streets of a rough council estate as she claims – she’s had a privileged upbringing and it’s all an act. If that were true (and to be honest, she seems smart enough to know she wouldn’t be able to cover something up to that extent), she’d be an even more terrible role model as why on earth try to hide you’ve had a decent start in life? Not convinced by either story really. There seem to be two Tulisas – Tulisa from N-Dubz, chavvy, street, aggressive. And real Tulisa – well spoken, articulate but not particularly inspiring. What annoys me is that she seems to accept that she needs to dumb down. I’m not a fanatical Cheryl fan but she has never pretended to be something she isn’t. It’ll be interesting to see how Tulisa gets on as she’ll need a clever combination of both personas to be a hit. It will also take a lot to convince me that she would be capable of mentoring a Rhydian, a Lucie Jones or a Ruth Lorenzo. Proper singers then. I doubt time will tell as she’ll probably get either the boys or the girls and go down the urban route. Go on Tulisa, prove me wrong!

The first audition show was a massive disappointment. The main focus was on the judges but as we’ve had so much build up about the wretched judges, I really don’t care. There weren’t many auditions and even less talent on display. In fact I can only think of five auditionees from the first hour and a bit of programme. So, what were they like?

First up was Frankie – a cocky 18 year old boy with the names of 7 girls tattooed on his arse, which he shows us. Classy. He is in it for the fame (so at least he’s honest) and tabloid reports since his appearance have told us he wants to sleep with as many girls as possible. He’s like Harry from Wand Erection without the posh boy facade. He sang a raspy version of The Zutons’ Valerie. It was – to borrow from Mr Cowell – distinctly average. Frankie obviously fancies himself as a bit of a stud rocker so it was quite amusing that his play-out music was the hideously bland and twee Wand Erection single – itself a total rip-off of a song from Glee. Very rock and roll then. Teenage girls like Frankie as he’s dangerous. He’s a twat. Predictably enough, Kelly and Tulisa react as if Robbie has just walked out on stage. Classy girls. Can’t help but think that Dannii would have smiled politely and said nothing!

Then we have Kitty – a carefully rehearsed Katie Waissel tribute act. She is a competent enough singer, a bit nasal and a bit shouty, certainly nothing special. But her “quirkiness” (i.e. carefully rehearsed spontenaiety) sees her through. I doubt she’ll make the live shows. Surely they learned from last year with Ms Weasel. Kitty has already been on something like 33 different TV shows. ’nuff said.

Next is Janet – she’s 16 and she’s very nervous and shy. This apparently excuses a weak vocal and we must worship her. She does a carbon copy of Ellie Goulding’s version of Your Song. It’s a bit too low for her and her breath control is appalling. She deserves to go through to boot camp but is not remotely original or exciting. She’s a bit like Diana Vickers but less original.

That’s it for the talent. The other two auditions of note are:

Goldie – a middle aged Asian woman who can’t sing a note, vomits repeatedly in the wings before taking to the stage (this was more tuneful than her singing) and who gives Gary a lapdance as the highlight of her act. Shockingly bad, so of course she goes through. Louis sighs – he has just seen the first of his top three when he inevitably gets the overs.

George – a returning auditionee who had a bit of an attitude problem two years ago and now wants to show us he has changed (innit). Amazingly Tulisa recognises him – which is odd as I could have sworn N-Dubz hated all things X Factor and didn’t watch it, let alone memorizing every crap audition … sorry, did I hear you say scripted? George can’t sing. He decides to go for an aggressive stroll round the judges table, stopping right by Tulisa who has been glaring aggressively in his direction since he took to the stage. She needs to work on her poker face. Predictably George then decides to have a go at the nation’s new sweetheart and with a carefully scripted put down she deals with him.

Obviously this wasn’t remotely set up to get a cynical public on side for the least well known judge? Oh no, of course not. Yawn …

And that’s it. After some initial whooping and screeching Kelly settled down well and will probably take the Dannii role of taking it all seriously and doing a good job. Gary tries a few Cowell-esque put-downs but generally comes over well – of course he does, he’s in Take That, what’s not to love?!!! Tulisa is fairly invisible, a few predictable cliches but she looks pretty. Louis is totally invisible, without Simon there to take the piss out of him, he’s lost his mojo, and his purpose on the panel.

I didn’t watch Xtra Factor. Last year it was compulsive car crash viewing with the dire Konnie Huq presenting, fluffing and screwing up all over the live stage. This year she has been replaced by the very competent Caroline Flack and loathesome Cowell puppet Olly Murs. Unfortuantely, Olly Murs is very high on my top five celebs I despise list. His “music” is so bland that it redefines the word, his cheeky chappie persona so grating that I have to switch off a TV when his vacant grin fills my screen and switch off the radio when his “I’m really fick but you love me anyway” Essex boy cockney wanker act comes over the airwaves. I just don’t get the appeal – an average looking lad with a huge ego and very average talent. So, no Xtra Factor for me.

The success of this year’s X Factor will only be something we can judge when we get to the live shows – last year was ruined by manipulation from the judges – sending home good acts in favour of headline grabbers and relentless promotion of mini Cheryl (Cher) and shambolic miming boyband Wand Erection. This year’s judges only need to let the acts do the talking and I’ll prefer them (even Tulisa) … time will tell. Whether I’ll be watching when we get to that stage remains to be seen!

At the moment, despite the changes it’s all a bit “same old shit … different channel, different panel”.


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