This morning, The X Factor announced which judges will be returning for the 13th season: Louis Walsh, Sharon Osbourne, Nicole Sherzinger, and Simon Cowell.
— The X Factor (@TheXFactor) 1 June 2016
The press release is peppered with phrases like “very familiar faces”, “eagerly awaited comeback” and “revived” – but it feels like this is a desperate attempt to resuscitate a show using old methods that didn’t work the second, third, or fourth times around. Popjustice called it “a bit like when all your relatives turn up for a funeral”. Certainly, X Factor is dying an extraordinarily slow and painful death. It would be kinder to let it go gently now.
The announcement shows that the producers are sticking to the same techniques they’ve applied for series: make a small change one series and bill it as a “shocking twist”, then change it back for the next in order to emphasise the show’s longevity and bestow upon it an element of nostalgia.
Alongside the returning judges, Dermot O’Leary will come back to host the show (after handing the baton over to Caroline Flack and Olly Murs last year), and “one of the fans’ favourite aspects of the show” will be back: “the legendary room auditions”.
The programme is trapped in a miserable merry-go-round of oscillating features. Room auditions are swapped for live auditions back to room auditions and live ones again; “wildcard” candidates come and go; six-chair challenges appear; different stages are broadcast live or pre-recorded; judges are wheeled in and out of an endless revolving door.
It’s easy to complain that The X Factor will have no musical relevance this year. But when has it ever produced a cutting edge artist? Only Little Mix and One Direction have really broken through the show by sticking to bouncy pop and appealing to younger audiences; the rest have succeeded because of, not in spite of, their musical mediocrity and familiarity among middle-aged X Factor viewers.
The new judges have an average age of 54,and have appeared on an average of eight seasons of the show. The latest changes do not show that, as the Guardian writes, the programme “finally accepts its old age”. Next year, we’ll no doubt see some younger faces back on the panel and a weird new feature where the contestants fight with their bare hands in order to cling onto a literal greasy pole in the middle of the stage. Instead, they reveal that the show remains trapped between two mirrors, forever staring at consecutively flipping variations of itself. It will continue to do so until it finally fades into nothing.