They thought she was naive and pliable. They assumed she’d be so grateful at having been chosen to join them, she would uncomplainingly play the role they had mapped out for her. By the time they discovered she had a strong will and a mind of her own, they were stuck with her. Then they found she was infuriatingly popular with the public.
The fact and manner of Janet Devlin’s departure leave little room for doubt that since week 3’s live show, part of our Saturday night entertainment has been The X Factor versus Janet Devlin. In the red corner, a money-making corporate juggernaut. In the blue corner, a seventeen year old from Gortin. They knocked her out in the end, but it took them six whole weeks. Six weeks!
When the royals had finally cut Princess Diana adrift, they found that the saga had exposed rather too much of their inner workings for comfort. Could the bosses of the X Factor find the same? Because we can learn some very interesting, and rather disquieting, things about the show now that we can review Janet’s journey with knowledge of its ending.
First of all let’s quickly recap how the show has been stuffing Janet these last few weeks, as Ben in the comments to yesterday’s post queries it: “why do you say it’s the producers that make her come across as boring, when all along it was Janet doing it herself. She picked most of her songs herself. It’s not their fault she isn’t very good. They might have given her early slots a lot but apart from that…?”
Let’s get those early running order slots out of the way with. After getting the week one pimp slot, Janet hasn’t been let near the favoured end of the show, singing 4/12, 2/11, 6/10, 2/9, 4/7, 2/6, 2/5. Compare the help for Misha B: 9/12, 11/11, 5/10, 8/9, 6/7, 4/6, 3/5.
To answer Ben’s question, you must remember that the purpose of judges’ comments is to create perceptions in the viewers’ minds. Seasoned observers of this show are well used to smiling a wry smile as mediocre performances from favoured acts are hailed as incredible. With Janet, it worked the other way. While some of her performances were dire, notably ‘Sweet Child Of Mine’ and ‘Every Breath You Take’, others were much better than the judges’ comments made them out to be. If any of ‘Under The Bridge’, ‘Kiss Me’ or even ‘Somebody To Love’ had been stuck in the pimp slot and praised highly, nobody would have batted an eyelid.
More to the point, whether Janet’s style is to your personal taste or not, in assessing the show’s treatment of her we have to compare apples with apples. Janet’s audition ‘Your Song’ had all four judges looking rapt; her bootcamp ‘Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing’ appeared to bring Kelly to orgasm. Were these two early performances in such a different league to the aforementioned three later ones? Surely not.
The show also uses VTs to shape viewers’ perceptions of an act. In her last few VTs, we have learned that Janet is boring, has odd tastes in music, is boring, is weird, is boring, doesn’t like Christmas or pop music or guilty pleasures, is boring, is a nightmare for the stylists to work with, is boring, demands control over every aspect of her performance, and is boring.
It is safe to assume that this was not in the original script. Janet’s introduction to the viewing public was as far removed from what we’ve since learned about her as it’s possible to imagine. On the X Factor’s official website, the blurb under Janet’s audition video says: “She’s not sung in public before due to a lack of confidence”. Whoever wrote that evidently hadn’t youtubed her; Janet herself presumably remembered having sung in public before, so it’s interesting to see how she cleverly avoided an outright lie in her audition VT: “The reason why I haven’t really been out singing is probably the lack of confidence”.
Watching this back now, it becomes possible to imagine what might have been going on here: Janet being questioned in such a way as to elicit answers that fit the role the show has in mind for her, as a shy girl who rarely ventures outside of her bedroom, and searching for forms of words (“really”, “probably”) that don’t make her feel uncomfortable.
After week 6, we wrote an article noting how the show’s treatment of Janet changed in week 3 – the week her VT showed Louis saying she’s “boring”, and tabloid journalists looking for a polite way to tell her the same thing to her face. We speculated that the reason for this switch might have been that Janet had done so well in the first public vote, the show had decided it needed to take her off the boil to avoid a walkover, before turning up the heat again in time for the final. We now know this theory was wrong – they really have been trying to get rid of her, all that time. So the question we asked then still remains: What changed around the time of live show 2? There was some interesting debate around this issue in the Sofabet comments box yesterday.
Jack writes: “Was it Week 2 when she picked her own song? If so, maybe then producers realised just how difficult she was to work with?” We do now need to reassess Janet’s week 2 VT, which you could read either way: apart from the reference to her grandfather’s death, there was a segment about how she’d been an unpopular loner at school. At the time it seemed to be feeding a “look how far she’s come” narrative; now we wonder if the intention was to start planting the “unpopular loner” thought in viewers’ minds.
Meanwhile, abs reckons: “I think she tried to play along at first (like changing the colour of her hair) then just got more and more uncomfortable until she started saying no (probably starting around week 3)”.
What is so hard to understand in all of this is how the show’s producers could apparently fail to have realised that Janet was feisty and self-possessed when they set about packaging her as a meek little mouse. This is 17 weeks of ITV weekend primetime we’re talking about. Wouldn’t you want to be fairly confident that you’d pegged somebody’s personality right before you cast them in a starring role?
Lolhart speculates: “Maybe because Janet has quite an awkward almost introverted personality TPTB misinterpreted it as being passive. We know most of the regular team went to the US this year and so maybe their replacements were not as skilled at figuring out who would make the “right” finalists. Or maybe Janet was actually quite clever and knew how to or was willing to play the game in the beginning”.
An alternative explanation is offered by annie: “Do you think that Drew from across the pond may be to blame for the dropping and slaughtering of Janet Devlin as soon as the live shows kicked in? … If Janet would have made it to the final, would Simon have really wanted to sign 2 similar sounding artist”. Maybe – but the show could have ditched Janet at judges’ houses (filmed the second week in September), or even at the twist instead of Amelia Lily. It seems likely that Drew would have been on the radar by then.
What intrigues us more about the Janet-Drew comparisons is the sense that both US and UK production teams appear to have been working off the same cribsheet when casting their respective series: “Shy young girl with vocal affectations”. That they decided to cast Janet in this role either tells us that they hadn’t done their homework on her, or lays bare how willing they are to portray their acts in a way that bears little resemblance to reality.
Of course, it’s hardly a shock that the way acts are presented on the X Factor may not be the way they are in real life – though it is a surprise to see the show itself effectively acknowledge this by presenting us with two such different Janets in the space of four months. What is a shock to us, however, is perceiving quite how spooked the show appears to have been by discovering it had an opinionated 16 year old on its hands.
Sofabet commenter abs puts it well: “I think they wanted her out as soon as they realised Janet just wanted to do it all her way… from song choices, to singing, to styling… don’t think that goes down very well in a show were every move is calculated.”
They could, after all, have chosen to take the view that Gary expressed in his comments after ‘Under The Bridge’: “In the past I’ve sat here and called you boring, you’re not versatile, and you’ve completely ignored me and come back every week and been yourself, and that’s ultimately what we’re looking for, someone who is their own person”.
Apart from the amusing implication that ultimately the show is looking for someone who completely ignores Gary Barlow, this is of course the exact opposite of the conclusion we can draw from Janet’s treatment – the show is, by all appearances, utterly incapable of coping with someone who is their own person.
And this – even more than the unpleasantness of bullygate, even more than the silliness of the returning contestant – is what makes us fear now for the health of the franchise: the sense that the only way they knew how to respond to a 16 year old with an unexpectedly well-developed sense of self was, apparently, to set out to destroy her.
This time last year, after Wagner’s week 8 exit, we found ourselves wondering: “why did Simon feel the need to be so classlessly smug about the failure of the “vote Wagner” campaign in his closing comments? Wagner has served the show well, and it left a sour taste.” It seems there is something about the X Factor, week 8 and classlessness. In the singoff decision, Louis twisted the knife thus: “I am going to pick the person who I think is going to give the most to the competition, and the person that wants this the most”. Tulisa decanted salt into the wound by saving “the person that I think has potential when it comes to a career after the show”. Would it have hurt to be gracious?
This is feelgood TV gone bad, and a franchise in dire need of a 2012 reboot.
Later this week, further thoughts on the shape of the win market. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on Janet’s death of a thousand cuts the morning after? Please do keep the conversation going in the comments box below.