Monday, February 10, 2014

Why XFUS Failed

It's obvious, isn't it? That's all I got.

Nah, just playin'. There's a ton of reasons that have already been touted by the masses--awful judges, awful staging, the awful scheduling, awful hosts, awful post-show track records...a lot of awful in the essential ingredients.

Introduction: Why Simon is leaving, Why XFUK works, and the British-US Music Backchannels

X Factor touted itself, when it first came to America, as being able to find the international superstars. It actually had the track record to back it up--many of the contestants churned out of the UK X Factor had number one or at least top ten hits in their native country, both in albums and in singles. It certainly helps that as the primary singing show in England, the audience is extremely receptive to the music churned out by the competition. Leona Lewis certainly qualified as such for a period in the mid 2000s and had two hit singles in America, and Simon was coming off the heels of XFUK7, which churned out the show's highest selling act internationally, manufactured group One Direction, and Cher Lloyd. 1D to this day is still going extremely song internationally, consistently being a number one album seller here in the US even with releasing an album every year. While the radio reception is less friendly relative to their album buys and general exposure, largely because their music is too youthful and poppy for the 18-35 demographic still, that could look to change as they grow deeper into that age bracket. Cher Lloyd has at least spawned a hit single here, and while album sales were underwhelming, she's focusing all her resources by relocating here to the States. Olly Murs had a hit single teaming up with Flo Rida as well, but like Lloyd has had underwhelming album sales. Still, that's four acts that have at least made some name for themselves in American pop culture lexicon, and it's helmed by the very strong One Direction.

It also helps that we're in the midst of a wave where there is very little barrier of entry between music from the UK and the United States now. During a huge swath from 2000-2010, only the aforementioned Leona Lewis, Coldplay, and one-hit wonder James Blunt were really a part of the American pop culture lexicon. The unofficial demarcation of the opening of the floodgates began during a period when the beats-oriented hip hop transitioned into a more electronic dance music sound somewhere along 2009-2010, with people like Jay Sean and Taio Cruz were really making a market on the American CHR scene. The EDM wave then really caught fire, with DJs (Calvin Harris, the Swede David Guetta) leading the pack. Once the folk wave kicked in, Ellie Goulding and Ed Sheeran entered the fray and became household names churning off hits based on name recognition. Boybands like XF's One Direction and The Wanted entered, as well as girl group Little Mix, the latter two really latching onto the EDM sound. There is generally a one-year lag time between hits in Europe and songs that enter the chart in the US, but we're at the sweet spot where if the song is a hit at Europe, then it's likely to be a hit in the US. The Wanted's "Glad You Came", Avicii's "Wake Me Up", Passenger's "Let Her Go", John Newman's "Love Me Again", Bastille's "Pompeii", Naughty Boy feat Sam Smith's "La La La" and Disclosure feat Sam Smith's "Latch". It's a steady stream of hits that join together to create a British presence in the American charts, all the time.

And it might be why Simon's returning back to the UK: with the name-brand recognition of XFUK, their audience's reliability to generating chart and album toppers, the constant British presence in American CHR charts, and the idea that hits in Europe seem to become hits in America right now, it's quite easy to see a thriving business. In fact, those backchannels appear to be far more receptive for radio than the more direct business of Idol and The Voice, both of whom have struggled to create CHR chart toppers in recent years.

Part II: Simon Through the First and Second Epochs of American Idol

Simon's grand goal has always been money, rather than music: he's willing to set the trends (see starting back the boyband fad mainstream by inventing One Direction; making girl groups like Fifth Harmony and country boy bands like Restless Road) but also willing to piggyback, as seen by the pimping of Chris Daughtry and Adam Lambert in their respective American Idol seasons to capitalize on the post-grunge and the image-based pop culture aspect, respectively.

He didn't necessarily think money all the music before, particularly in the early incarnations of Simon: back when he was unknown (early Idol), he liked the belting forms of music: Kelly Clarkson, Ruben Studdard, Kim Locke, Clay Aiken, Trenyce, Fantasia. But then again, back around 2002-2005, radio was game for anything, Idol was extremely fresh, and singing was still (somewhat) important. R&B, for starters, still had singing over beats, rather than beats over singing. Even through the second epoch, he threw the phrase "vocal masterclass" at people like Elliott Yamin and Melinda Doolittle, and back then, when Simon was Simon, that meant something to the frau.

By the way, through the second epoch, and for a huge swath from 2000-2010, it's instructive to note that Idol operated under a different set of standards from radio. CHR, during this period, was dominated by a bunch of stateside-bred hip hop, crunk, R&B and trap music. There is also a great helping of post-grunge and emo alternative rock, as well as female rockers, produced stateside or in Canada. Akon, Sean Paul, Lil Wayne, Baby Bash, Chris Brown, and Ne-Yo were absolutely ubiquitous during this time period and were either primary artists or featured in a bunch of songs. On the surf music end we were littered with American Idol-bred Daughtry and Kelly Clarkson, Nickelback, 3 Doors Down, Simple Plan, Good Charlotte, and Avril Lavigne being a major part of the lexicon. And of course, there are just the image-based pop types that always populate CHR, like Christina Aguilera, Britney Spears, Rihanna, Beyonce, etc.

Only in the Idolsphere, where the core frauen weren't exposured to CHR music or where there are music purists who absolutely loathed what was on the radio, was there a mass market for pure vocalists. But back then, Idol's record label was heavily invested, the show as mentioned extremely fresh, radio relatively receptive, so Idol pushed through the constraints of their old-age theme weeks and helped to gain success for quite a few of their contestants. The philosophy was that with enough identity, with enough beats, with enough of an image, were the transition through Idol's core audience and into the radio casuals possible. Fantasia became a mainstay in UAC with her image and backstory, Kelly Clarkson reinvented herself as a rocker chick which led to "Breakaway" and made a major name for herself, and Chris Daughtry piggybacked his way onto the Nickelback and became "America's answer to Nickelback" throughout his blazing hot success in 2007-08.

Simon wasn't necessarily impatient during this period, but with a record exec's eye, it's pretty obvious to see what the landscape offered, compared to what Idol offered. Even with his British roots, it isn't hard to see that Idol, throughout the early epochs, was really avoiding current music. Besides old British producers who grew up listening to the Beatles, Tom Jones, and Lulu between the '60s and '70s, a lot of this was as mentioned, due to the hip-hop/post-grunge/surf rock infested music climate. Idol branded itself as a singing competition, and frankly, a pure family-oriented show that mothers and their daughters could watch together after dinner. That completely omits the hip hop spectrum side of things: a bit unfortunate, since radio at the time was extremely receptive to the stateside bred hip hop, and anything with a heavy beat and slick raps could instantly hit 5000 spins and a 30 million audience share. But it's not singing, a common theme touted by the producers and the frauen alike. Idol penetrated into the post-grunge angle a bit, especially testing the waters here in the second Epoch when trying to convert Southern rocker Bo Bice and theatrical rocker Constantine Maroulis into something approximating post-grunge. But like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, that wasn't going to work.

Part III: Simon, and "Evolving" Idol

So between old executives like Lythgoe and producers like Fuller, combined with the heavy use of a '60s-'70s-'80s theme weeks and song lists to avoid doing any of the blasphemous music in current and relatively recent radio, Idol put itself into a mild constraint that would have long term repercussions if they did not evolve fast enough out of it. Simon is still a culprit: as mentioned, he has a love of diva belters, which continued well into the likes of Stacy Francis'es and Lillie McCloud's that we saw XFUS1 and XFUS3, respectively. For those reasons, it's hard to even say he was impatient. He was certainly receptive, and Idol was evolving, albeit slowly: still avoiding the very modern songs, but their contestant pool started to have creative ones, as mentioned with Bo Bice and Constantine Maroulis. Song rearrangements started with Chris Daughtry who made almost every song he performed into a post-grunge joint, which was met with both delight and fear: delight from certain subsets that Idol was becoming creative, but fear because Daughtry's post-grunge undertones are absolutely loathed, exemplifying all that was wrong with modern day music for many purists and frau.

To this day, even among core Idol frauen, Daughtry remains extremely polarizing; he's beloved by radio, but scour around fan pages, and Idol-centric blogs, and he just does not have that core fanbase. Which might be perceived as "good", because that means that he's moved past Idol and can now concentrate on making music for radio, which is all that matters in the exec's eyes. He's uninhibited from having to maintain a clean-cut image to cater to core Idol fans, and instead can create the vision that might appeal more to the masses. But from a persona standpoint, he was aloof, self-absorbed, full of himself, both personality and genre-wise. There's always an open door between him and the Idol world, but he's never been beloved by the core. 

Kelly Clarkson was perfect in that sense: not only was she the original, she was able to establish a "rebel-heroine" niche with her pseudo-rock persona and melancholic undertones of her early songs, but she was also accessible, personable, friendly and emphasized her vocals, all attributes that have helped her maintain her Idol fanbase. For the executive, that was perfect: she bridged the gap, and because she had both sides, she sold a ton, and still to this day. Carrie Underwood as well fit the bill, on the country scale, even though it was clear that Simon saw her as a huge money grab since he didn't necessarily understand the genre. In addition, as we know with Simon's obsession with the international superstar, due to his British sensibilities, Carrie wasn't one, because country only permeates through parts of Canada and Australia. Still, both Carrie and Kelly are regularly cited as one of the Idols that many of the aspiring AI hopefuls are influenced by; does anyone cite Daughtry?

Daughtry might have represented a slight philosophical shift in Simon's thinking: Daughtry received a "no" from Cowell at his initial audition, but his rebel "frau-loathing" rock was a hit in the States. Simon saw that. As the resident "douchebag" in Idol's judging panel, Cowell's always had a contrarian view of pop music: he likes the male contestants to have edge, or swagger (we'll get to this in detail in a little bit). And frankly, this is what jibes with the state of modern radio: post-grunge, as a genre, is aggressive, sounding like someone is hawking a loogie, and focusing on darker topics or darker sounding beats. As for the hip hop of the time, it goes without saying that it is aggressive. To Cowell's mind, this showed that "edgy" contestants do work on this show and can go on to have outside success.

Part IV: The Prototype Of A Simon Contestant, Success of Music Contestants, and Further Test-Piloting

The take-away from Simon's thought patterns were this: he really likes diva belters, and that's probably the only prototype of contestant he does not mind, regardless of marketability or not. AI3 and AI6, considered two of Idol's worse seasons, were stacked with diva belters, likely because Cowell had a heavy hand in casting in those seasons. In general, though, he likes the females to be pop stars that are huge money grabs: Kelly is the gold standard, Carrie was great for the American market, but fell short of Cowell's international standards. 

In particular, Simon wants the diva belter pop star: a young-ish black girl who has the image down pat, or can develop the image over time, with personality, but also with belting skills. It was around the time of Daughtry that Simon really developed momentum on this front: Leona Lewis came from XFUK at around 2006-07, and Jordin Sparks as well came after Daughtry's season in AI6. Jordin wasn't a diva belter, but had enough sensibilities in that front, and had that youthful image. Both Jordin and Leona were able to churn out CHR hit songs during this time period, and all had crossover appeal. Jordin gained a massive teen following, something that Simon requires due to his boyband expertise, and she's amazingly, to this date, the only person to have teamed up with a R&B/hip hop type in Chris Brown that was a major hit, and which also gave her broader international appeal (Haley Reinhart did team up with B.o.B. and Stefano Langone teamed up with New Boyz later on, but both singles did not make a dent at all). 

Idol's song playlist freshened up more because of the contestants themselves rather than the producers actually proactively doing something about it, but Cowell worked around the constraints: the next two seasons after the Jordin Sparks season were used to test out the musical viability of other male contestant prototypes: Adam Lambert (image-based pop), David Archuleta (awwshucks boybander), and David Cook (post-grunge). Lambert in particular worked around some crazy constraints on the show: he billed himself as a old-school rocker during his run, but Daughtry'd them up to fit his style, which is yet another influence of Daughtry on the show. He largely did this because his style of pop would have flew in the face of the audience, and as mentioned TPTB at the time just did not clear the songs. Archuleta filled the clean-cut young boybander image that may or may not have been used to influence the filling out of the members of One Direction, especially given Cowell's history with clean-cut boybands. David Cook brought another "edgy" type to the table, to prove that Daughtry's style might work.

Archuleta, Cook and Lambert all saw decent success, but Archuleta wasn't Bieber, and Lambert wasn't the next great pop act that the show attempted to prop up both to be. In that respect, Simon, who by this time probably had an enormous ego after seeing the success of Kelly, Daughtry, Jordin, and Leona, was disappointed. Archuleta and Lambert did amass a pretty size-able international following, though, a feature that wasn't really seen since Kelly. Relative to the hype, all three of them had fleeting success, and radio was already starting to constrict on Idol play. 

Part V: Losing Idol Interest, X Factor Inception

For those reasons, Cowell started to lose interest in the Idol brand. Obviously, under the Idol flagship, he was an employee, and his feud with Simon Fuller is well documented.  Cowell knew that, and likely was using Idol as a learning tool from the very start: he had his inclinations for which contestant types he liked, as documented above, and saw what worked, and what didn't. Daughtry worked. Kelly worked. Jordin worked. Lambert, Archuleta, Cook kind of did. For the UK during this time, Leona Lewis worked, and another act, JLS, brought urban edge to the forefront that was never before seen on Idol. As for the old song choices? They did improve slightly with the evolution of the contestant prototype, but Cowell didn't mind; he loves the diva belters, so Whitney and Celine was always on the preferred list for him.

So when X Factor came to the US, Simon was confident that his formula would work out. He thought he saw a happy medium where the more marketable contestants could appease (or survive, as it were, with a lot of pimpage) the core frau who watch the show and navigate their way into the marketplace. 

Part VI: What the Hell Happened? X Factor Judges

There were problems though: Simon grew soft. It's hard to attribute a specific reason, but it's worthy to note that when he was manning XFUK and Idol in the same time, Simon would present a "soft" persona in XFUK, routinely cheering for his acts even when they were awful (and he always cast joke acts on the show) while when he returned to Idol, he'd carry his "douchebag" hard-to-satisfy persona. Perhaps the concept of "mentoring" on X Factor required that, but there was a huge dissonance when he switched his personality from Idol to XFUS. He routinely clapped, he seemed less grouchy, etc. His comments lost all meaning. It's worth noting that Simon used to say the phrase "vocal masterclass" somewhere in Idol's Epoch 2--but by X Factor, that was all gone. He started getting into complete marketability mode after seeing Daughtry, Leona and Jordin, saying stuff like "You're not the best singer, but you've got something about you." Eventually, he cut to the chase of what he was getting at, "You look like a pop star" telling that to people like Summer Reign (of Sweet Suspense), Stone Martin, and Paige Thomas. 

It wasn't just Simon: Demi Lovato and LA Reid towed Simon's company line. Demi was as polarizing as Daughtry was in Idol: she's beloved by her own faction of fans, but within the X Factor-sphere, her "desire to represent her own generation's style of music" bombed. She was anti-frau, in every sense of the word, and represented a bratty teen in the eyes of said frau. She looked at everything through pop-tinted lenses, even hilariously telling Vino Alan after a live show performance that it "wasn't a pop star performance." Completely and utterly hilarious--Vino was as hardcore soul/grunge as you can get, and pop star? The show was already deluding itself with its desire to fall head over heels over pop stars, and wasn't making any bones about it. With her young age, she also really lacked major credibility to judge, although to be fair, the other judges were in the same boat. 

As a side note, it looked Demi was far more interested in XFUS2 than she was in XFUS3; XFUS2 was widely panned by core frauen and frau writers because it was such a heavily teen and pop-based season. Face it, Fifth Harmony, Emblem3, CeCe Frey, Paige Thomas, Lyric145, and Arin Ray, among others, sang and performed in ways that were not see in American Idol or the Voice. Really heavy stage production, a few raps, extremely image-based stuff over vocals. Demi herself was widely panned for dressing down all her acts into pop starlets, with very little if any focus on the vocals; she was already panned for omitting Jillian Jensen (because she wasn't "marketable" and couldn't be dressed down), and these are the core reasons why she lost her entire category first. Jennel Garcia, one of the acts that appealed to core frau had she possibly just been herself (awwshucks humble demeanor), was dressed down and was an early (sabotage) elimination. But even beyond that, it was obvious throughout that Demi took a major interest in most of the teen acts, like Emblem3 (comparing them to the Jonas Brothers; having fake crushes on them) and Fifth Harmony (dueting with them, getting really excited in their critiques). She couldn't care less about Vino Alan or Tate Stevens; the whole show couldn't care less. They were just paying lip service to 1) attract some core frau to watch the show from Idol, 2) to give the pretense that it was an equal competition. More on that in a bit.

Demi didn't care about XFUS3 as much for those reasons; because the teen-season was widely panned, even with an over winning, the show operated more conventionally. There were still teens, but the majority of them were subdued. There were still a few stage and performing-based types like Carlito Olivero, Josh Levi, Sweet Suspense and Ellona Santiago, but the majority of them were far subdued (Alex & Sierra, Restless Road, Rion Paige, Tim Olstad, Carlos Guevara, Khaya Cohen, Danie Geimer). Josh had potential, but was too young to be taken seriously, and Sweet Suspense and Ellona Santiago seemed to be overdoing it and almost playing dress-up (of note is that Demi, despite dressing down her acts in XFUS2, didn't really seem too excited for Ellona throughout the competition, even hesitating in her decision in the 4-chair, despite Ellona's willingness to even dress down; perhaps she didn't see her as an organic pop act). Carlito was all sorts of cheese who lasted well beyond his expiration date on the show. In the aggregate, Demi just wasn't interested; everyone was underage except Carlito, who was just poor. She couldn't dress down Rion (for obvious reasons), only half-dressed down Khaya (she was too young), and couldn't care less about the non pop-star looking Danie Geimer. Her lack of interest resulted once again in all her acts getting eliminated, even over Paulina Rubio's contestants, who were widely panned. Demi tried to learn from her mistakes, but she's just not cut out for non-pop acts at all in terms of direction; one wonders if she had to mentor the overs, but one also wonders what would have happened if she had chosen Bree Randall, Jamie Pineda, Rylie Brown and Primrose Martin (acts that are more her speed) rather than the four she chose. Kind of hilarious how that works out.

LA Reid had the same agenda as well, but did it in a more callous way than Demi (and that's saying something, since Demi sometimes made scathing comments out of the blue as well). LA was a candidate for American Idol back in the day, which would have been hilarious to see how he would have operated there. He was stone-faced and frankly, it would have been hard to tell if he was ever being truthful, because like Simon he saw the world through hip hop, urban or pop-tinted glasses. LA was widely panned for fielding a R&B/hip hop crew of Astro, Chris Rene and Marcus Canty into the finals, omitting obvious fraubait acts like Tim Cifers and Brennin Hunt at judges' houses and Phillip Lomax at the semis. It was obvious at the time he was looking for people he was comfortable with, which was R&B and hip hop. Look at his wiki--he's a R&B/hip hop based guy, since the '90s, with pop like Avril and P!nk. Despite being an exec, he's not even fit to criticize guys like Josh Krajcik or Tate Stevens. 

Speaking of Stevens...we'll get to that in a second. But LA's narrow-minded focus was quite interesting for one reason for the casual: he brought urban flair into singing competitions. Granted, XF wasn't a "singing" competition, but introducing songwriting rap artists like Chris Rene and Asro presented a different, fresh look to the table that to date no singing show has even come close to right now. Both lasted long enough and had signature moments, introducing a bunch of new songs to the table due to their genres. For those reasons, LA's team was very interesting, even if it was heavy-handed on the way to getting there. Back to Stevens now...LA, again showing his uni-dimensional youth-obsessed R&B/hip hop persona, was extremely angry to get the overs in season 2, and phoned it in from there. He sacked David Correy, who one would have thought would have been an obvious Reid choice, given that he was the youngest of the overs, slanted R&B/pop with a dash of hip hop and was influenced by Chris Rene. Tate Stevens and Jason Brock, two obvious misfits for Reid's R&B/urban slanted edge, remained. And then he didn't have a crap. A scarecrow could have helped Tate Stevens win--Reid wasn't really doing anything. And he willingly sabotaged Jason Brock and Vino Alan, the latter at Simon's orders when he kept placing third in votes over his golden boys' Emblem3. At times, to be frank, it looked like LA was paying more attention to Emblem3 than any act in his category--he routinely praised their performances, his eyes lit up in ways that weren't seen in any other performances, and given the youth/hip hop aspect, it perfectly made sense. At the end, his label Epic started a bidding war with Columbia for E3 which they lost out to. So like Demi and Simon, just another chapter in a desire to get pop acts.

Part VII: What the Hell Happened? Simon Himself, Pre and Post-Show Disposition

Simon, as the show's producer, played the game, but it was very easy to see how artificial he was. As mentioned, he did a complete 180 in personality, and that largely would have been enough. But it was easy to be cynical about how he was acting: beneath the flashing lights, the heavy beats, the staging, the swag, the rap and the image-based dress-up, there were actually (gasp) straight-up singers and WGWGs. To the casual, those tend to get lost in the clutter of the pop-oriented shenanigans, but to the frau, that's a wailing siren to dial their fingers and vote for said contestant. Simon definitely tilted the scales toward marketability, as mentioned, and hired yes-men like LA Reid to do the same, and filled the rest with various pop stars (Demi, Britney, Nicole (star in the UK, at least), Paula (in the '80s), Kelly Rowland (image-based throughout '90s and 2000s) and Paulina). With the exception of Kelly, who seems candid and well meaning and is willing to put in the effort to showcase her acts in the best possible light, even if they are out of genre for her, no one else is relatable to the core frau. No one. The judges, the staging, the casting of certain contestants all branded this as a pop show, and Simon's softening and pop-slanted comments (i.e. "You look like a pop star", as mentioned) only furthered that. He routinely championed his acts even with mediocre or poor performances, and Emblem3 and Restless Road were shoved down America's throats while he was mentor, even though America never really took to them the way their massive pimpage would have suggested. 

It's worth noting that there is Simon, the "judge" on the show, and then there's Simon, the "music producer" after the show. These present two different faces. After three seasons of data, it's readily obvious that Simon only cares about the tweens, especially in the throes of the One Direction success here in the States. In fact, there seemed to be an air of One Direction over every XF episode Season 2 and beyond (after 1D caught fire), to the point where the show was pretty much a promotional platform for them at the expense of the other contestants. And, it was clear that Simon was blatantly trying to get a One Direction variant here in the States, without sidestepping on One Direction themselves, as he had the groups category for two straight seasons. Playback looked too much like One Direction, rap-style, so they were shelved; instead, Emblem3, which attempted to cater to a reggae/hip hop/songwriting enlightened group, was pushed to the forefront. Similarly, Cowell at XFUS3 sidestepped 1D with Restless Road, which was largely a boyband venture for the country market (a failed one at that, because Colton left Restless Road). He pretty much devoted all his resources to them while on the show and early on had Fifth Harmony and Alex & Sierra, respectively, as his secondary options; both ended up finishing higher than the two other acts, which might be another blemish in Cowell's record and judgment. 

"Music producer" Simon was said to have only gained interest in Fifth Harmony after they proved that they had many fans, and even then, they relegated them to extremely unreliable Epic Records as opposed to giving them the priority label, Columbia (which was given to Emblem3). Simon only really ramped up his attention to Alex & Sierra mid-way through the competition, when he saw that their songs were routinely charting in the top ten on Itunes. And then, there's the rest: it's hard to say Cowell was sleepwalking in XFUS1, but to the casual observer it was quite obvious that Melanie's gospel-tinged voice would have no place in the current music climate, so there was definite concern about why she was being pimped with the judges' houses shenanigans. It was an epic fail that could have been seen from day 1, and in a show where they had the more marketable Chris Rene, Marcus Canty, and Astro, they followed through on it. Anyone could see the script: Melanie was forced to do dance pop to fit into the environment, failing completely because she's just not of that ilk and didn't represent herself as such on the show, and upon failure her potential album got shelved, wreaking havoc on both her and XF's name in the process (because their first winner was such a flop). It's hard to see Simon getting excited about Rachel Crow (too young) or Drew (too sensitive/young) as well, and their breakdowns on stage were well chronicled.

Part VIII: What The Hell Happened? What Is the Point of the Overs and WGWGs

Which brings to the other point: what the hell, exactly, is the point of the overs, or frankly, WGWGs in this competition? We have foresight now, but based on the track record, it seems that this show as mentioned just pays lip service to the WGWGs to appease the core frau and give the pretense of a singing competition. Josh Krajcik was massively pimped throughout his run with a completely incompetent coach in Nicole Scherzinger, who just wasn't fit to handle the genre, but he completely disappeared post-show. Tate Stevens is another case of this; in his case, the show used subtle backchannels to de-pimp him (bootcamp, judge's houses) but then Simon made a dumb as hell comment stating that "Tate represents all of America". Those comments are instant credibility killers, especially with foresight. It's clear that Simon, LA , Britney and Demi knew nothing about country, and while Tate kind of received lukewarm comments the rest of the way, there was nothing negative or ways to de-pimp him, and he won by absolute coasting. This once again shows that the frau have a foothold in the competition. Tate was completely uninvested in, released a very basic lazy-as-hell music video,, sold nothing in albums, and was dropped. His presence on the show was completely pointless if that was the end result. 

Again, it's all about the pretense, but with every passing season and more drops of these fraubait, it should be obvious even to the layman that this show couldn't care less about singer/songwriter types. The show has done sabotaging of these types: XFUS1 tried to shake LeRoy Bell down from the tree and only shook him out when it coincided with DWTS results night, so the frau couldn't vote for him,  in double elimination fashion. Vino Alan as mentioned was sabotaged by mentor LA Reid to pay service to Cowell. And then with XFUS3, Tim Olstad was hanging onto LeRoy's tree for dear life, even after getting sabotaged week after week after week. Carlos Guevara could have been fraubait with his disability, but was extremely unmemorable and should not have been cast in the first place.

The point is that the pretense is useless. This was a pop show, from the judges to the staging to the sort of "loud" contestants the other shows don't have, and it would have been more fit for MTV or the CW. But XF wanted to reach a large audience and find that superstar, and the only way they could do it was with a major network, and the only way they could get the eyes and ears was to kind of appease the frau. Everyone can see through the compromises. 

Part IX: What the Hell Happened? Well...OK...the Positives

It isn't all completely negative: XFUS was able to build its brand name through XFUK, which already had a ton of fans and a ton of youtube views (as an aside, it seems that XFUK contestants have a bunch of fans, both in terms of twitter followers and youtube views which speaks to how invested XF fans are across the pond). As a result, XFUS was able to build a pretty high social media aspect despite the paucity of viewership of the actual episodes. Largely, though, one suspects that the majority of the fans are international, given the bridge to XFUK, but still it is better than nothing. XF's youtube views for performances generally have far larger than the Voice or Idol's, even with half the ratings. For their small audience share, XFUS in particular found a major tween social media footing with Emblem3 and Fifth Harmony, who sold more albums than expected given that their singles stalled halfway through the CHR charts, but which can be attributed to their massive number of twitter followers and youtube views. Carly Rose, Astro, Chris Rene also developed a steady base here. (150K-200K).  For comparisons, AI10 had most of their numbers stuck at 100,000 to 150,000 twitter followers, AI11's lower levels couldn't even reach 100,000, and AI12 had the worst, with many of the contestants barely topping 100,000, if that, and their lower levels in the 60-80K mark at best. 

The leader board was interesting, as it was the first show to explicitly show the results on a week-to-week basis of everyone, but it arguably rigged the results; after the first time, more or less there was very little movement up top. This was why the idea was shelved in XFUS3, replaced by mimicking the Voice's "Itunes charting", a far better way of handling business with who's leading. XF didn't give vote bonuses the way the Voice did, but generally speaking, casuals buy the songs more often than the frau do, so it gives a better representation of who is more marketable for the current environment. Not to mention, it's always interesting to see how  a cover tune by Jeff Gutt stacks up next to a 2 Chainz song. Without the itunes shenanigans, I'd wonder if Alex & Sierra could have won; don't forget, Cassadee Pope in the Voice needed the 10x vote bonus of her songs to ward off fraubait like Terry McDermott and Nicholas McDonald her season, and Alex & Sierra were fighting off obvious fraubait Jeff Gutt. Speaking of which, it might have been disastrous for the show if their winner following Melanie and Tate was Jeff, but that's another digression point. Another aspect is to show the explicit vote results after the show, with percentage points, to see how each contestant fared; that way, the voters won't always vote the same way regardless. Anyway, the point is that the itunes was a nice touch.

Probably what was the most interesting was the hip hop/urban swag touch that the show presented, as well as the groups, as the other shows just don't have that,and probably won't in the foreseeable future. That threw an interesting wrinkle of marketability not seen in the other shows, and as mentioned, Simon likely brainstormed all of this well ahead: as mentioned, the Daughtry moment was the moment that he knew he could inject aggressive swag into the singing competition mix, even though it completely backfired on him. Emblem3, Astro, Playback, Arin Ray, etc are all contestants that fit this "aggressive mold" that wouldn't necessarily have fit on other shows. Here's a look at the groups and boys categories that represented:

IPB Image

IPB Image

Even based on those pictures, over half of those contestants don't even look like Idol or Voice material. There's that, even if the singing was well subpar from the other competitions.

IPB Image

From here, you can tell that the girls are image-based. I won't put a picture of the overs; the show considers them irrelevant, so there's no point.

Part X: Conclusion

The problem was really just execution in the face of presenting something to the core frauen audience. Simon put the cart before the horse on this one, giving some pretense of a competition when everything around it screamed pop. And frauen hate pop, especially the sort of pop played on the radio. Simon was able to push some of the more unconventional, aggressive-guy acts (Chris Rene, Emblem3, Marcus Canty, Carlito Olivero) but largely due to mass-pimping or sympathy. Simon wasn't able to generate any diva belting pop aspiring clone here, although he did attempt this with Tamera Foster in XFUK recently. The pop types churned out were all just too aggressive (Ellona), misconstrued (Khaya, Drew) or simply didn't have vocals, especially with CeCe, Paige in XFUS2. He couldn't find any sort of balance in three seasons. He wasn't able to overcome the storm, which is why many of the top three acts are more frau-type acts than what the show would normally push forward.

Which brings us back to the UK: they are more receptive to urban acts, especially off the show. It's questionable that if JLS or Cher Lloyd where churned stateside here from XF, they would have sold like cakes, especially with the poor ratings. Likely not, as there's just not that level of interest here. Also, they have had cleverly staggered seasons to get a marketable winner even in the face of relative frau acts, like Little Mix in XFUK8. To date, on Idol, only Jordin Sparks in AI6 qualifies as a pop type, but that season was severely lacking conventional fraubait in general. This isn't to say that the UK lack invested frauen: there obviously is a level of combat between TPTB and the frauen, but the frau do win out (Matt Cardle, James Arthur, this season alone, Sam Bailey and Nicholas McDonald). But their TPTB are more ruthless, planting awful stories of the contestants on the tabloids which really skews things, and even in show there could be more sabotage, depending on how invested TPTB are in a particular season. For instance, Cher Lloyd was basically pushed into the fourth slot she acquired, because the frau would never have voted for her on an even playing field.

As mentioned, there was a UK to US music renaissance going on since 2010, and Simon's likely trying to capitalize on it, seeing how the direct channels have been an epic fail. And that's why he's going back--to bring his brand of aggressive hipsters, boybands and marketable young diva belters back to the forefront--just in a different fashion,

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