Creativity and Talent: Don’t Dismiss The X factor

One thing I rarely admit to, certainly not publicly, is that I love what many people regard as scraping-the-barrel TV; American Idol and now the USA version of the X-factor.

Recording the programme I fast forward through the dross, which I acknowledge is about 80% of the total content. The ritual humiliation of sad individuals who should know better makes my skin crawl and I won’t be a party to it.

Yet I continue to watch the 20% because every so often there’s a story or a person who walks out onto that stage and I feel my skin prickle, heart start to pound and the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. There’s a sense of witnessing a pivotal and defining point in someone’s life that makes me feel privileged and, I’m not ashamed to say, a little moved.

Last night was a rare evening when I could indulge in my ‘trash TV’. It may not have been the live performance but that’s okay.

I often wonder how the judges sit through the auditions when most of them are so bad. Then something sensational happens. When the world’s top record executive, L.A. Reid, and the most successful talent scout in the known universe, Simon Cowell, sit up and take notice you know you’re in the presence of something special.

These are men who don’t have time to waste, who are in this to sign up the next big deal. Watching their facial expressions is priceless. You can see dollar signs flashing across their eyes like spinning wheels on a slot machine when someone can perform. Occasionally those wheels stop spinning, three XXX’s line up and they know they’ve hit the jackpot.

There are cynics who sneer and look down their noses at such nonsense but I think they miss the point. Entertainment shows are often the only way performers get the chance to sing in front of people with power in the music industry.

Hopefuls stand in line for hours, tagged with an audition number, waiting with the wannabees, the deluded, the fame hungry and the money oriented who see only the dollars. And there are a lot at stake, $5 million to be exact. And a starring role in a Pepsi commercial that will air at this year’s Super Bowl.

Once in a while, the magic happens. An unassuming someone walks on to the stage who’s passion and drive to sing has bought them to this moment. The chance to stand centre stage and share their gift with a jaded, skeptical and scathing audience, four of whom can change their life with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.

There is a definite something that sets these people apart. Generally they are not arrogant, most times they are modest and humble. They are driven by something deep in their core, something they cannot ignore. Their talent doesn’t drive them, it defines them. Watch a performance and you see the essence of the singer in the emotional interpretation of the lyrics. Raw, exposed-to-the-soul emotion.

As the audience roar and applaud this star in the making, the performers are often overcome by emotion. They have allowed their talent to explode into the world and soar, often for the first time. For them it is a deeply personal, almost spiritual, revelation. It is rare to witness another person so exposed and it touches something very primal in all of us.

I am awed by the talent of ordinary individuals who have taken a leap of faith and been true to themselves. It’s a huge pleasure to share their journey from that first ‘yes’ through the final stages of the competition, watching them grow, face challenges and become comfortable with their gift. There is a point when the competition becomes irrelevant and their talent has transcended the confines of a television show.

Last night I was blown away.

Stacy Francis is a 42-year-old who spent her twenties being told by an abusive partner she was useless and too old to achieve anything. She hasn’t had the breaks. I wondered cynically, along with the rest of the audience, if it’s because she couldn’t sing. Then she said something that made my skin prickle, ‘ I don’t want to die with this music in me‘ and you knew she was special. Check out her audition.

I thought so much talent would be enough for one programme. Until Chris Rene turned up. A 28-year old man with a troubled past and a young son, a trash collector recently out of rehab wanting to turn his life around. Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard it all before. yawn, yawn. Except he said something which touched a chord,

There’s always a chance and always a choice. Life is too precious to waste’. Wise words from someone who knows the darkness of a bad place.

Telling the judges he would sing his own composition a restless, irritated ripple went round the auditorium, and knowing looks were exchanged between the judges. This guy was going to bomb. A wannabee with an unrealistic view of his talent.

Until he opened his mouth. Then you knew he was special, very special.  Watch it here.

I’ll be watching watch Stacy and Chris over the coming weeks. Both have experienced setbacks in life but have chosen to fight back and believe in themselves when no one else would.

Artistic talent is uniquely human. Throughout our history it has possessed and driven individuals to the highest pinnacles of achievement and the deepest depths of depression and despair. It can be enriching, edifying and beautiful but has a dark destructive side.

Creativity in others intrigues and inspires me; whether it’s watching a production of Shakespeare, looking at a great painting, reading a well written novel or listening to a contestant on the X-factor. If it excites, engages and moves me then it works, whatever medium that creativity is expressed in.

Looks like  X-factor is going to be a hell of a series and I’ll be along for the ride.

About wordgeyser

Our anglo/american family used to live in four countries (USA, Canada, UK and the Netherlands) on two continents, separated by distance, time zones, circumstance and cultures. It has been a scary, enriching, challenging place to be. The only things guaranteed to get us through were a sense of humour and the amazing people met along the way. . . This year everything changed with a move for us from the Netherlands, – and a move along with us for our son and his wife from the UK – to Houston, Texas, the same city as our daughter. With our youngest in Vancouver, Canada, we are now all living on the same continent. How this happened, and more importantly why, will be the subject of this ongoing blog...
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8 Responses to Creativity and Talent: Don’t Dismiss The X factor

  1. Wow. I was rooting for Stacy but when I heard her say she was singing Aretha’s Natural Woman I thought ‘uh oh…it’ll be good but you’re being measured against the epitome of the yard stick for that song…’. I loved it. Loved. It. Even like her version, dare I say? Better!

    It is indeed special to see real talent appear before our eyes. That was magical. I hope she goes far, far, far.

  2. Sheila says:

    Now watched the performances – wow! Great post.

  3. Sheila says:

    Fantastic – beautifully expressed and totally agree. We usually record and zip through the cringing dross but to witness that rare moment when a star is born is amazing.
    That so much can come out of such adversity. The human spirtit is amazing, there is always a chance as Chris says and is proving. I haven’t seen these performances yet but will be following them. I was very moved too by the stories.

  4. yarnsongyoga says:

    I confess to watching the British X factor to see just that golden nugget of creativity explode and take wings – mostly, as you say, it is the humble, modest people and I love to see the moment when they realise that someone has finally recognised them for who they truly are which frees them and makes them stronger.
    Great post, Jane.

    • wordgeyser says:

      That’s exactly it – realising for the first time they are who they believed they could be, and that belief is validated by an audience on their feet yelling for more. Priceless!

  5. "The Captain" in question says:


  6. expatlogue says:

    Wow! That was almost enough to make me see X-Factor in a whole new light! You’re right though, creativity is a mysterious and elusive beast and when we have the chance to see it in the raw, it resonates with something within us on a deeper level. Let’s not be creativity snobs enjoy our opera along with our trash TV!

    • wordgeyser says:

      Thanks for your input! It’s a dreadful thing to admit I can’t watch the X factor without a box of kleenex, but seeing someone put themselves on the line and being true to themselves takes courage.

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