The “X” Factor

Full Disclosure:  I don’t actually watch “The X Factor” but I had to borrow the title for this post.  I do watch “The Voice” which inspired this post.  I watched “American Idol” for years but my tolerance for it has waned; I don’t plan on watching this coming season.

With these “reality competition” singing shows, one can’t help noticing something about the relative level of talent between the judges and the contestants.

That is, for the most part, the contestants have it and the judges don’t.

Yes, Steven Tyler can sing-scream like no one else, and you would certainly “put him through to the next round.”  And Christina Aguilera has a voice that can shatter glass and break your heart if you close your eyes and listen, rather than looking at the bizarre creature she has made of herself.

But Jennifer Lopez?  Britney Spears?  Demi Lovato?

Blake Shelton?

When he takes the stage to sing, I am astonished at how completely ordinary his voice is.  And since he is a judge on a show called “The Voice,” I find this painfully ironic.

I suspect he does too.

Another Full Disclosure:  I am not a fan of country music.  Far from it.  Although some of my favorite music has a country flavor (Augustana, Mumford and Sons, Matt Nathanson, even some of R.E.M.), I am not a fan of Jesus-take-the-wheel-while-I-kick-the-lights-out-of-my-good-for-nothing-cheatin’-honky-tonk-ex-boyfriend’s-truck-’cause-he’s-sleeping-with-my-sister country music.  And when I started watching “The Voice,” I was not a fan of Blake’s “aw shucks, m’am” demeanor.

But what I came to realize is that, behind that façade lies a very canny, very smart man.

He uses his country charm and good looks to disarm and then, while you’ve written him off as a dumb yokel, he’s quietly stealing the show.

That’s how he’s winning (two years in a row).  He’s smart playing stupid.  He’s no dummy.

I admire him.  I understand now why he has the career he does.

Some of it has to do with physically embodying the ideal of his genre, yes, but I know in my gut that a lot of it must have to do with how he has handled himself in the business.  Quiet, unassuming charm hiding fierce smarts and know-how.

I think this is why, sometimes, I feel rather despondent, watching this show.

I see these talented singers, and I know, it’s not just talent you need.  It’s not even just this massive opportunity you’ve been given, this nationwide exposure.  Because who remembers anyone from three weeks ago, let alone last season?

You need that all-consuming desire and you need the façade to hide it behind.  You need the smarts.  You need the savvy.

The talent is almost irrelevant.

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