There’s something undeniably addictive about a program like The X-Factor. It’s not just the inspiring discovery of hidden abilities or the vicarious thrill of the competition as you cheer on your favourites. In every great performance, there is a moment where the performer reaches out for something beyond his or herself and, as their voices soar, we reach with them.
On the surface The X-Factor is a stock-standard talent quest with a few twists. After the usual round of auditions in front of an arena audience, judges send the best performers off to a Super Boot Camp where they get tutored in one of four categories – 14-24 year old Girls and Guys, Over 25s and Groups. The best six in each graduate to the ‘home visits’ where judges take contestants around the world to benefit from their musical connections. By the time The X Factor hits its live show stretch, the categories have been whittled down to three performers each. Ten weeks of performances follow with the public finally weighing in to choose the champion act for that year.
Seven have super-charged the format, though, with the addition of celebrity guests. Ronan Keating returns for his third year on the show, flanked by veteran talent judges Dannii Minogue and Natalie Bassingthwaighte This year’s big draw card, though, is Redfoo – and if you don’t know who that is, don’t worry. It just suggests you’ve made it out of your twenties. Redfoo is the son of legendary star-maker Berry Gordy Jr. who, among other things, founded Motown Records and discovered the Jacksons. He has a string of dance hits to his name with videos you probably wouldn’t want your kids Googling. But mostly he brings that additional level of craziness in dress and style that producers just love.
The emotional factor
What the audience really loves, though, are the emotional connections performers forge through their songs. There are no shortage of back-stories that would bring a tear to the eye:
- a young boy who’s been abandoned by his father
- a teenage girl who’s spent the majority of her life in foster care
- a thirty-year-old dad trying to make a future for his autistic son.
The amazing thing is the way they manage to channel their – and our – emotional responses into songs. In many cases music is just used to excite, saying nothing more profound than 'it’s fun to have fun'. But in the best cases, simple words and notes combine to form something much more – an expression of hope, a plea for change or a settled peace. It’s no surprise then that music and faith have walked so closely together down through the ages. Francois de Chateaubriand wrote that the song is, “the daughter of prayer, and prayer is the companion of religion.”
And so we find that when David (shepherd boy, warrior king, adulterous husband, failed father) wants to lay his soul open to God, he sings:
“I am in pain and distress; may your salvation, O God, protect me.
I will praise God’s name in song
and glorify him with thanksgiving
This will please the Lord more than [the richest sacrifice].”
Who says television can’t be educational? It certainly can when it connects us to this sort of poetry on the wing. But if there’s a shortcoming to The X Factor, and indeed all secular music, it’s that it so often helps us share our struggles without showing any of us the solution. That’s why I’m so glad my kids are growing up in a church. There they will be exposed to a wide range of music, they’ll learn to sing alongside some incredible saints, they’ll discover that music can help us to call out to God when our own words fail us and, most importantly, they’ll learn that He listens to and loves the prayers they sing.
Watching The X Factor with your kids
Reality shows are often good value for family television; there’s generally someone for everyone to like. Better still, they provide a chance to make kids think about the connection between talent and God. Here's some questions for the family to chat about when you're sitting down to watch the next round of performances:
- Which performer made the biggest impression on you?
- Have you ever noticed that singing is a lot like praying?
- Who hears our songs, as well as our prayers?