X Factor has opened up a world of new voices for Malta

X Factor Malta has introduced us to voices we might never have heard of otherwise. Their talent can be appreciated globally and even if they do not ‘make it’, their music will have reached further than they might ever have thought possible

X Factor judges Ira Losco, Ray Mercieca, Howard Debono, Alex Alden and presenter Ben Camille
X Factor judges Ira Losco, Ray Mercieca, Howard Debono, Alex Alden and presenter Ben Camille

There was high drama, intense debate and the occasional glimpse of diva behaviour, followed by the nail-biting wait as the votes were counted at the end. No, I am not referring to events over at the PN headquarters, but to X Factor Malta.

To be honest a little light entertainment never hurt anyone, and it makes a refreshing change from all the drama swirling around Adrian Delia and his fate as leader. 

Ever since it was announced that the X Factor franchise was coming to Malta there has been a lot of discussion as to whether it would work. “We are too small, everyone knows each other, it will be a foregone conclusion” and so on and so on. There are those who flatly don’t like the entire concept because they do not believe that true artists and musical talent should be subjected to this almost gladiator-type format where the public gives a thumbs-up or thumbs-down according to whom they like. Reality-style talent shows are not everyone’s cup of tea, and the idea that a singer can be moulded and “manufactured” into a record-selling star rubs many the wrong way.

But, if it hasn’t achieved anything else, X Factor Malta has introduced us to voices we might never have heard of otherwise. Before this, breaking into the local music industry when there is such a small, tight circle and little opportunity was not easy, but this kind of platform has shattered all that. These fresh young singers are now on YouTube for anyone to watch – their talent can be appreciated globally and even if they do not ‘make it’, their music will have reached further than they might ever have thought possible.

But love it or hate it (which is usually the standard reaction for most things), from the moment the X Factor auditions started the public was quite vociferous: they made their feelings known about the choice of judges, about the use of Maltese vs English and the practice of using a smattering of both. My view on this is that the person speaking should just choose a language and stick to it, because code-switching, although it is a habit which we are all guilty of in everyday life, has no real place on the national station which should promote the use of well-spoken, grammatically correct Maltese.

One judge in particular, Alexandra Alden, was singled out not only because she spoke in English all the time, which really gets some people’s backs up, but because she is the most openly critical judge out of the four. You could say she is our very own version of Simon Cowell (although far, far milder). To make things worse, she was a virtual unknown. “Who the hell does she think she is”? was one of the most common phrases I heard. Where the other three judges invariably tried to couch their criticism using the utmost tact, Alexandra used blunt honesty, which does not always go down too well. On the other hand, she does have her fans who think she is a breath of fresh air in a society which does not take too kindly to being criticized, especially to one’s face. (We are quite OK with criticizing people anonymously and behind their backs of course. In fact, I think it is our specialty). 

As it turns out, Alexandra is a singer/songwriter based in the Netherlands, but her milieu could not be further removed from the commercial Euro-pop world of X Factor. Watching her latest music video, her stye is laid-back and mellow; the music is not overly produced, and the lyrics are her own.

While those who knew her were surprised she accepted to be part of this production, there is no doubt that she does bring something different to the table, and a fresh eye from someone who does not have any links to the local music scene is always an advantage. Of course, it is also an advantage that she does not live here permanently and does not have to face the consequences of her comments as the other three judges might. In such a tiny country the person you criticize today may very likely be standing behind you in the supermarket queue tomorrow. 

These two contrasting worlds of ‘telling it like it is’, and ‘being diplomatic’ came to a head on Sunday when the girl groups which Alexandra was mentoring both got the boot and were sent home by the public vote. Her reactions have now become legendary: when the first group was eliminated, she denounced the audience with a heartfelt ‘Shame on you’. Then it came down to the wire and her second girl group was pitted against Ben Purplle, (“let the sacrilege continue”, she said dramatically). The votes came in and the second group was sent home. I could sense there was going to be another grand gesture and I was not disappointed. She stomped up the stairs in her admittedly fabulous dress, swept the train aside with a flourish and with a stern frown said, “Really? Really?!” It was almost as if she were scolding a group of naughty toddlers who had been caught scribbling on the walls.

The audience at the venue was not amused. Nor were many of the people watching at home; I know this because, like me, everyone had taken to their keyboards to express their opinion. Other people of course, were cheering Alexandra on, and I realized this was one of those rare moments when a large portion of the country seemed to be watching the same event in real time, which does not happen often these days. In fact, a survey confirmed that 180,000 tuned in to Sunday’s episode.

The next day Alexandra Alden apologized, although I am not sure why: it was not as if she had let out a string of expletives which was what I was half expecting. There are some who have said that the girl groups were penalized because the public did not like Alexandra, but that is like saying those who got through did not deserve it - which is not fair either.

The thing is, when you ask the public to cast the deciding vote, you have to be gracious enough to accept the result, no matter how much it might stick in your craw. Just ask the PN.

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