The X Factor: The Battle To Be The Next Steve Brookstein (Exactly, Who?)

The X Factor is in full-swing again, and like years before the contestants are getting all excited about the prospect of winning the whole thing. Take one look at Steve Brookstein though, and that prospect doesn't look so exciting any more...
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“I’m here ‘cos I’ve always wanted to be famous.” So said Frankie Cocozza, the rats’-nest-sex-pest who, last week, bagged himself a coveted invitation to Gary Barlow’s gaff. Unlike those contestants who try to convince us that “it’s all about the music”, Frankie is pretty honest about his aspirations. Having already tattooed seven (undemanding) conquests on his buttock, he won’t rest until he’s so famous that his arsehole is covered in more scribbled names than a Middlesbrough bus shelter.

And then there’s Kitty – needy, desperate, borderline psychotic Kitty. Owner of an undeniably powerful voice, and a face like Daryl Hannah checking her reflection in a camping kettle, Kitty’s pulling out all the stops to make sure she gets noticed. In the process, she’s providing viewers with fond memories of Katie Waissel, in the same way that veterans might reflect wistfully on those happy days in the Mekong delta.

Shockingly, one face we won’t be seeing anymore is Goldie Cheung. Goldie caused a scandal earlier this week when she sensationally quit the show, fearful of becoming national joke. Perhaps if she’d tried plundering James Corden’s back catalogue, instead of Tina Turner's, there'd be no fear of anyone laughing. Either way, Louis Walsh is upset to have lost one of his favourite novelty acts – after all, he’s the kind of man who’d stand and stare in wonderment at a Big Mouth Billy Bass.

The rest of the final 32 line-up reads like a ‘greatest hits’ of previous X-Factors. Divas, belters and boybands, all the usual suspects. There’s even a twunt in a hat for anyone who can’t wait for Olly Murs on the Xtra-Factor. I’m sure the excitement of being whisked away to a glamorous location has got them all abuzz – even Louis’ groups have dodged a bullet, as they narrowly escape being bundled onto a Ryanair flight to Dublin. I just hope that someone's reminding them to keep their feet on the ground, even as they're preparing for take-off. And I can't think of a more effective advisor than Steve Brookstein, the original X-Factor champ.

We’re all familiar with the concept of the ungracious loser, but Steve’s something else entirely – the bitter winner. He’s been to the belly of the beast and lived to tell the tale. And it's one he's currently weaving in his exclusive column for London24. Steve’s ‘hero’s journey’ rivals those of the literary legends. He’s Faust, having made a deal with the devil, in exchange for his soul. He’s Icarus, having flown to close to the sun, only for his wings to melt spectacularly in the heat. And he’s Benny off Top Cat, just because, well, he looks exactly like Benny off Top Cat.

Steve’s not one to mince his words when it comes to the Dark Prince of Botox. Still fuming at the fact that Simon’s label dropped him after just eight months, when he refused to record another album of covers, he believes that it’s his mission in life to convince the world that Cowell is only interested in making money and couldn’t give a shit about the music. Outfuckingrageous. The man who got Robson and Jerome to number one, doesn’t care about artistry? Next he’ll be telling us that David Gest might have had a little work done.

We’re all familiar with the concept of the ungracious loser, but Steve’s something else entirely – the bitter winner. He’s been to the belly of the beast and lived to tell the tale.

Steve believes that Simon’s circus is “killing music”, a claim given extra veracity by his own willingness to release as cover of ‘Against All Odds’ as his winner’s song. That was a kick in the ribs right there. So scarred is he by his experiences, that he’s planning a tell-all book tentatively entitled X Factor Nightmares: The Manipulations. The Greed. The Deceptions. In the meantime, he’s got a regular column in which to take a big chomp out of the hand that, for a while at least, fed him.

At first glance, Steve appears to have mellowed with age, even commenting “it’s ok. I must remind myself that it’s just a TV show…” as though he'd forgotten why there were a bunch of cameras watching him perform during his time on the X-Factor. His real beef now isn’t with the show itself, but with a culture that rewards the untalented contestants, in particular lamenting the failure of Lloyd Wade to make it to the finals back in the first series.

Steve is full of praise for Lloyd, who he says “had that natural soul timbre like that of the late Solomon Burke.” Pretty big complement, I’m sure you’ll agree, especially for a man who on occasion seems to piss Bitter Lemon. A few sentences later, Steve speculates “I suspected that Lloyd wasn’t chosen because we were both soul singers and we would have taken votes from each other.” I used to a know a girl who was great at paying herself compliments like that – in one breath she’d remind us that “My mother is a very beautiful woman”, only to surreptitiously mention “Everyone says I look just like my mother” a few minutes later.

Apparently, the real singers fall by the wayside, as their more photogenic counterparts capture the production team’s imagination: “Pop music isn’t about singers. Well, Cowell’s pop music isn’t. It’s about manufacturing and selling sex and by all accounts it will be sexed up even more.” Try telling that to Jedward and Susan Boyle, both of whom have all the appeal of a Greggs pasty full of DNA swabs.

It’s not all bad news though. Steve promises unsuccessful contestants John Wilding and Emma Wright that “if they can keep the faith they will enjoy a life long career doing something they love and doing it well. Take it from me winning is overrated.” That’s it guys – keep practicing and don’t let the fuckers grind you down, because one day, you too could be playing to an empty Costa Coffee.

Hopefully, Steve will one day find the peace he needs. Perhaps when he realizes that he won a TV talent show, and not the secret formula for music industry longevity, he’ll be able to move on. You can slate the ruthless A&R men all you like, but as loathsome as you may find them, they know what they’re doing. They test the markets, study the sales demographics and conduct the focus groups. If they decide that your time is up, they’re not doing it to be cunts. They’ve just realized that a short shelf life isn’t limited to soft cheese. And if you keep complaining about the machine that gave you a shot at the top, you just sound like a man caught cheating, who blames his wife for the fact that he can’t keep his cock in his pants.

At least Steve has found a creative outlet for his frustrations. His predecessor, Michelle McManus, had to settle for an appearance on You Are What You Eat to sustain her time in the public eye. Times may be tough for Brookstein, but at least he's not been reduced to shitting Gillian McKeith's Tupperware. Yet.

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