I don't like Reality TV. There, I said it. Just when I was taking some comfort in the fact that Big Brother was winding up and tumbling anti-climactically past the finishing line, I was reminded over the weekend of that bizarre social experiment we all know as The X-Factor is back for another season. While on the one hand it will be nice to not have to watch Davina McCall run around my television screen like hyperactive gopher, I will have to watch a seemingly never-ending assembly line of deluded factory workers from Rotherham who are convinced that they have Kylie's arse and Mariah's voice, when in fact they have neither.

There are so many unanswered questions about this show. Where do they find these people who spent HOURS queuing up, often in the rain, for the privilege of being humiliated on national television? How does Simon Cowell get his hair to stay so flat on top? And why can't Nicole Scherzinger's face portray any human emotion whatsoever?

Perhaps these queries will be answered over time, but the first episode of this season's X-Factor was broadcast over the weekend and 12.6 million people tuned in. That means that roughly one out of every five people in the UK were lucky enough to see Shirlena Johnson, X-Factor's latest crazy who performed a bonkers rendition of Duffy's hit song 'Mercy', while dressed in leopard-skin print. To be fair to her, her intentions were good as she wants to win the whole shebang for the benefit of her daughter to give her a better life.

"It was really strange when I got to the stage", Shirlena told The Sun. "I just forgot the words and I decided to keep going."

In other X-Factor news, some of the show's producers have admitted "manipulating contestants' voices to make them sing in tune", even leading to some politicians getting involved in the hubbub. Labour MP Tom Watson declared the show a "phoney contest", and another, MP Don Foster, said the viewers were being "cheated."

So business as usual for X-Factor then... We can expect more of the same from Cowell and co.: The "will they/won't they" sexual tension between Louis and Simon, Danni pretending to be the important Minogue sister, a whole rake of Jedward clones and the judges collective insincere disbelief when someone who's *shock horror* not all that attractive can actually sing.


-John Balfe (Sheena is away)