Censorship: it really is not that big of an issue now simply because the Internet circumvents it by a bottomless pit archiving all and sundry. The pervasiveness of Torrent and the low ratings for US dramas on local primetime television are two stark, yet interestingly correlated phenomena. Take a show like The X Factor USA though, and suddenly the worlds of television and Internet collide in an uncanny friendship: each supporting the other in broadening the scope of the show but ever ready to call out one another if the other medium fails to deliver.
This time, it was the Internet’s turn to call out both Fox and Mediacorp’s Channel 5 on their screenings of the second season of the show, which premiered this past week. While Fox edited out one contestant’s reel where he was allegedly forced to come out to a former duetmate (and X Factor judge, mind you), Channel 5 was more selective with the censorship, deciding to air footage of San Fransisco’s Castro belt and air the rainbow flag but cutting out affirming messages of self-expression by a cross-dresser contestant.
Let’s start with Fox first. Don Philip was a duetmate with Britney Spears back when the world didn’t even know who was this vixen/sweetie pie/diva/choice of stan phrase for said songstress. He released an album, then disappeared from the music scene. He took to The X Factor to return to the industry and also to reunite with his duetmate. Also, he gave the world the chance to hear his ugly-as-hell voice. But after all the hullaballo and dramatics (he did not make it and was sorry at “hurting Britney” – aww, how selfless), news emerged of how Don was allegedly forced by Fox producers to reveal he was gay and he came up front to explain that the coming out was the reason he was upset with the audition. Speaking to Access Hollywood, he said:
“Backstage, I’d talked to the producers about what was my secret was. And I mentioned that my secret was I was gay, but I really didn’t want to talk about it on the show. So, minutes later when I got on stage, L.A. Reid said, ‘What’s the secret? What’s the secret?’ over and over again. And I had to say it. I just felt like they were going to say it so I felt like I needed to say it first. And I was just so emotionally distraught, I couldn’t pull it together to actually sing.”
After the episode aired and Don’s statements were made, a check on his Twitter account revealed he was comfortable with the anticipated footage appearing on air and likened it to a lesson for closeted LGBT people to be comfortable with who they are. The footage was never aired and the “Britney being hurt” storyline ran. Fox then released this statement alleging they never forced Don to come out:
“The judges were not given any information at all about Mr. Philip prior to his audition. The personal information that Mr. Philip quickly volunteered at the start of his audition was a surprise to the judges, who asked what had happened during the past 10 years, as they were interested in Mr. Philip’s career. While we understand his decision to discuss his personal life, Mr. Philip’s sexual orientation was not something that any of the judges or producers felt was relevant to this audition.”
Another censorship issue came up on Channel 5 when cake decorator Quatrele Da’An Smith came on stage resplendent in a wedding dress (“I’m getting married to X Factor today”, he says) and performed – you guessed it – Lady Gaga’s anthem for the ostracised, Born This Way. What the little snippers at the Channel 5 editing room did is to cut out the part where Quatrele talks about how he walks into work with makeup and “hair curled up; you’ve got to express yourself”.
While the former cut might have contributed to the “discouraging homosexuality” clause of television rights, another cut did not quite deliver the same clear-cut effect. This came in when part of Demi Lovato’s comment to Quatrele during judging was cut out. She praised Quatrele’s choice of hot pink lipstick colour, to which he said a breathless “Thank you”. If such a small quip insinuates some form of homonormality, then surely this was a cosmetic decision gone wrong.
However, the damage is done for the show, struggling to keep up with competitors The Voice. X Factor averaged some 7.5 million viewers, as compared to The Voice’s 10.5 million viewers on opening night. Both shows crossed paths while airing on the same timeslot on the same day. The X Factor’s viewer share as compared to last season has dropped by a little over a third, according to initial ratings. Even America’s Got Talent surpassed the 7.5 million viewers X Factor raised. For a show that has yet to produce a bonafide star on the charts, The X Factor’s demise could come sooner than expected. Let’s just hope it does not censor itself out on the way.