I was tempted to start this post with an explanation of who Katie Waissel is, “for those of you living in trees”, but then it occurred to me that not even the most moss-choked canopy-dweller could have escaped the X Factor 2010 convoy. X Factor updates are, at this point, like Brian Lenihan’s financial discrepancies – all over the place. The front covers of newspapers. The home pages of news sites. The stream of witticisms on Twitter. Your teenage sister’s Facebook status, with your granddad’s comments just below. Simon Cowell has created a monster, but it’s a monstrous guilty pleasure, and the entire global neighbourhood’s been feeding the bloody thing.
Katie Waissel is one of the finalists. She’s in the “Girls” category – female soloists under the age of twenty-eight. She’s blonde, ambitious and ballsy. And everyone hates her. She’s the pantomime villain, the air-kissing personification of all that is wrong with tabloid culture. Katie is not so much this year’s Marmite; she’s this year’s Festival Of Painful Inoculations.
All of this stems from the fact that X Factor 2010 is not her first stab at fame. Katie has previously appeared in an online reality TV show, following her adventures trying to “make it” in the US. She has released an album in the US, and was set to release a second before appearing on X Factor. This does not endear the public to her; no one wants seasoned grafters on X Factor. They want humble, simpering, tearful newbies who shuffle in, cap in hand, singing for a supper they never knew they were hungry for.
Katie is not the only contestant who’s clocked up a bit of experience in her chosen profession; Treyc Cohen, Mary Byrne, Matt Cardle, John Adeleye, and Liam Payne (of cobbled-together boyband One Direction) have all been beavering away diligently at their music careers, from fronting indie bands, to having their own merchandising lines, to winning MOBO awards. Yet none of them have taken the same flack as Katie Waissel.
Let’s take Matt Cardle as an example. The “painter and decorator” fronts indie four-piece Seven Summers, whose album is enjoying chart success on the back of likeable Matt’s X Factor performances. To my knowledge, Matt has said that he could yet return to Seven Summers after his X Factor experience (provided, I assume, he doesn’t win outright). Yet there was no mention of Matt being an experienced singer during his original audition; he was sold to us as a doe-eyed chappie with no idea of how good he really was.
Katie’s original audition was similarly sugar-coated. After Simon Cowell disagreed with her prepared piece, she began to sing We Are The Champions, but forgot the lines, and begged to be given a second chance. She was cute, a bit eccentric, and that was enough of a persona to present to the viewing public. Now we realise that both Katie and Matt have recorded albums, performed in front of crowds, written their own music … why, then, is only Katie sprouting devil horns?
Perhaps it comes down to acting skills. Katie never really came across as modest, and there was always something self-aware about her quirkiness. Matt has the mannerisms, the cheeky grin, and the self-deprecation to tickle our awwww reflexes, not to mention a wavering falsetto that makes him sound like he could burst into tears at any given high note. He is a bunny-rabbit of a man, non-threatening … we feel it possible that he doesn’t even know the meaning of the word “obnoxious”. Katie is far from obnoxious, but there’s nothing fluffy about her, either. She comes across as a girl who’s quirky for the sake of being quirky, and boy, do we hate cynicism in our lassies.
“Simple check-out girl” and shrinking violet Mary gets away with her performing, single-releasing past, because she’s humble and good-natured and piteously overweight. John, because he’s got watery eyes and a thankful smile. Treyc because she’s got a big bum and an even bigger voice (and make no mistake on X Factor – the voice will out). Liam because he seems unassuming and dear God, he’s all big eyes and cheekbones. Katie’s terrible error is that she seems to have a strategy. We find her “irritating” – her clothes, her hairstyle, her poise, even her low, jazzy voice. Katie Waissel simply … doesn’t hide her motives well enough.
And perhaps we still feel that that’s no way for a young woman to behave.