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The Audacity of Jedward

November 21, 2009

In August of 2009, the X-Factor introduced the British public to two 17-year-old Irish twins.

“I’m John”
“I’m Edward”
“And together we are… John and Edward”

Really, this is where most people should have realized that things would never be the same again. Following a cocky and ingenious pre-interview with the judges (in which one of the twins said that in 15 years, he sees himself “being older”) John and Edward launched into an amazingly obnoxious rendition of ‘I Want It That Way’. They peppered their shaky vocals by asking the audience to join in and ‘sing along if you know the words’, before being told by Simon Cowell that they were “incredibly annoying… two of the most irritating people we have had in a long, long time”. Out of four votes, the twins got 3 yeses, and the rest was history.

Well, not quite.

A quick recap for those who don’t follow The X Factor; The twins made it to the final 50, survived to make the final 24, and were chosen by judge Louis Walsh as one of the three acts in the category he was to mentor this year – ‘the Groups’. They had made it to the final 12, and would compete in the weekly live shows for the public’s votes.

After the final twelve performed songs from their musical heroes on week one (in which John and Edward performed a version of Robbie Williams’ ‘Rock DJ’ that was so awful judge Cheryl Cole was apologetic, telling them it was not their fault they were in the final 12), they were sure enough the favorites to go. When the results were announced, the twins miraculously not only avoided elimination, but did not even place in the bottom two. This became a trend; week after week, Jedward, as they were now known, performed hideous versions of kitschy songs, out of tune, out of sync, and with an astonishingly hilarious affinity for attempting to provide their own backing vocals.

A highlight, and no doubt one of the finer moments of television in recent memory, was a performance of Britney Spears’ ‘Ooops… I Did It Again’ that included an uncomfortable and slightly incestuous re-enactment of the Titanic scene from the music video. And sure enough, week after week, Jedward sailed into safety, gaining a following and waving goodbye to the competiton. Simon Cowell, who professed his hatred of the idea of the twins making the finals, continued to throw his best insults at them, from calling their performances ‘the worst I have ever seen’, to threatening to leave the country if they won.

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Within five weeks, the twins became somewhat of a cultural phenomenon, with everyone from celebrities to toddlers showing support for the performances put on by the twins. It was hard not to like them; they were young, they put on a great show, and they knew exactly who they were in terms of The X Factor. It was Britain’s answer to Sanjaya, without the ‘taking yourself seriously’ part. It seemed that Jedward had finally been accepted.

But then ‘Movie Week’ happened.

On the 7th of November, the final 8 performed their favorite songs from movie soundtracks. Dressed as Ghostbusters, the twins took on the theme song to the classic movie, singing out of a one-dimensional Ecto-1, before taking on dancers dressed as ghouls. It was everything Jedward were known for, and it worked. Everyone was in on the joke and everyone was ok with it. Until the twins landed in the bottom 2. Standing beside them was 18 year old Lucie Jones, a pretty girl from Wales with a big voice. Nothing spectacular, she was harmless, she was safe, and she was likeable. And she was up against Jedward.

Contest rules state that the bottom 2 vote getters would then face the judges, who would vote on who to eliminate. Louis Walsh voted to eliminate Lucie, naturally protecting his act. Dannii Minogue saved Lucie, who was in her category. Cheryl Cole was next, who before voting to eliminate John and Edward, summed up the general attitude towards them in a sentence; ‘I’ve really come to love you guys…’

With two votes against them, and Simon Cowell left to vote, it was certain the twins were going home. After telling the twins they’ve had some ‘horrific performances’, Cowell dropped a bomb – he was voting to eliminate Lucie Jones, automatically shifting the power back to the public. Per X Factor rules, if the judges cannot come to a decision, the act with the lowest public votes goes home. And on November the 8th, 2009… that was Lucie Jones. As the beautiful girl in the glittery shirt broke down in tears, there stood our heroes, in full Ghostbuster costume, consoling her before joining what was now the final 7.

Lucie Jones, right, is eliminated

Overnight, ITV received 50 official complaints, many pointing at Simon for ‘tactical voting’. It seemed people believed he kept Jedward in the competition as a safety net for the three acts in his ‘Over 25s’ category; surely the twins would have to be voted out before one of his own, more credible, singers. Newspapers and tabloid magazines were up in arms – the joke that was Jedward had gone too far. For 4 weeks, they avoided elimination and gained a strong fan base, and the public only warmed up to them. The image of them being the sole reason for yet another eviction, standing side-by-side next to Lucie Jones, seemed to push the public over the edge – they were harmless as long as they weren’t the direct cause of one more fallen talent. On the companion after-show The Xtra Factor, Cowell admitted that he was surprised Jones was the lowest vote getter, saying ‘I wasn’t expecting that result. If I had to gamble I would have gone the other way.’  The official ITV website crashed the following morning; ‘Due to last night’s shocking result that saw Lucie voted out of the competition, the website has been swamped with so many comments of indignation that the message boards have temporarily buckled under the sheer weight of your outrage’. The damage was done. The viewers were angry – The X Factor lost credibility.

Throughout the few days surrounding this apparent meltdown, the image of the X Factor being a serious talent show was consistently brought up. One has to ask themselves if this is all being taken too seriously. The X Factor, in it’s defense, has spawned a few world class singers; Leona Lewis and Alexandra Burke have become some of the biggest pop sensations to come out of the UK in years. But does that mean that there is no room for some lighthearted, cheeky entertainment? Is the show sabotaging itself by allowing the controversy around the twins to continue growing?

Ewz thinks so. Simon Cowell is a genius, responsible for milking cash out of everything from The Teletubbies to a worldwide-syndicated talent show. John and Edward are more than just two obnoxious teenagers with a flare for bad song choices – they are a brand in the making, and Cowell knows this. As people fall over themselves questioning his ability and integrity, he is no doubt sitting back, enjoying all the perks that Jedward will no doubt bring his empire. Lest we forget that for months after the show wraps, Cowell makes money off of any contracts the final 12 sign. And with companies already using the likeness of Jedward to flog everything from string cheese to junk clearance, as well as television giants Disney and Nickelodeon clamoring to sign them, Jedward may be this season’s biggest cash cow.

Since Lucie-gate occurred on November the 8th, Jedward made it through yet another round of cuts, this time – as karma would have it – standing by the sidelines as the first of Simon’s acts was eliminated. This weekend, the remaining 6 acts will perform songs from Wham!’s back catalogue, a theme that will arguably highlight the twins’ talent for putting on a fun, high energy show. Having made it to the mid-way point, it is interesting to see what will happen from here on in, as the more talented singers face off against the juggernaut that has become known as Jedward. If this was purely a singing competition, the twins would not have made it past the first round of auditions. But, after years on the air, The X Factor is a lot more than just that. And judging by the impact the twins have had on British pop culture, maybe winning the show may not be a bad thing for anyone involved, least of all a certain Mr. Simon Cowell.

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