Ryan Shorthouse: The X-Factor dream and the hard graft of real success

SATURDAY evenings used to be a boys' night out. Now it's Chinese takeaways cosying up on the couch, getting sentimental over Stacy Solomon.

I'm not the only one saving the pennies at the weekends. Everyone seems to be talking about The X Factor: on Facebook, in the staff canteen, people muse over Cheryl's clothing and the song Jedward (now thankfully departed) slaughtered the most.

However, and I risk unpopularity here, Sting is right when he says the acts are unoriginal and the judges provide no technical expert advice, only advising on "what to wear and how to look". But Savvy Simon knows this: it is why the show is so popular.

Since the songs are so recognisable, Louis and Co's comments so simple, it's easy for viewers to feel qualified to pass judgment on every act.

"See: Simon thinks exactly the same as me". Wow, my flatmate really should be a music producer.

The participants who do well are "one of us", the unglamorous Mr and Mrs Everybody whose lives are turned around by the show. It's an addictive dose of escapism. Look, our type of people really can achieve fame and fortune. Tuneless Lloyd and uncharismatic Lucy did it: that could easily be me, photos in Heat magazine and sharing the red carpet with A-listers.

Here is the danger. The X Factor, with more than 14 million tuning in to each episode, is a terrible lesson for young people in how to be successful in society.

The experiences of the average folk on X Factor – and similar shows such as Big Brother that have sprung up over the past decade – makes becoming a celebrity seem so easy, with not a lot of effort or talent needed. Hence why we see hundreds of thousands auditioning every year for their 15 minutes of fame. And why so many young people now aspire to be celebrities.

But Britain doesn't need more celebrities. We need young people to grow into talented, hard-working professionals. Britain's future is increasingly reliant on knowledge-based services in business, finance and the creative sector. These are the growth sectors where opportunities will arise for most young people.

Being successful in these professions requires years of hard work and sacrifice, not instant propelling to the top after a couple of months.

Craving to be a celebrity is a classic desire of those who cannot defer gratification: who want the fame and fortune straight away.

Yes, Leona Lewis went from rags to riches overnight but the overwhelming majority of successful people have to wait for decades before reaping the rewards.

The path through the professions is expensive and long: it requires living modestly through years of studying and interning for free, and then years of keeping your head down at the bottom of the career ladder – not singing with Mariah by week five – gaining experience

to develop real talent. Hardly appealing for the youngsters who crave

success instantaneously.

X Factor provides a clear route to success with bosses who are focused on getting you promoted. This is not common in modern businesses. Success is more internally driven, and people have to zig-zag from job to job, even profession to profession, to scramble to the top. You have to find success yourself; the road is not set out for you.

Young people today would do better reading Yvonne Roberts's new book Grit than watching The X Factor. She points to various studies which show that motivation and work-orientation are more predictive of success at school and beyond than IQ or other personality traits such

as extrovertism or indeed natural talent.

It takes years of hard work to hone excellence – yet the X Factor generation see differently when they watch these TV shows. Most young people will end up disappointed – for not living the jet-setting lifestyle in their 20s like our Cheryl. The UK's competitiveness will suffer too if we do not have a workforce which is willing to graft for little initial return.

The problem with The X Factor is that it is becoming more than just entertainment.

Legions of young people queue up to be celebrities. The contestants' humble origins are ceaselessly reinforced by the judges and the video clips.

The X Factor is evolving into an institution the public believes is exemplary of delivering success, particularly to those from modest backgrounds, in a world where social mobility is harder to achieve than

ever before.

Politicians should be challenging the celebrification

of social mobility; instead they use so-called celebrities like the Jedward twins on election posters and court celebrities

for peerages.

Now for the long-term result: young people with a distorted view of how to become successful. Bad for them. Bad for our professions.

Ryan Shorthouse is a writer on social affairs and spokesman for Bright Blue, which campaigns for progressive policies from the Conservative Party

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