I was watching “The X Factor, U.K.” last night and it got me thinking how a musical performer might have ‘the X factor.’

It was interesting to see how the TV judges assessed performances. I couldn’t see what they saw in some performers that they put through to the next round.

 Sometimes you could see in the eyes of an individual judge that they weren’t all that jazzed about a performance, but were persuaded by the opinions of other judges to give a positive response. 

Other times the lack of real talent was brushed aside, perhaps because of the way a performer presented themselves – a particular look that stood out. The judges literally overlooked the performer’s lack of real ability to sing.

There were other cases where they were compassionate (at least for this episode – probably this will change down the track) and gave a response to encourage a performer rather than determine whether he or she had a particular X factor which was the point of the show.


So what is ‘the X factor’ in a musical performance?

Is it when someone stands out in a crowd?

If someone has a really good performance in a competition, they are going to stand out in the crowd. But in a different context it may be a different story for that performer. They may have had a whole string of poor performances prior to that. They may be the best in a particular context, but I’m not convinced that means they have the X factor.


Is it when extraordinary talent meets hard work?

Being extraordinary does sound like it meets the X factor criteria. We are definitely impressed when we see the combination of talent and hard work that is beyond the ordinary. Some have learned much from watching other performers and combine those ideas with their own to create something new.

The audience often determines what extraordinary talent is, based on their own experiences of learning the same skill. A trained singer is more likely to recognise accurate pitch much more clearly than someone who has not been trained as a musician but has an understanding of marketing music. They are going to observe a performance based on their field of expertise.


Is it when extraordinary talent meets extraordinary personality?

Someone with a lot of personality and natural talent can be pretty impressive. They are more likely to come across as comfortable in their own skin and have a confidence that comes through in the performance. That confidence gives the listener a special enjoyment in the whole presentation. The audience may easily identify that person as having the X factor.


Is it when artistic expression connects with something in the heart of the listener?

We hear the word “authentic” used a lot. If we can see into the heart of performers and realise they are human just like us, we like that and a point of connection is made, not just an observance of someone making nice musical sounds. Sometimes a judge describes someone as being authentic when I might not feel that connection. Instead, I see a pretty good act that wants me to think they are authentic, but what they feel in their heart somehow doesn’t connect with me.


Is it a God given gift?

When we hear someone describing someone’s talent this way they are acknowledging that a creator God outside of the person themselves has had a hand in the specialness of the person and their performance. Don’t we all have this one way or another? We are all created as very special individuals with an X factor in some area of our lives, it may just take a while to find out what it is.


Is it all of the above?

I don’t know….you be the judge, and if you have some thoughts on the subject I’d love to read them in the comments below.

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