Support ESC Insight on Patreon

Why The BBC Needs Needs The X-Factor For Eurovision: You Decide Written by on January 23, 2019 | 5 Comments

Get ready for ‘they’re all X-Factor rejects! A plague on all your channels!” As the BBC reveals the six performers taking part in ‘Eurovision: You Decide’, Ewan Spence argues that the casting of former talent show stars is not only to be expected, it is a positive and welcome step in building bridges with the wider music industry.

The United Kingdom has revealed the six performers that will take to the stage in the BBC’s National Final, ‘ Eurovision: You Decide.’ Remember that we have six acts and three songs, so we get a bit of musical duels to start with, before the three song superfinal.

Singing ‘Bigger Than Us‘ we have Michael Rice and Holly Tandy; singing ‘Freaks‘ we have Jordan Clarke and MAID; and singing ‘Sweet Lies‘ we have Kellie-Anne and Anisa. If you’re keeping track, we have alumni from All Together Now, The X-Factor, and Britian’s Got Talentin the mix. I’m guessing that multiple choruses of ‘these are all former talent show contestants, I’m very upset and angry’ have already started in the media (both mainstream and social). And they are all wrong.

While it might make for a snappy headline in the tabloids or an easy Twitter sentiment, it simply reflects the reality of the modern music scene in the United Kingdom. If the BBC are focusing on new talent, the big surprise would be if all six acts had not tried out for any of the singing based talent shows.

Personal Growth

If you are a singer in the UK and want to have a musical career, where do you go to start and build up a career? The traditional route of starting a band and getting into the bars and small venues around the country still exists, but the number of venues is decreasing.

For this generation’s singers who are starting out there has been one consistent option… the reality-TV/talent show hybrid. Starting with Nigel Lythgoe’s ‘Popstars’ in 2001, if you can make it through the open auditions, you get time on a national platform and a good shot at a career. And if you think the odds are long, they’re not unattractive when you look at other routes into the industry.

Eighteen years after Lythgoe’s show launched Hear’Say, is it any wonder than anyone who wants a singing career has at some point submitted themselves to one of these auditions at a minimum? Forget the word reject, if they made it to air they are ‘X-Factor alumni’, which to me simply means they have personal belief, a drive to succeed, and understand how the game is played.

Meet The Industry

Getting through the TV auditions and to the later rounds of any of these talent show gives the artists something vital to build their careers, no matter the result… recognition and exposure to the music industry’s back room heroes. Writers, managers, promoters, bookers, they are keeping tabs on these shows. It’s not just the winners who pick up careers from these shows.

Looking back to that first year of Popstars in the United Kingdom, and you had the first mainstream appearance of Darius Danesh (now Darius Campbell). He may not have won through in Popstars (or the following year’s Pop Idol), but he has continued to work in the arts to this day, including runs as Billy Flynn in the West End production of ‘Chicago,’ Sky Masterson in ‘Guys and Dolls’, and originated the Rhett Butler role in the theatrical adaption of ‘Gone With The Wind’.

Look through National Final and Eurovision alumni and you’ll find an increasing number of performers who picked up their first break in a TV talent show; to highlight a few you have Mans Zelmerlow in Swedish Idol, Michael Schulte in The Voice of Germany, Dami M in The X Factor Australia, and Loreen in Idol 2004.

Not bad for a bundle of ‘X-Factor Rejects’!

What Are The Alternatives?

If you don’t go for up-and-coming artists in your National Final, there are essentially only two other routes you can go for.

While it’s very unlikely that an established artist would decide to represent the United Kingdom at the Eurovision Song Contest, if one decided to take a very big risk you could see a single artist multi-song National Final (a route Finland is taking once more in 2019). Even then, the political environment in the UK and the levels of appreciation in the mainstream media to the Song Contest leads me to think that no sensible manager would recommend this to their client.

Then there are the older artists who are seen as likely candidates by the mainstream press and the casual fan in the United Kingdom. Witness the almost constant mentions of Steps in conversations about Eurovision in the media, harking back to a mythical view of the Song Contest that has almost no relevance to the modern show. In any case there’s a feeling that the modern Contest is happy to be seen as a platform for artists nearer the start of their career rather than at the end.

Which leaves you with the up and coming artists, who will predominantly have shown their hunger for a musical career by working through the talent show circuit.


Thre’s going to be a lot more talk about the choice of artists by the BBC, and it will not surprise me that the ‘X-Factor-isation’ of the UK National Final will be a hotly debated point. For me, the fact that the BBC has gone this route is a sign that the BBC is in step with the music industry.

Eurovision: You Decide’ is not yet a ‘top-tier’ show for managers to immediately place their young artists, but 2019’s cast shows that You Decide has gained acceptance and credibility over the last few years. This is what progress looks like.

About The Author: Ewan Spence

British Academy (BAFTA) nominated broadcaster and writer Ewan Spence is the voice behind The Unofficial Eurovision Song Contest Podcast and one of the driving forces behind ESC Insight. Having had an online presence since 1994, he is a noted commentator around the intersection of the media, internet, technology, mobility and how it affects us all. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, his work has appeared on the BBC, The Stage, STV, and The Times. You can follow Ewan on Twitter (@ewan) and Facebook (

Read more from this author...

You Can Support ESC Insight on Patreon

ESC Insight's Patreon page is now live; click here to see what it's all about, and how you can get involved and directly support our coverage of your Eurovision Song Contest.

If You Like This...

Share This Post

Have Your Say

5 responses to “Why The BBC Needs Needs The X-Factor For Eurovision: You Decide”

  1. Shai says:

    Those singers coming from reality TV have learned, in the course of the show, to perform under pressure. The longer a singer stayed in such show, the more pressure they handled.
    That is an experience you can’t buy.

    And at the end, it’s the song and how it is performed live that matters.
    If the singer is good and he can deliver, it doesn’t really matter that he tried first in a reality TV singing competition

  2. Eurojock says:

    When you look at Youtube clips of artists chosen by other countries many have come through similar talent shows. It’s par for the course at the moment and I’m relatively relaxed about that.

    What I’m much less relaxed about is the standard of song that the UK has once more put forward in its National Selection . Why do they all have to be so bland and come across as if they’ve been penned by committee? Not one of them stirs the faintest emotion whatsoever and I’m sure my reaction echoes that of many a Eurovision fan.

    That leads to me to this thought: If the BBC are so useless at picking songs, would it be permissible to select a song for the UK that was unsuccessful in another country’s national selection. Last Saturday, just to give one example, three songs with English language versions – Free, Wasted and Lighthouse – were all eliminated from the semi-finals of A Dal. I’m not saying these songs were perfect (particularly in the live rendition and staging) but they were all way better than any of the UK 6. And most of all, it didn’t feel that the writers were just going through the motions.

    Of course, this is not going to happen even if the rules permitted it, but at least it allows me to dream of the UK achieving a left hand side finish with Bella Santiago’s ‘Army of Love’ or Victor Crone’s ‘Storm.’

  3. James says:

    Interestingly, one of the most notable songwriters in national selections in recent years have entries in the UK, but also in contention over in Sweden, Norway, and possibly even Switzerland for this year alone. ESC Xtra touched upon Laurell Barker last year and I think this could be a good basis of a future article with regards to the process of getting songs for consideration as potential ESC entries.


  4. OrangeVorty says:

    What the BBC needs is a decent format for choosing an entry – it doesn’t matter from which stable the artists come from. I think most of us accept the UK won’t be winning any time soon so why don’t we have a format that encourages young songwriters and artists to be innovative, wreckless and edgy music and make the Eurovision stage an extension of the BBCs ongoing talent search. The beeb aren’t realistically going to give Eurovision to ITV but they could give the national selection to BBC 6Music rather than BBC Radio 2. At least we might start getting entries that reflect the British music scene rather than an ageing audience’s Misguided beliefs about the contest. If not winners we should be putting forward fresh young artists who would learn something from participating rather than the procession of talent show participants who are just looking for the next thing and will sing any old song coming out of a writing camp. In this regard Molly has been our best entry for years – I loved the BBC Introducing approach. Why we didn’t stick with that or develop one new artist and a three song national final I don’t know. We so lack any original thought about what to do with Eurovision in the UK – it’s just so disappointing.

  5. Tina says:

    It’s always irked me how acts that get through to the finals of XFactor but don’t win are so often referred to as XFactor “rejects”, even some runners-up. If that were the case then even the likes of One Direction could be considered “rejects”! The fact that contestants go through an arduous audition process to get to the finals denotes a level of success rather than rejection, so I see no shame in them tackling Eurovision. If only a decent selection of songs could be put forward though…

Leave a Reply