Timed to go out the night after the X Factor final, I Had The X Factor… 25 Years Ago was a cautionary tale about how fame can change your life and not always for the good.
The documentary focussed on six finalists of New Faces from 1986, the wildly popular talent show from which Lenny Henry, Jim Davidson, Victoria Wood and Michael Barrymore all sprung.
The class of ‘86 fared less well than those famous alumni, making this a sad film about washed-up old stars and their unfulfilled dreams. Little Mix, Marcus Collins and Amelia Lily should probably take note.
But while it sought to be a serious reflection on the cruelty of fame, this documentary had a cruelty all of its own.
Dwelling on the unflattering aspects of his subjects’ lives, producer/director Alf Lawrie was constantly needling his contributors to unearth some latent resentment and, of course, produce the tears.
Granted, some of the stories were terribly bleak. Vinny was half of a comedy duo, who enjoyed the limelight for two years after the New Faces final before work dried up. Those two years were enough to give him an addiction to fame, which he still has not beaten.
“My wife said to me, ‘Showbiz, it will crack you up.’ You know what, it’s done a good job,” he said, and broke down for the first time of many during the programme.
Without work, Vinny sunk into alcoholism and refused to find a normal job. He got locked up for drink driving and spent a year sleeping in a bin.
In a heart-breaking tour of his life, we go from the bar where he drank with Oliver Reed to the bin itself, where he was once woken up by someone chucking rubbish on his head.
Then there was Wayne, a singer who left his girlfriend behind to seek fame and fortune, working the clubs seven nights a week. Now he’s lonely – a point Lawrie hammered home with lingering shots of him eating a takeaway alone.
His story culminated with a wedding in Ukraine to a woman he had met on an ‘international dating site’. Poignantly, he sang the song he had performed in the final of New Faces at his wedding reception.
It felt like these two had stories that suited the format; simple enough to be told with TV shorthand. But because Lawrie chose to follow all six finalists, the rest were reduced to crude snapshots.
So Julie, who’s still working the cruise ships with her fantastic voice, wanted kids but now she’s too old. We can see she’s lonely too, from a shot of her sat up in bed watching TV.
Meanwhile, James Stone, the brilliant soul singer, cried for his manager who stole all his money. But it was never quite clear if it was about the money or something quite different. He actually seemed happy with his current partner, joking that when they are sat with nothing to do, he’ll tell her: “This is it, living with James Stone now, life in the fast lane.” They both laughed and it was a relief after all the tears.
The film even seemed to look down on violinist Gary Lovini, purportedly the winner of the bunch. He got the public vote from New Faces, stayed with his wife with matching perma-tan, and has a nice house. The two were filmed in their shiny kitchen, two untouched glasses of rosé on the working top, rather like a Hello! photo shoot.
It was compelling viewing for sure, but it felt like Lawrie had decided on the film he would make before he set out. It was up to him to make sure his contributors lived up to his preconceptions.