A Cowellian Future - The X Factor in the Year 2053

The year is 2053AD. The X Factor is now in its 50th series and has taken control of most of Western Europe under the stewardship of Simon Cowell, its High Lord Protector. But the State is facing danger abroad and The Great Simon must find a way to uphold the crumbling morale of his army and citizenry. Then, one day, a child appears...


Susie’s lower lip quivered, just a fraction, just one shuddering jot. Instantly, metallic screams blared briefly around the gargantuan studio, as hot lights and cameras high up in the rafters turned themselves into vigilance, robot arms wrenched back into joint. They sought, found, focused on little Susie, alone in her wheelchair on the big empty stage. The audience craned their necks in their seats, waiting for what they knew must come, for what happens to every Contestant. They were waiting for her to break.

  Susie had been automatically selected for the programme under The Regime’s Reallocation and Entertainment Initiative. A soulless computer had spat out her name onto the desk of a faceless bureaucrat, the wheels had been set in motion, and, like a fat man rolling down a hill, the process could not be stopped. Following Disinfection and Interrogation, Susie had been ushered through the preliminary checks, rushed from grey room to grey room, clutching her regulation issue Child Comforter Bear Toy #6681427, called ‘Simon’ (All the toys were called Simon now, as well as all the first-born males.) Throughout the screening process the producers had slowly begun to realise the magnitude of the computer’s chance discovery. Whispers began, gathered pace, evolved into rumours and then broke into galloping hysteria. She had been found, people gabbled to each other; She was no longer theoretical. The Child was at hand. All of them knew and recited by heart the sacred words of the Prophet Tulisa: ‘And lo, there shall, like, come at a time, like, a little kid, who is, like, well cute, and who will, on account of her being totes gorgeous and smushable, be the saviour for us all. Right, fuck off now, LOL’. Now at last those beautiful words were ready to be fulfilled. 

  For it was clear, judged the producers, that Susie was the perfect contestant, the pinnacle of pathos, the very embodiment of everything the X Factor strived to exploit. Susie was young. She was blonde. She had blue eyes. She had no facial disfigurement. She was an orphan (her parents had been loyal X-Factotums killed in the defence of The Show, protecting the gates of The City from Kate Thornton’s roving dissident hordes.) Best of all, crowed the producers, she was in a wheelchair! The Great Simon could not believe it when word ascended through the levels of his massive bureaucracy. A photogenic, wheelchair-bound, orphan child? Oh happy days! Of course, by this point, The Great Simon was simply a consciousness transplanted into The City’s mainframe computer in order to free him from his decaying prison of a body, but God dammit, his incorporeal existence still knew a target of exploitation when it heard it. Maybe now they had finally found something so cute, so adorable, so sympathy-inspiring that it would bolster and sustain his demoralised and starving armies in the fight against Louis Walsh’s Visigoths and bring an end to the brutal energy wars which had been raging across New Eurasia for nearly forty years.

  Eagerly, therefore, The Lord of the Most High Trousers sent word that Susie should be fast-tracked to the show. Under His Divine Protectorate, Susie skipped Child Gulag and quickly completed the brief indoctrination course; her drawings of The Ascension of Simon were highly commended, although her leanings towards abstract art were frowned upon. Within only two months of identification, Susie had been selected and approved and was now taking to the X-Factor stage, the realisation of the State dream which would normally require a thirty-five year struggle to attain. The bright lights bored down into Susie, and she knew, as millions of desperate citizens craned their necks towards their permatelevisions all around The State, that this was her moment. This was her time.

  Under the scrutiny of the lights, she held her bear Simon close to her breast, as if trying to deaden the loud thumping of her heart, which she was sure the JudgeBots could hear. Fear, they had told her on the indoctrination course, was undesirable; fear makes you weak. The JudgeBots are programmed to smell fear. But she couldn’t help it. She was afraid. She was confused. The lights blinded her and she was still bewildered from her encounter with the two elderly gentlemen off-stage; their tone was kindly, but they spoke in some strange, long-past language that her minder had told her was ‘Geordie’. As she glanced into the wings of the stage for reassurance, she saw these two ancient men, their wrinkled faces creased in smiles. ‘Way-aye!’ shouted the one who still had his own teeth. ‘That must be some kind of war cry!’ Susie panicked. Suddenly the fear overwhelmed her and the lip quivered again. The lights doubled their intensity, the audience leant forward in their seats, expectant. Slowly, like a State electric punishment chamber building its charge, Susie began to cry. Big oval tears pooled in the corners of her eye and coursed like rivulets down her cheeks, tears that would gradually carve out the lines on Susie’s face, like streams that have eroded their way down an ancient mountain.

JudgeBot Cheryl immediately engaged its automatic sympathy programme, and walked on its giant iron legs to the child, efficiently engaging and reassuring Susie in a cold simulation of maternal affection. The State took a collectivised breath before releasing it in a collectivised sigh. Women cooed as their ovaries throbbed. Deep in the machine, The Great Simon smiled insubstantially; that should increase the conception rate tonight, he thought. More soldiers for the war!

 ‘Now go on,’ intoned another JudgeBot in the hearty Yorkshire brogue of the long dead Gary Barlow; ‘Why don’t you have another go, sweetheart?’ Calmed by the sedatives released during the embrace with JudgeBot Cheryl, Susie composed herself. She moistened her lips, she inhaled deeply, she drew herself up. In the ravaged cities of The State, citizens stared with hungry eyes and strained their ears, ready for angelic tones crooning forth from the cherub’s lips which would lift their souls away from the scorched earth, away from their bodies. But the sound that came forth was of no such kind. Little Susie (her last name had been lost in the massive bureaucracy) opened her mouth, and out poured a confused stream of atonal horror, as if torments streaming from the jaws of Hell. Note after note, each so inexpertly pitched, stabbed at the very hearts of the citizenry, shredding the last vestiges of the belief that anything could ever be beautiful again. In the space between mind and machine, The Great Simon raged: ‘BUT SHE’S A BLONDE EIGHT YEAR OLD ORPHAN IN A WHEELCHAIR! WHAT DO YOU MEAN SHE CAN’T SING? SHE MUST BE ABLE TO. PERSONAL TRAGEDY EQUALS SINGING ABILITY, WE ALL KNOW THAT! THAT IS THE VERY CORNERSTONE ON WHICH THIS  STATE IS FOUNDED!’ 

  Cowell’s mind could not compute the fundamental logical contradiction. Sparks flew as the mainframe began short-circuiting and breaking down, wires bursting into flames, cars exploding inexplicably, like what happens in the movies, yeah?  Around the studio screams erupted throughout the audience as the JudgeBots exploded and caught fire. The elderly Ant and Dec wailed and clutched each other, finally confessing their mutual love in an incomprehensible frenzy of Geordie. In the midst of all this chaos stood Susie, a figure of angelic peace and calm. Blocking out the noise around her as flaming beams fell from the ceiling and the roof buckled and caved, Susie sat in her wheelchair singing her little heart out, her voice drowned out. Then the ends of her mouth twitched upwards in what might have been a smile.


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